How FAST should the newcomer be taken through the Twelve Steps?

One of the key concepts of A.A. in the 1940’s: Get the newcomer to Step Twelve as quickly as possible, so he or she can experience the life-changing spiritual awakening that occurs as the direct result of taking the Steps. Assure the newcomer that our program of recovery will relieve his or her alcoholism/addiction. Show the newcomer that the process is simple, straightforward and that it really works.

Earl T.
(pictured right), founder of A.A. in Chicago “wished that every A.A. could have the benefit of this type of sponsorship today”. In his story, “He Sold Himself Short” (p. 287 in 2nd and 3rd editions and p. 258 in 4th edition.) he explains how he was taken through the Steps.

“The day before I was due to go back to Chicago, a Wednesday and Dr. Bob’s afternoon off, he had me down to the office, and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as it was at that time. The six steps were:”

  1. Complete deflation. (Step 1)
  2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power. (Steps 2, 3, 6, 7, 11)
  3. Moral Inventory. (Steps 4, 10)
  4. Confession. (Step 5)
  5. Restitution. (Steps 8, 9)
  6. Continued work with other alcoholics. (Step 10)

“Dr. Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory (Step 4), he brought up some of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm and resentments. We wen over these at great length and the he finally asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed. When I said yes (Step 6), we both knelt at this desk and prayed, each of us asking to have these defects taken away” (Step 7).

“This picture is still vivid. If i live to be a hundred, it will always stand out in my mind. It was very impressive and I wish that every A.A. could have the benefit of this type of sponsorship today. Dr. Bob always emphasized the religious angle very strongly, and I think it helped. I know it helped me, Dr. Bob then led me through the restitution step, in which I made a list of all the persons I had harmed (Step 8), and worked out ways and means of slowly making restitution (Step 9). I made several decisions at that time. One of them was that I would try to get a group started in Chicago (Step 12), the second was that I would have to return to Akron to attend meetings at least every two months until I did get a group started in Chicago, third, I decide I must place this program above everything else, even my family because if I did not maintain my sobriety I would lose my family anyway. If I did not maintain my sobriety, I would not have a job. If I did not maintain my sobriety, I would have no friends left.”

Sponsorship (A.A. Grapevine, April 1961)

“Though three hundred thousand have recovered in the last twenty-five years, maybe half a million more have walked into our midst, and then out again.”

“We can’t well content ourselves with the view that all these recovery failures were entirely the fault of the newcomers themselves. Perhaps a great many didn’t receive the kind and amount of sponsorship they so sorely needed. We didn’t communicate when we might have done so. So we AA’s failed them.” — Bill W.

13 thoughts on “How FAST should the newcomer be taken through the Twelve Steps?

  1. Wow. Congratulations on the new article of October 6, 2009 and its emphasis on sponsorship. What I see are several important things. And I would like briefly to mention each.

    First of all, of course, is the vital importance of sponsorship and mastery of the Big Book and Twelve Steps. I believe if one is not conversant with these basic tools, he just isn’t in the game and may languish for years as a meeting sitter only. Sponsorship is the heart. Recall that after a five hour session with Bill Wilson at the Seiberling Gate Lodge, Dr. Bob said he had heard it all before. But what gripped him was how Bill had mastered the concept of "service" while Dr. Bob had not. In fact, the lesson of how the first three got sober for good is a lesson in the simple principles Bill and Bob put together: (1) Trust in God. (2) Clean house. (3) Help others. These are completely consistent with the important abc’s in the Big Book especially since the abc’s follow the description of the "steps they took."

    Second, you have included the important approach that Clarence took and which is still incorporated in the "Our Faith Legacy" that is available from the "Came to Believe" groups ( still pursue his method. Recall that it was the Cleveland Group which built on the Big Book and the 12 Steps but took with it from Akron the Four Absolutes and the Bible. The result? A documented 93% success rate; and Cleveland groups grew from one to thirty in a year.

