Sunday, 31 July 2016

A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Principles

Working the 12 steps can take us to a place of safety, sanity and serenity. But the 12 steps are the beginning of the journey, not a destination. Over time, as our recovery deepens, we need to internalize and practice the PRINCIPLES that are suggested by the Steps ever more. Principles require a higher level of thinking and learning than any rule, because a principle requires reflection and mindfulness. The 12 principles also help us integrate the many different areas of the brain. It lays the foundation for what is a life-long process and journey. Just like learning a new language, principles help you make the steps as common to us as simply speaking.

This discussion is based on Dr. Patrick Carnes' classic best seller, A Gentle Path through the 12 Steps.

by Allan J. Katz, LPC (See all authors)

Principle One: Acceptance

Key Concepts

We need courage to live changed lives of serenity and emotional sobriety. The encompassing umbrella of the First Principle of Acceptance is the integration of a paradigm shift, freedom, consistency and willingness to move into a better way of life. The Twelve Principles helps us integrate these key concepts into many areas of the brain. To internalize the Twelve Steps we must learn a new language of Principles and realize that this is an observable biological process; a lifelong journey.

Paradigm Shift

Changing our lives consistently involves accepting a shift in our own internal paradigm. The rules, beliefs and processes through which we view the world and others must undergo a fundamental change. Instead of accepting rigid rules, we now accept ourselves for who we are, forgiving ourselves and others, while answering our inner critic with more encouraging affirmations.


One way to free up the healthy bandwidth of our brain is to free ourselves of inconsistencies. When we stop lying to ourselves and others, we free ourselves from the slavery of having to keep track of multiple lies, stories, promises and expectations.


When we practice these Principles in all areas of our lives, everything matches up. We only have to keep track of reality; the here and now, just for today. This frees up our brains and provides additional bandwidth to fully engage in life and be able to do the next right thing. Consistency is about continuing to work our personal program of recovery, setting our sights on the journey rather than a specific destination. The problem is when addicts are not consistent with their personal program they are more likely to relapse after the first six months, thinking they have abstinence and sobriety figured out.


Addiction is about medicating our feelings. We are so used to dealing with negative feelings destructively that we lose sight of other possibilities. In recovery we must be willing to face our feelings head on, attend to them, expect them, and then manage the feeling in a healthy manner. After years of soothing feelings of anger, resentment, fear, loneliness and grief compulsively, we are now willing to look at how to manage our feelings without expecting them never to return. We must be willing to learn how to hold onto positive and negative emotions simultaneously; to face ourselves and reframe internal conversations with positive supportive expressions.

The willingness to move into a better, healthier lifestyle involves practicing more acceptance in your life; meaningful ways to use the Principles to enhance your recovery. There are five areas where you can practice acceptance in your life: sex, money, work, intimacy and lifestyle. Let yourself be nurtured and cared for during sex and not coerce your partner into having sex or doing something they don't want to do. Understand that money is a finite resource, even for the wealthy and be able to ask for help as long as you're not be controlled or manipulated. A healthier working lifestyle means leaving work at work and play at home, giving your full attention to family and friends. Healthier intimacy is honoring other people's feelings and not labeling them. In general a healthier lifestyle means getting regular exercise, not cramming your schedule without rest periods and finding pleasure in the simpler things in life.


The fourth Principle of Responsibility is to stop hiding from ourselves. There can be no recovery when we continue to isolate ourselves and our feelings from the outside world. In addiction we used our emotions to protect us from reality. We guarded our delusions with anger. We masked our pain with fear. We obscured our difficult choices with shame. We blurred our send of self with sorrow. In recovery we take responsibility for our decisions and our actions. We somberly realize our past does not let us off the hook. We are now ready to truthfully examine our life.

In step four we make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Self examination becomes our ongoing commitment to recovery. We now accept reality; surrender to what is real, no matter how inconvenient. In essence we are taking responsibility for our own lives without masking the fear, pain, and sadness. Instead we look back and realize things don't always turn out precisely the way we thought they would. We now gently replace fear, pain, and sadness with our hopes, dream, and intentions.

Responsibility is about asking the question, "Who Am I." During addiction we wove a tapestry of frightening threads: denial, avoidance, justification, and irresponsibility. In recovery, we examine our life and weave a new tapestry of eclectic threads of joy, sorrow, loss, achievement, friendship, love, disappointment, loyalty, and betrayal. This new tapestry - one of hope, health, sanity, and serenity becomes our security blanket. We do not gloss over anything as we examine our feelings and actions only to discover what part we may have played in all this. We no longer expect everything in our lives to turn out the way we thought it should. Instead we follow the principles of acceptance, awareness, spirituality, and now responsibility.

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