Humility in 12 Step Recovery

The term humility is frequently discussed in 12 Step meetings (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), often those involving Step 7, “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings” ; humility is, in my view, broader than this, and is essential to the individual’s ability to embrace the goal of the 12 Step Programs, namely, to find a spiritual way out of the bonds of addiction. In my experience, until an individual with the disease of addiction has reached the point that he/she has exhausted all efforts to control use of alcohol or other drugs, and to stay stopped from such use, and failed, that individual in most cases will be unable to succeed in 12 Step recovery. In other words, humility in this context refers to recognition of inability using one’s own efforts to cease use of alcohol or other drugs, or, in 12 Step language, “admission of powerlessness (Step 1).”

In this writer’s personal recovery journey (over 40 years of continuous abstinence), there are many examples of humility in action; perhaps the most humbling experience was the discovery that, contrary to enduring beliefs that there is no God or spiritual source of strength, willingness to seek such a source through daily prayer, 12 Step meeting attendance, and, of course, abstinence from use of alcohol or other drugs, resulted in a profound awareness of a heretofore absent faith in a spiritual source of strength which led to ongoing abstinence and perseverance in recovery efforts. Put simply, the result of following suggestions to pray, go to 12 Step meetings, not use, among other suggestions, resulted in a profound internalization that “I was going to be ok”, a new feeling that over time translated into a faith, based on experience, in a spiritual source of strength. Humility, basically, is the understanding that sobriety and the ability to be relatively stable emotionally regardless of life events, stem from a relationship with a Higher Power, God, or other source of spiritual strength.

Doctor Bob, AA co-founder, presented remarks on humility in a talk in 1948, a few years before his death. He had 13 and a half years of sobriety at the time:

“Another thing with which most of us are not too blessed is the feeling of humility. I don’t mean the fake humility of Dickens’ Uriah Heep. I don’t mean the doormat variety; we are not called upon to be shoved around and stepped on by anyone; we have a right to stand up for our rights. I’m taking about the attitude of each and every one of us toward our Heavenly Father. Christ said, “Of Myself, I am nothing – My strength cometh from My Father in heaven.” If He had to say that, how about you and me? Did you say it? Did I say it? No. That’s exactly what we didn’t say. We were inclined to say instead, “Look me over, boys. Pretty good, huh?” We had no humility, no sense of having received anything through the grace of our Heavenly Father.

“I don’t believe I have any right to get cocky about getting sober. It’s only through God’s grace that I did it. I can feel very thankful that I was privileged to do it. I may have contributed some activity to help, but basically, it was only through His kindness. If my strength does come from Him, who am I to get cocky about it? I should have a very, very humble attitude toward the source of my strength; I should never cease to be grateful for whatever blessings come my way. And I have been blessed in very large measure.” (Dr. Bob’s Last Major Talk, Detroit, Michigan, December 1948 -transcribed from tape, AA Grapevine, Inc, June 1973; from

As always, comments are invited. Jan Williams, November 29, 2017.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s