Walk into any AA or NA meeting, and you'll hear all sorts of people muttering about step work, inventories, and amends. Whether you're new in recovery or you've been sober for several years, many people work the 12 Steps as part of their healing from drug or alcohol addiction.
That said, how long should it take to work the steps? Is there an optimal timeline? Should there be?
What is a 12-Step Program all About?
If you ask 100 people what the 12 steps mean to them, you'll receive 100 different answers. That's because the program is largely subjective—it does not have a single, prescribed form for how one should do it.
The program is designed to help individuals recognize the role drugs and/or alcohol have played in both their past and present. It's also intended to expose other moral and character issues that prevent one from living a happy and fulfilled life.
Through the 12 steps, people learn about themselves, their loved ones, and the world around them. They create a working definition of a Higher Power, practice a combination of vulnerability and humility, and learn how to change their ways of thinking and behaving.
Recovering addicts work the 12 steps with a sponsor who has also gone through the program. A sponsor guides, facilitates, and provides instruction for how to navigate each step.
When Should Someone Start?
Many advocates of 12-Step programs recommend starting as soon as possible. However, one doesn't have to start step work once they've fully decided to stop drinking or using. In fact, the program professes that people only need the willingness to change.
Therefore, if you have the willingness to try something new and different, it may be a good idea to consider starting your steps.
The first part of this process entails finding a sponsor. Most people find sponsors in AA or NA meetings. While there is no set criteria for what makes an ideal sponsor, it is usually recommended to find someone who "has what you want".
In other words, this should be a person that inspires and intrigues someone to engage with the process.
How Long Will it Take?
Identifying a perfect answer for this question is impossible. Some people complete all the steps within a month or two. Others spend several years going through the process. Moreover, some choose to repeat the steps over and over again—at different points and with various sponsors.
Everyone is different, and that means everyone has different needs. Furthermore, all sponsors have different directions.
Some follow a traditional Big Book approach where the steps are completed "as quickly as possible" to achieve spiritual awakening and remove the mental obsession. Others choose to take more time with the process.
There is no right or wrong answer.
After the Steps
Just like all things in recovery, the work isn't done after the steps are completed. Recovery is a lifelong process that requires daily maintenance and consideration.
And while the work may be painstaking, it pays itself in dividends.