    Third, I’m always somewhat dismayed when any presentation does not cover the distinctly different programs that led up to the Big Book. These roots are covered in the new, "The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide," 2d ed. The presentation shows the very clear 7 point program of November, 1937 that led to the "counting of noses" by Bill and Bob, the conclusion that of the 40 original pioneers, 50% had maintained continuous sobriety, 25% had had a relapse but returned to sobriety , and 25% "showed improvement." This was astonishing primarily because the 40 pioneers were the "worst of the worst." They were, as Bill called them, the "last gasp real alcoholics who had been deemed "seemingly hopeless," "medically incurable," and yet had gone to any lengths to establish a relationship with God (Big Book, p. 29). Frank Amos reported the details of the 7 points, and they are published in DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, page 131. Without this astonishing record by the members of the Akron Christian Fellowship (whose names and addresses and sobriety records we had, but now are confirmed by a list in Dr. Bob’s own handwriting that has just been made available by an A.A. friend. Next came the so-called "word of mouth" steps–as Bill chose to describe them. These certainly weren’t the steps of the program, because there were no steps–as Dr. Bob pointed out. They were diverse,differently worded according to the whim of the user, and were not producing success. Then Bill obtained authority to fashion a book that would carry the message. He did not use the 7 point Akron program. Nor did he use the six "word of mouth" ideas. Instead, he worked with Sam Shoemaker, reviewed the Oxford Group life-changing ideas, and proposed Steps which he asked Sam to write but that Sam turned back to Bill. The chapters were written chapter by chapter, sent to Akron for review (with warmest approval), and then set up in a manuscript which was circulated to all kinds of folks. When the suggestions were in, they were melded into what has now come to be called the "Holy Grail," which was purchased at auction by Ken R. This document shows the major changes that were made in Wilson’s drafts. God was removed from the Second Step. "As we understood Him" was added to Steps Three and Eleven; and many more changes appear in various handwriting changes throughout the book. Then came the battle in which the committee of four our put the manuscript together, let it be edited by Tom Uzzell, and discarded between 400 and 800 pages–mostly Christian and biblical material which Fitz was contending should be retained. The final manuscript has apparently been lost. But the book was published in the Spring of 1939. And it was Clarence who almost immediately seized on the Big Book, used the Four Absolutes, and continued to stress the Bible.

    That is really the end of the story as far as the three types of "original" programs are concerned. To be sure, many had a crack at the ideas during Bill’s severe depression years thereafter–Clarence, Sister Ignatia, Richmond Walker, Father Ralph Pfau, Ed Webster, the AA of Akron pamphlets which Dr. Bob commissioned, and then the so-called "beginner’s meetings" ideas of the 1940’s. And how can this all fit together? I believe we first have to learn, know, and practice what the Big Book and 12 Steps of the 4th edition prescribe today. To do otherwise, is to attempt a new movement which is neither Christian nor secular nor universal. It is just self-made religion and personal opinion. On the other hand, Christians in recovery today need to know that A.A. has changed. To know it is not a Christian Fellowship as it once was. To know that A.A. today has proclaimed you may believe what you like or believe in nothing at all. To know that this doctrine is neither Christian Fellowship A.A., Six word-of-mouth A.A., First Edition A.A., Cleveland A.A. or much but a palliative for those who would rather meet and chat than study and recover. At any rate, that’s just one guy’s view–someone who has made 23 years of uninterrupted sobriety in A.A., loves A.A., and has found belief in God, changing old behavior, and helping others to be a touchstone that fits well with the abc’s of the Big Book and has served well for lots of us. God Bless, Dick B.

  2. In my opinion every newcomer should be taken through the steps as quickly as possible. By doing this their life will evolve swiftly giving them rewards quickly making relapse less attractive.

    Jerry C

  3. Whenever I work with a newcomer, I always spend 4 to 5 hours outlining our program of action and laying out the kit of spiritual tools for their inspection. In doing so, we actually take all 12 Steps together. I have witnessed on many occasions the newcomer finding that spark of hope and spirit that dwells deep within them. My experience has shown me that this approach gives the newcomer a "lick-of-the-ice-cream-cone" and they always want more. If that be the case, the newcomer and I are usually inseparable for the next 60 to 90 days working the first 7 chapters of the Big Book together–studying the text, doing steps and having vital spiritual experiences together. I want to be there with them when they find God. When they get the "visit"–I always get the "visit" too.

