The Five Best 12-Step Sayings


A 12-Step meeting, including such programs as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous, will always be flavored by certain phrases uttered by the members. These 12-Step sayings are meant to provide guidance and hope for members, often utilizing a witty sense of humor. The culture of 12-Step is strongly linked to such phrases, and some of the core values involve themes of accountability, hard work, and grace.

This article cites some of the most powerful 12-Step sayings heard at meetings and looks deeper into the psychological context at hand.

#5 – You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets

Recovery begins with honesty. This honesty starts in sharing the problem with someone else, and ultimately involves a sense of honesty with ourselves. Through secrecy, the cycle of shame and continued drinking is perpetuated.

Shame is rooted in the fear of being cast out, and is probably the most common internal emotion held by those struggling with addiction. Sometimes, the sense of shame is highly distorted, as many other people are quite accepting of our faults. Through taking a chance and being more open and vulnerable, you likely will realize that what you hold as shameful is more common than you could have imagined.

Honesty helps break the cycle of shame, and through that, fosters a feeling of connectedness with others. This phrase is closely linked to another – “To Be Clean, You’ve Gotta Come Clean!”

#4 – Take What You Like and Leave the Rest

For someone who is new to the peer support community, it is important to remember that not everything applies to you, nor is everything you hear an absolute truth. Much of peer support is for people to feel heard and to express their views safely. Don’t attach too much to what you don’t agree with!

As in any group process, a 12-Step meeting is fundamentally about people getting together in a safe space. They hold a common goal, not necessarily uniform points of view. This phrase is meaningful because it embraces a willing approach to the process. Of course you will hear things you don’t agree with… don’t let that sour the entirety of a peer support program for you.

Many longstanding participants of AA or NA will describe that they can gather at least one useful thing from every meeting they attend.

#3 – Acronyms, Acronyms

12-Step programs use multiple acronyms to help describe certain principles. Most of these acronyms are useful during high-stress situations and to help someone avoid drinking or using. A few of these include:

H – A – L – T – People are at greater risk to relapse when they feel:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

S – L – I – P – Instead of a relapse, we might say that:

  • Sobriety
  • Loses
  • It’s
  • Priority

F – E – A – R

  • Frustration
  • Ego
  • Anxiety
  • Resentment
#2 – The Program Works if You Work It

This 12-Step saying emphasizes that programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are not passive approaches to recovery. Instead, a program is designed to be active and reflective.

National publications around such programs as AA tend to be excessively harsh, citing the high attrition rate. These articles focus on the low percentage of people who recover from attending AA. They do not, however, address how chronicity and regular attendance in AA shows a positive response for overall recovery rates. In fact, regular AA attendance for 1 year doubles sobriety probability for any individual.

The active requirement involved in AA is no different than the active requirement for such things as psychotherapy or weight loss. Does owning a gym membership predict weight loss? It depends… are you actually getting to the gym and working hard?

#1 – One Day at a Time

This phrase has helped countless numbers of people recover from substances. It emphasizes a focus on reaching short-term goals rather than obsessing too far into the future. Abstaining from drugs or alcohol is within your grasp today, and that’s all you need for now.

Many people get discouraged that they only have a small period of sobriety. When this becomes excessively frustrating, the person is at heightened vulnerability to go back out drinking or using. Keep in mind this phrase as well as some of the other useful sayings – they promote hope! Long-term recovery is built One Day at a Time.

Final Thoughts

For anyone planning to use a 12-Step fellowship to help them on the road to recovery, understanding some of the 12-Step sayings can help you move deeper into the meanings of peer support, the inherent hope towards recovery, and the nature of community.

The above are just some examples, as there are dozens of common 12-Step sayings you might hear. Think deeper about the psychological meaning at play, as this can help you maximize your emotional connection to the program.

Read more CeDAR Education Articles about Peer Support