Recovering Sinners: Why the 12 Steps Work

The Year of Mercy has officially begun and is in full swing. Mercy begins with forgiveness; forgiving yourself and owning your mistakes. At the start of the new year, I often hear “new year, new me,” being said. However, it’s important to forgive yourself for the past mistakes you’ve made. We must admit, that we are sinners. We are not perfect. However, we need to reconcile our sins and turn to God.

All of us at some time have heard of the 12-step recovery program for addiction and disease proposed through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In a typical 12-step model, addicts admit to their weakness, eventually work through a process to discover a higher power, and realize their powerlessness and helplessness of the disease. The 12 steps have existed for years, and there are many reasons why addicts turn to this model during their recovery process. Here are a few reasons:


The first step in the 12-step model is accepting that you are an addict. The user accepts they are powerless to the disease, and their addiction is beyond their control. When they accept this, they move forward through the steps. Accepting that we are all sinners is the first step in seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness and the first step to becoming a recovering sinner.


Hopefully, by now you have an understanding of why we uphold strength in relationships when we minister to youth. It is within this relationship and community that we form bonds and build trusting, healthy relationships. During recovery, men and women share personal stories to build relationships and relate to one another.

Community is a necessary component to hold one another accountable whether we are recovering from addiction, or trying to evade temptation. Within each of our parish communities, we have distinct qualities and interests that make us different from our neighboring parish; however, we share the same goals and desires to serve God.


Did you know that in the 12-step model, recovering addicts are called to reconcile and ask for forgiveness from every person with whom they have wronged because of their addiction? They are also called to admit their disease and give it over to a higher power. We are called to do the same in our sinfulness and give it over to God. We are blessed with the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we get to receive the grace and mercy of God’s healing.


The 12-step model calls for a person who is formally asked to help lead and guide recovering addicts during their recovery. A sponsor is someone who has maintained a lengthy time of sobriety and is willing to take on the time and responsibility to guide an addict through the 12-step process to sobriety. Sponsors are asked to maintain their sobriety in the 12-step process; otherwise, they render their duties as a sponsor until they regain their sobriety.

As Catholics, we have the joy of selecting a sponsor for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our Confirmation sponsor is there to help guide us, pray for us, hold us accountable, and teach us about our faith. I have seen many Confirmation sponsors hold their candidates responsible for living out their faith in a similar way to how an AA sponsor holds their sponsee accountable for working the 12 steps. This provides another level of accountability and support for both the sponsor and the sponsee that allows recovery to become a reality and for a sinner to experience the mercy of God.


The final three steps in AA are known as the “Maintenance” steps. During the maintenance period addicts are called to figure out what plan their higher power has for them. Throughout this period, an addict will discover what their motivation is and will develop life long goals to motivate them to remain sober.

We can equate the maintenance period to discerning our vocation. We are called to use the gifts God has blessed us with for His glory. It’s important for us to pray not for what we want, rather we should pray about what God is calling us to.


At the end of every 12-step meeting, members pray the Serenity Prayer followed by, “Keep coming back. It works if you work it!” We cannot succeed in recovery without prayer and commitment to keep coming back. The beauty of ending the meeting in prayer is acknowledging that addicts NEED a higher power to guide them and protect them during the time from when they leave and return to another meeting. Also, the words to “keep coming back” encourages members to seek support by coming to meetings consistently. AA members encourage addicts to attend one meeting a day especially at the beginning of their recovery.

Similarly, when we need added support, we should feel called to keep coming back. Going to daily Mass for continued spiritual support throughout the week is paramount. Sometimes going to Mass once a week is simply not enough for us as sinners. We need Christ daily in our lives, and the Mass is the highest form of prayer where we can be fed and nourished by the body and blood of Christ.

Remember, being a Christian is not easy. It’s hard work. It takes dedication in moments of suffering. You will struggle. However, if you work hard to follow Christ and continue to seek mercy, show love, and compassion, and ask for forgiveness, then God will pour out his mercy unto you, and He will uphold His promise. We will rejoice in Heaven one day as recovering sinners.


Image via FlickrCC 2.0 Logo added

About the Author

Cheyenne Vasquez

Cheyenne is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who works with severely emotionally disturbed adolescents from Southern California. On her spare time she enjoys singing, exercising, eating ding dongs, and napping (not in that particular order).

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.