The AA Way: Lessons We Can All Learn From

I’m not a member of AA, but through the course of random events, I’ve met some amazing women who are.

They are funny. They are insightful. They are a joy to be around and possibly the most non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. The more time I spend with them, the more I realize what an incredible program AA is. Truth be told, I’m jealous of their connection and what they learn in group therapy because what AA boils down to is a healthy, wholesome way of life. It’s a philosophy anyone can benefit from, addict or not.aa way copy

Now, you may think you don’t know any addicts. You may assume addiction recovery is irrelevant to you since no one in your circle is struggling. If so, it’s time to broaden your mindset.

The truth about addiction, one of the most pressing problems of our generation, is that it’s a dark, prevalent secret in every community. It’s more common than people think, and with all the things people can be addicted to – alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, shopping, eating, gambling, work, technology, exercise – chances are everyone will be affected at some point in some way.

That cute mom you sit with at the ball field? It may be her CEO husband that’s a high-functioning alcoholic. Your neighbor down the street whose kids look like J Crew models? It may be her son addicted to porn. That PTA chair everyone calls the Energizer Bunny? It may be her abusing prescription drugs, taking her child’s ADD medicine because it boosts her energy while also inducing weight loss.

The point is, you never know what’s happening behind closed doors. You never know who’s suffering, who’s lost, who desperately needs help. There’s a lot of shame in addiction, and since shame feeds on secrecy, it makes the problem worse. It keeps the addict in a vicious cycle, leading them to self-medicate when shame gets the best of them.

I can’t write about AA as an insider, but I can demystify the program. I can help eliminate negative connotations that outsiders like myself hold before being educated. Most important, I can shed light on the AA mindset to 1) encourage anyone who may think they need help to look into it, and 2) share insights that can enrich anyone’s life. As I’ve said, what AA boils down to is a healthy, wholesome lifestyle.

It’s a blueprint for happiness anyone can apply.

With that said, here are 10 lessons of the AA way that I believe you should know:

*LESSON #1: “We admitted we were powerless.” The first step to addiction recovery is surrendering your life to a higher power. People think addiction is a matter of willpower, and that the sufferer is weak. But alcoholism is an illness. It impairs mental capacities as much as the body. The cornerstone of AA is a belief that only a spiritual experience can conquer the illness. Only through a profound dependence on grace and submission to God can you overcome your weaknesses.

Note that AA was founded on the Christian God, but the organization has since adopted a more inclusive tone that allows members to submit to a “God of your understanding.” This has enabled AA principles to help millions of people who don’t believe in God.

*LESSON #2: “We must only sweep our side of the street.” AA believes in taking responsibility for your side of the street – things in your control. Anything on the other side is someone else’s to sweep. If you owe money, you pay the debt. If you’ve wronged someone, you apologize. Whether the person accepts your apology is irrelevant because that’s their side of the street. You can’t control someone’s behavior, but you can control your reaction. You can let go of frustrations beyond your power and focus straight ahead, continually asking yourself, “What’s the next right thing I can do? What mess can I pick up?”

*LESSON #3: “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Resentments are unhealthy, and harboring resentments makes you sick. AA believes it’s important to cleanse yourself of resentment, which takes many shapes and may be toward people or even institutions like work or church. Part of cleansing is admitting your fault in each situation and working through your resentments daily to stay healthy. When it won’t cause more harm, you’re encouraged to approach the person you resent and admit your feelings.

*LESSON #4: “Seek progress, not perfection.” The road to recovery is more about the journey than the destination. Sometimes it takes a few steps back to ultimately move forward. If you relapse, you’re urged not to throw it all away, but to get back on the wagon. Everyone makes mistakes, and forgiving yourself is as crucial as forgiving others.

LESSON #5: “Gratitude is the best attitude.” Gratitude is big in AA, and so are gratitude lists. By writing a gratitude list, you add up small blessings that are important but easily forgotten. You realize that despite what’s lacking in your life, you have much to be thankful for. Since alcoholics and other addicts often feel they’ve wasted time, many are grateful to have a new lease on life and a clearer view of what matters.

*LESSON #6: “By making a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves, we can improve.” AA believes that admitting mistakes and practicing forgiveness are essential to a good life. By assessing past behavior, you can identity why you do what you do and make changes. By addressing resentments and fears, you can let go of the past and grow into the future.

*LESSON #7: “We humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.” A healthy self-image is based on humility and strength through God. Typically, men and women need the 12 steps for different reasons: Men need AA to break them down because pride is the root of their issue. Women need it to build them up because low self-esteem is the root of theirs.

