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The ABC Of Recovery


I have come to believe very strongly in the power and effectiveness of the Twelve Step programme that is now used World Wide for recovery from addictions, emotional illnesses (e.g. unresolved anger, anxiety), chronic mental illness (e.g. depression, bipolar mood disorder), relationship dysfunctions related to or caused by addictions (e.g. co-dependence) and others.

Since the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, groups have spread and mutated like a virus to meet a wide variety of deep-seated needs. But the Twelve Steps have remained, with minor changes based on the nature of each group. These Steps and the overall programme are, without any apology, a spiritual programme, but not a religious one.

To keep things simple in my own mind, as a counsellor and a person in recovery, I have grouped the Twelve Steps and the key phases of recovery, under the 3 letters: A, B and C. A for Admit; B for Believe and C for Change. This is also an easy memory jogger to and checklist to monitor where I am or where another person is, in their recovery journey. I have also integrated my understanding, personal experience and professional training as an addictions counsellor, into these three phases.

I view the A – B - C as goals, principles and phases, all at the same time.



I admit that I have or I am losing control of the situation, addiction or disorder. I’ve reached the point of powerlessness or helplessness. This does not mean weakness or stupidity. It means that what I have tried, by myself, is not working and I need help. This is not the same as admitting to a “diagnosis”, such as “I’m an alcoholic” or “I’m mentally ill” or “I’m bipolar”. However, acceptance of a diagnosis is a vital part of the ADMIT process.

I also admit that this condition, disorder or what’s happening now, is having serious negative consequences – my “life is unmanageable” – as the Twelve Steps state.

I call this the first stage of surrender. This is Step 1 of the Twelve Steps.



I work through a process, where I come to “believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity”. For some this is God – as they understand God. For others it may be a Force, Nature or simply the group of people they bond with, to help them recover. This is where I begin believing there is hope for me to be restored to balance. It is the phase of developing faith that a Higher Power will restore me to sanity, balance and peace of mind.

I call this the second stage of surrender. This is Step 2 of the Twelve Steps.

However, this belief needs to be put into action. I need to make a definite “decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God” – as I understand God. For some, this may be a first time commitment to God and for others a return to their earlier faith. Surrendering the will is another admission. I admit that I have been stubbornly doing my own thing to change my life or deal with my condition, on my terms. I acknowledge that my own best thinking and plans keep getting me deeper into trouble and worsening the condition.

This is a phase of humbling myself and coming to realise, maybe through a group or a therapist that God does care for me. I realise that I can risk putting my life into the care of God.

I call this the third stage of surrender. Originally, this was termed “deflation”, similar to ego – deflation in psychology. This is Step 3 of the Twelve Steps.



This phase is all about radical change and transformation. During recovery I need to get to the root of my destructive choices, identify the personality factors (character defects), thinking patterns, feeling patterns, and behavioural patterns that need to change in order to sustain recovery. Some of these may have contributed to our addiction (e.g. resentment towards an absent father), while other patterns developed during the development of the addiction (e.g. dishonesty, secrecy, impulsivity).

We may need healing of our emotions and memories – maybe deep seated pain from childhood or unmet needs. Our thinking patterns usually turn into beliefs which shape our choices, reactions and actions. These need to be investigated, confronted and restructured. The way we behaved often got us into trouble during the addiction. We need to identify people we have hurt and with a counsellor or sponsor decide how to make amends, where appropriate.

I recommend that we do this phase with the help of a group and a therapist or a sponsor, using practical worksheets that are available online or in the various Twelve Step groups. We get honest. Tell our story. Admit our shortcomings and seek wisdom for day-to-day actions. We ask God to grant acceptance for the things we cannot change and courage to change what we can. Some changes are extremely difficult, like the people we hung out with, the places we went to. Some of those dangerous places may have been online, in cyberspace or just places in our heads.

We ask God to remove our shortcomings. If I do not change, I will not recover and I will relapse, sooner or later.

As we walk through this phase, we discover more of the “gifts of recovery”. Relief. Inner peace. Acceptance. Support. Perspective. Healing. Self-esteem grows. Guilt and shame reduces. Freedom comes. We build a new relationship with ourselves and with others. And we even begin to reach outside ourselves and share with others, what we have so freely and graciously received. Step 12 says “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs”.

This phase is covered in Steps 4 to 12 of the Twelve Step programme.



The above article is a extract from "90 Days Of Motivation For Recovery From Addiction and Mental Disorders", to be published as a FREE ebook. If you are interested, please send an email to: [email protected]

There are many practical step-by-step worksheets based on the life-changing 12 Step programmes on this site: 

Peter Guess

B. Soc. Sc. (SW)

4 February 2012 



Understanding the Pathology of Addiction


This is a 7-minute, light-hearted animated film describing the pathology of addiction according to theories in Dr. Ronald Ruden's book "The Craving Brain".

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