The 12 steps are indispensable in the journey towards healing. They can spark enlightenment, foster growth, and propel personal transformation. In this episode, Spencer, Karen, and other contributors explore several approaches to working the 12 steps.

Acknowledging Variety and Personalizing the Process

12-step recovery does not have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Members apply the steps to their own lives in differing ways. The Al-Anon literature includes several guides to the steps, and sponsors may suggest yet other approaches. Some members may need to start with a deep exploration of their powerlessness, while others may need “emotional detox” before they can even start looking at the Steps.  

The Importance of Sponsors in the Recovery Journey

Assistance from sponsors, mentors, or “fellow travelers” can be instrumental in easing the 12-step process. Whether helping with the complex aspects of the journey or offering insights for self-development, the value offered by mentors can be immeasurable. Often, sponsors can help people identify the steps they need to apply the most, thereby confronting the challenge head-on.

Working the Steps: Different Approaches, Same Journey 

In the realm of recovery, three popular tools to work the steps in Al-Anon are the books Paths to Recovery, Blueprint for Progress, and Reaching for Personal Freedom..

Paths to Recovery offers a comprehensive guide through the 12 steps, with some questions that help focus thoughts and inspire deep reflection. It may present a long journey, sometimes up to two years per complete cycle, but with patience and perseverance, progress can be made.

Blueprint for Progress, another workbook, provides a detailed walk through Step four, conducting a deep dive into one's inventory, listing shortcomings and assets alike.

Reaching for Personal Freedom is a newer book. It guides an examination of the Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, focusing on how these can be applied to our personal lives.

The common thread with these books is their focus on applying the 12 steps to daily life, transforming not only habits but an entire inner worldview. 

Overcoming Challenges: The Essence of Step Four 

Step Four, involving a ‘Fearless and searching moral inventory,' can be challenging. It is during the process of Step Four that the strength and support of a sponsor becomes critical. Often, a sponsor will suggest a particular practice of working Step 4, usually because it is the way they have worked that step in their own recovery.  Some have found the “4 column” approach described in the book Alcoholics Anonymous to be useful. As a sponsor, however, we should also be sensitive to whether the proposed approach is working well for the person we are guiding.

An Ongoing Learning Process

Working the steps is an ongoing learning process, finding new layers of understanding and inner growth at every step. Some of us have found that we can apply the 12 Steps to particular incidents or actions in our lives, whether alcohol is involved or not. Sometimes a quick run through the steps can lead us to “promptly admitting” our faults, as suggested by Step 10. For most of us, working the steps is not “one and done” but is a lifelong process of personal growth. It is truly about a journey, rather than reaching a destination.

In conclusion, the 12 steps can be a powerful tool in healing and personal development. It is essential to tailor the journey to our own unique struggles, resources, and pace. There are no concrete rules in this process—only guidelines. Remember always that the 12 steps of recovery are about progress, not perfection, and everyone moves at a different speed. Regardless of how complex or straightforward your journey may seem, the simple act of working the steps can lead to profound transformations in your life.

Readings and Links

Karen read from How Al-Anon Works, starting on page 43 in chapter 8 “Twelve Steps”, and from Hope for Today page 319, November 14.

We talked about or mentioned these books:

Karen's newsletter is available at


Send a voice memo or email to with your questions or experience, strength and hope. You can call our voice mail number at 734-707-8795. Or you can leave a comment right here.

Music from the Show

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
Sierra – When I Let It Go
Carrie Newcomer – Room at the Table

2 comments on “Working the Steps – 405

  1. Mary Anne says:

    What is a traveling sponsor?

  2. The Recovery Show says:

    Mary Anne asks about “traveling sponsor”, which as far as I can tell is not something either of us said. I think you may have heard Karen’s reference to the ACA term “fellow traveler”. The definition from the ACA website says “Fellow Traveler – This is the traditional method of ACA sponsorship. A person who is willing to share experience, strength, and hope in helping the sponsee work his or her way through the Twelve Steps and to pick up the recovery tools for facing life on life’s terms.”

    This pamphlet explains ACA sponsorship and “fellow travelers” in more detail. In particular, it says “The unique model of sponsorship practiced in ACA places the sponsor and sponsee on equal footing, seeking answers and solutions together.” (

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