The 12 steps and the 5 R’s

June 30, 2006

For my initial series, I will be going over the 12 steps. They were originally given to Bill W. as he sought relief from his alcoholism. I will initially say that I believe that they were divinely inspired and I will talk a bit more about them after the initial listing. I should also say that these are not the 12 steps given in the current LDS Addiction Recovery Manual. However, I will have a post devoted to the “official” LDS version later on.

So, the following are the 12 steps as they appear in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

So, these are the 12 steps.

Next up are the 5 steps, vaguely remembered from the second missionary discussion.

  1. Feel sorrow for your sins (Regret)
  2. Pray to God for forgiveness (Repent)
  3. Confess and Forsake (Reveal)
  4. Restore what was lost (if possible) (Restitution)
  5. Keep all the commandments (Remain)

I have come to find out that, although these are often referred to as the five R’s, there is no official version and no apparent consensus. A quick internet perusal found at least 2 different versions in the first two places that I check. This seems to imply that we are much better are coming up with catchy phrases and mnemonic tools than we are at clearly explaining how to repent. That said, it isn’t my place to argue for the superiority of one of these models over the other. Instead, I would like to talk about how they complement one another.

It is a common criticism in the church to talk about how we don’t really tell people how to repent. We do a great job at telling people to avoid sin. We are very good about telling people deep in sin that they can get out and that they shouldn’t give up hope. However, it is rare for us to go into any detail regarding how to actually repent once one is caught into an addiction. That said, the five R’s aren’t that bad a system. After all, they are based in scripture.

In order to repent, we have to acknowledge that we have sinned. We have to turn to God as the sole source of redemption. We should confess and forsake our sins. If it is possible to provide restitution, we should (otherwise, we should allow God that privilege). Finally, we should seek to keep all the commandments. In fact, that is a good summary of the twelve steps. The problem with the 5 steps isn’t with their content, but rather with their nature.

They are guidelines, written in broad strokes. They are a mission statement regarding the repentance process. However, they don’t tell one how to repent. They only provide the appropriate labels for the actions of repentance; they don’t explain the mechanics. This is probably a good thing. I don’t believe that the 12 steps are the only way to repent (although they are a very good way). In most things, the church allows the individual the opportunity to work out their own salvation with the Lord.

That said, the 12 steps are useful because each act is an act. You are expected to do something in each step. The nature of the act may be elusive, but it is always presented as something specific that you should do. Also, you should note that the 12 steps are a combination of the first two principles of the Gospel, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and Repentance. This is important and it is one of the reasons why the 12 steps are so effective at helping chronic sinners. It recognizes that the heart of an addiction is a failure of faith, not of will power or personal integrity (although those are involved). Therefore, the first thing that must be restored is one’s own faith in God and in God’s power and ability to redeem us. Although that is part of recognizing that we have done wrong and turning to God, it is rare that we talk about it in any sort of useful way. After all, when we talk about faith, we usually talk about miracles of some physical sort. It is rare that we discuss it in the context of the greatest miracle of all, the Atonement.

After acknowledging that our life is out of control and our efforts to fix it have been fruitless, we are asked to turn to God and be willing to let Him have a go. He seek to know and do his will in our life. As we seek greater interaction with God in our life, we will be reminded of what we have done to sever our relationship with God up to this point. We are then asked to write down an inventory of those events whereby we have separated ourselves from God. This is helpful because it offers us an opportunity to review our life and to see God’s influence in it and to also see where our will has led us. Then we are asked to share this with God, ourselves, and another person. What we find in this process is that there is nothing (well, almost nothing) that God can’t forgive and that, for that matter, there is nothing that people can’t forgive either.

Then we are asked to go over our character weaknesses with God and to humbly ask Him to remove them. It is in this that we really commit to our personal change, as it forces us to try and move beyond the things that trigger our addictive episodes. Generally, people use addictive behaviors as stress relief or as a way to avoid boredom. Our stress or our boredom generally are brought about by flaws in our character (procrastination, anger, low self-esteem, lack of joy in work, etc). Here is where we seek to deal with our problems at their heart.

Then, we are asked to seek repentance from others. The order here is important, because people are not likely to believe our sincerity unless we have actually changed. For that matter, we are highly unlikely to be sincere prior to reaching this point. Our focus prior to steps 6 and 7 is on our misery. Until we move beyond them, it is harder to genuinely consider those who surround us and to put them first. So, having done that, we can now move forward to the steps that allow us to address how we have hurt others and to seek to make amends.

After all that, you just keep doing the steps over and over again. No really, that’s what steps 10 and 11 are. They are a repeat of all the over steps, over and over again. This is another way in which the 12 steps are superior. The 12 steps understand repentance as a change of lifestyle not as an occasional unfortunate event. It provides a model for life-long repentance.

Step 12 is to take repentance to those who suffer from addiction and to offer it to them. As we have a strong missionary impulse in our church, we can understand this need. It helps us share that which has helped us with others. It allows us to be a kind of savior in another’s life. That’s a good thing.

So, that is our brief AA twelve step overview. More specifics to come in the relatively near future.


5 Responses to “The 12 steps and the 5 R’s”

  1. I’ve linked to your blog, I wish you well.



  2. Gordon Says:

    We have a neighbor that has an alcohol problem we live in the Grand Junction ares. She is a young mother of two darling children and she needs help. Can you direct
    us to some local help?
    Thanks Gordon

  3. Nickhol Says:

    Where are 12 step meetings he;d?

  4. I am LDS who is addicted to narcotics.

  5. visit Says:

    Incredible story there. What occurred after? Good luck!

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