Pastor Rick Warren says, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” His message is admit your weaknesses, be grateful for them, and openly share them. Why? Because sharing your strengths fosters competition; sharing your weaknesses fosters community. The limitations God allows in your life are blessings in disguise, because they guarantee that God will show up to help. A weakness isn’t about a character flaw that can and should be changed; it’s any limitation that you inherited or can’t change.

AA recognizes how humility translates into honesty, transparency, and connection. Through your weaknesses, you have the greatest opportunity to relate to others and meaningfully impact their lives. Since grace meets you in your place of weakness, it allows God to use your humanity for His glory. It enables you to draw closer to God and handle uncomfortable truths about yourself. Suddenly you can self-reflect or take deep moral inventories without stirring self-hate and shame because you know your worth as a child of God is solid. You’re loved regardless.

*LESSON #8: “Life is best lived one day at a time.” There is holiness in the present that can’t be found looking back or ahead. Taking it “one day at a time” teaches you to live in the moment and not get overwhelmed by tomorrow. For an alcoholic or addict – who may struggle to abstain for a day, an hour, even a minute – this makes life manageable.

“One day at a time” translates to more than just sobriety; it’s also doing a job one task at a time…cleaning a mess one mess at a time…solving problems one problem at a time. It’s putting first things first and simplifying.


*LESSON #9: “Be of service to others.” AA believes the best way to help yourself is to help others. An AA meeting is not an advice session – it’s a share session. Members share experiences without fear of judgment and among people who understand. It’s interesting to think that an AA member whom society considers a “lost cause” because they keep disappointing family and friends could actually be doing a lot of good behind the scenes.

When your friends are other addicts, you might be the 911 call someone makes in the middle of the night when they’re thinking of ending it all. You might be the voice of reason for someone sinking fast. No matter how bad off you are, there’s always someone in deeper trouble. When you help a friend in the trenches, you distance yourself from your problems. You get out of your head and see the bigger picture.

Your life doesn’t have to be perfect to make an impact. Whatever your circumstances are, whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever mistakes you’re making – God can use you. As Christine Caine says, “God uses rescued people to rescue people.”

*LESSON #10: “Pray.” AA relies heavily on prayer and meditation. In the morning you pray for God’s will. At night you thank Him and reflect on your day – things you did right, things you did wrong, amends you need to make. Throughout the day you pray as needed, asking for the serenity to accept what you can’t change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For most AA members, these 10 lessons become ingrained into a way of life. They’re essential to recovery, along with attending meetings, working the 12 steps, having a sponsor, and reaching out to others.

I’ve only scratched the surface of AA, but what I hope anyone reading this takes away is 1) a better understanding of addiction recovery and 2) the assurance that  HELP and HOPE exist.

If you think you have a problem, try visiting different AA meetings to find one that clicks with you. Each group has its own dynamics and demographics; it may take time to find the best fit. Also, seek to befriend the seasoned members: those with long sobriety histories, meaningful lives, a love for AA that keeps them coming, humility, and an appreciation for where they are despite their mistakes. Newcomers are advised to “stick with the winners” because, like any organization, there may be members who like to lead impressionable newcomers astray.

If you’re concerned about a loved one, contact Al-Anon, a support network for friends and family members of problem drinkers. Also, know that there are 12-step programs based on AA for every addiction under the sun (Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Workaholics Anonymous, to name a few).

Addiction recovery is not easy. The addict must be motivated, for “willingness” is key to recovery. It’s easy for outsiders to judge, but what we need to remember is that joining a 12-step program is an act of courage, not a show of weakness. It’s adopting a way of thinking and living that everyone should take to heart. Most of all, it’s a chance to experience the power of grace, forgiveness, and redemption, to climb one of life’s hardest mountains and discover a view that is richer, more beautiful, and more meaningful than any view you’ve seen before.


Thanks for reading this article today. If you found the message helpful, please share it through social media.

I’m grateful for my readers and would love to connect. You can subscribe to my blog, join my Facebook community, or find me on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest

Also, I’ve written two books for teen & tween girls designed to empower them through faith. The newest one, Liked, is getting a fantastic response as a unique resource for girls of the digital age, and along with the bestselling 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, it’s being used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.

Have a great day, and thanks again for stopping by!


Posted by Kari on September 30, 2013

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2 thoughts on "The AA Way: Lessons We Can All Learn From"

  1. K says:

    Thank you for your message. I have been in recovery a long time and in the rooms of AA. The program is a design for living and a way to change our perception on the world and life. I’ve been asked to speak tonight last minute in a new town and I simply did a little online googling because I don’t have my books with me. Yet, what I always know to be true is my truth and experience and my connection with that which is greater than me will lead me if I choose to be in the sunlight of the spirit. Thank you. I’m ready to reach out and be of service tonight.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Very true!!

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