  4. Clarence Snyder (Founder of A.A. Cleveland) would take newcomers through the Steps in a weekend. He called the process "fixing rummies." He’d say, "come to me on Friday evening on Step One and by the time you leave on Sunday morning you’ll have taken all Twelve Steps. Then, in order to stay ‘fixed’, you’ll need to practice Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve on a daily basis." (Back To Basics, The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Meetings. Wally P. page 152)

  5. Sponsorship? Hmmm! Yes, I believe in "sponsorship" to the extent that a "sponsor" is an individual who helps a "suffering alcoholic", (newcomer or oldtimer) through the Steps as they are laid out in the Big Book. There is a very clear description of "sponsorship" in the story, "He Sold Himself Short" in the Big Book where Dr. Bob took Earl through the Steps.

    I believe that in order to "Recover", our real reliance must be on a "Higher Power", not a "human power" as stated in the ABCs from "How It Works". All too often in the Fellowship, alkies try to pass on something they haven’t got and that can kill! My "only" job is to carry the Message found in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. When someone asks me for advice on anything, I refer them to the Big Book. This way, I can’t screw up a perfect message. If my best advice got me into the messes I’ve been in, I’m certainly not going to pass "this advice" on to others.

    When I look at children in my community, I can tell, for the most part, who their parents are by the resemblance they bear to one of the parents. Coincidently, in the AA Fellowship, it is much the same. When I look at individuals in our A.A. community, I can tell, for the most part, who their sponsors are by the resemblance they bear in speech, outlook, ideas and lives. It is important for sponsors to ensure that we are not creating "mini-mees" or "pigeons". We must help the sponsee to become independently dependent on his or her Higher Power! When people look at those I have sponsored, I want them to see that person’s Higher Power. I don’t want them to see that person’s sponsor. A very awesome responsibility!

    Who’s Resemblance Do You Bear?

  6. As written in A Guied to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1940 and commissioned by Dr. Bob.

    "It is important that the newcomer be introduced to the twelve steps at as early a date as possible. On these rules depends his full recovery. If you feel that the steps are a bit too complicated at first, you can introduce them to your "baby" in a simplified form going the complete program later."

  7. Yes Jerry C., I absolutely agree with the excerpt you provided but I am also aware that same was written in 1940 when the "common solution" was common to all. Nowadays, one would be hard-pressed to find a member of the Fellowship who has ever read even the Title page of the basic text, much less the first portion thereof. As the Fellowship has become the program to the vast majority of our members, "Don’t Drink & Go To Meetings" has become the only message that mot can carry which is not even one of the Twelve Steps. The very ad fact remains that that the A.A. Fellowship has become the substitute for THE A.A. Program and the "slogans", a substitute for the Steps!

  8. In the AA Grapevine, December 1986 Vol. 43 No. 7, an article entitled "Doing the ‘Don’ts’": Rule Five: Long-term sobriety is a prerequisite for sponsoring.

    "The junior member of the pair of twelfth-steppers became my first sponsor. She had three months of sobriety. I don’t think I would have made it without her." – J.H. San Antonio, Texas.

  9. Peace and Happiness everyone!

    I’ve been criticized for handing out the “12 steps in 4 hours” folders to newcomers. I only did this after no-one came forward to sponsor them (especially women). I told the men to come and see me when they read it and accepted their alcoholism.

    I also give them CDs of AA speakers downloaded from This has also been criticized by the same group.

    The person who started this criticism once told me, after I asked her if she or someone she could recommend to sponsor a particular woman, that the woman was too sick and had too many problems for her to sponsor.

    She told me that those people don’t come back to AA because they think they can do themselves with the information I give them.
    My thinking on this: they never listened to the CDs or read the folder!

    • Your SPOT ON, I have relapsed, returned and am searching worldwide for a female sponsor to take me through my steps as per THE program.
      Its deplorable in my area, the all to common phrase, “I dont sponsor”, pardon, so “you haven’t worked the steps”?
      I am not popular as I speak of recovery from alcoholism NOT group therapy!
      I don’t mind, what you think of me is none of my business, foe AA to survive, I am getting back to basics, the ABC’s!
      in fellowship.

  10. “Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning “ p63 AA. It says this for a reason. Once you are finished with step 4 and 5. It tells us vigorous action. Not a step a month. You should get to step 10 as quickly as possible so you can look out for selfishness dishonesty resentments and fears when they crop up. If you don’t take a personal inventory daily you going to have new resentments pop up

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