It Works if You Work It: Recovery Takes Dedication

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By now, most of us have heard the unofficial 12-Step program slogan: “It works if you work it!” Most newcomers to the rooms of recovery get an earful of this phrase after just about every meeting. It’s certainly thrown around enough that most of us stop really hearing it after a while. And we certainly stop paying attention to what it really means.

The 12-Step program is nothing short of miraculous for so many of us who are alcoholics and addicts. Working the 12-Steps has changed most of our lives and turned them into something beyond our wildest dreams. However outlandish that sounds, it’s no exaggeration. It’s the truth for so many of us. So excuse us if we get too excited, but we were once dying from alcoholism and addiction just like you and every other newcomer. When they find the rooms of recovery, we want them to know this thing really works wonders. Most important of all, this thing — the 12-Step program — really works.

It works on alcoholism and addiction. It works on our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical conditions. It works on our relationships, our careers, and our lives. It just really works. But, it only works if you work. Hence, it works if you work it. For the 12-Steps to revolutionize your life and give you daily freedom from alcoholism and addiction, you have to work the 12-Steps.


The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says outright that “half-measures availed us nothing.” Going half-throttle at something has never, and will never, really get us anywhere. We can — and should  — go to meetings. They’re necessary for a full and healthy recovery, but they are not the 12-Steps. We can be of service to everyone we meet and at every opportunity. We should be of service as often as we can. Service has a magical way of filling our lives up, solving our problems, and making the world a better place for us and everyone else in it. But service is not the 12-Steps. Service is part of the 12th-Step, but service and unity aren’t enough for long-term recovery on their own.

Service and Unity (fellowship, meetings, etc.) are two sides of the “triangle of recovery.” But every triangle has three sides — if we leave one out, the whole thing will collapse. Many of us find that our recovery works the same way. If we only work one or two sides of the triangle, we put ourselves and our recovery at risk. The third side of the triangle is Recovery, and that means working the 12-Steps.

Work Is Not a Four-Letter Word

When it comes to recovery, the work is our gateway to true freedom and healing. With the 12-Steps, most of the work we have to do is with pen and paper or happens on a spiritual basis. In fact, the 12-Steps are often referred to as a spiritual course of action. This spiritual course of action produces the necessary psychic change and vital spiritual experience to bring about lasting recovery from alcoholism and addiction.

If we don’t actually do the 12-Steps, we may not have the necessary spiritual experience or undergo the psychic change needed for lasting recovery. Some of us would rather haul sandbags or dig trenches alone than engage in spiritual action. Others don’t believe that “spiritual” actions can do anything at all. That’s the best part: it works whether we enjoy the work or not. It works whether we believe it will work or not. But it only works if we do the work.

We don’t have to enjoy the 12-Steps; they’ll work anyway. We don’t have to believe in the 12-Steps; they’ll still save our lives. We just have to do the 12-Steps, and they do the rest. It’s a pretty great system, isn’t it?

Dedication in Action

The Big Book also says that the only things we need to work the 12-Step program are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. That’s it. We leave the rest to the program, to our higher power, and the recovery fellowship. Why honesty? Because if we don’t stay honest while working the 12-Steps, we cut ourselves off from the profound effects of receiving a new perspective on our lives. If we haven’t been honest, then the 12-Steps aren’t going to be able to give us good feedback and teach us about ourselves.

Open-mindedness? Most people, without even realizing it, are a lot more hard-headed than they admit. We like our routines, and we get set in our ways. We have strong opinions about things we’ve never experienced before. It’s just human. If we can keep an open mind about the Big Book as we work the 12-Steps, we will likely begin to have experiences that we never thought possible. Simply put, if we don’t believe it can happen, we will probably make sure it doesn’t.

Willingness? Get your dedication ready because this is what we need it for. Willingness is so simple, yet so complicated. We don’t have to like the work to be willing. We don’t have to believe in it to be willing. We just have to be willing to do it. If we willingly take the 12-Step course of spiritual action with an honest and open mind, there is no limit to how free we can be or how much our lives can improve. And if we remain dedicated to our recovery for even just one short year, there’s a good chance that we will barely recognize our lives when the year is done. With a bit of dedication, a little bit of time, and a whole lot of 12-Steps, you may find life beyond your own wildest dreams, just like so many of us have.

Dedication doesn’t have to be difficult. At Jaywalker Lodge, we understand that no one will be motivated to do the work when they can’t see or understand its value. This is why we put such a strong focus on the 1st-Step of the 12-Step program. With sufficient education on the 1st-Step, we will have a personal experience with alcoholism or addiction and the solution to our disease. When we see our disease clearly, we become much more willing to work the 12-Steps with an honest and open mind. Because we can see ourselves in the disease, we begin to believe in the solution we see working all around us. Recovery takes dedication, but luckily for us, nobody recovers alone. We’ve all been newcomers and had to rely on others who have found the solution. We were able to trust their dedication until we found our own, and now we all enjoy our lives in recovery together. Jaywalker Lodge has a community of dedicated professionals and recovery alumni ready to help you on your journey to lasting recovery. Call us now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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