Addiction, Sin, & Bad Habits: What We Can All Learn From the 12 Steps

Nobody wants to talk about addiction. It’s a painful subject. We always seem to be able to acknowledge addiction or sin in someone else, but never in ourselves. So we assume addiction will never affect us personally. And whether or not that is true, we can at the very least admit to ourselves that we have our fair share of bad habits and sins that we struggle with.

What I’d like us to do here, for the next few weeks, is to reflect on what everyone can learn from the experience of recovering addicts.

This week, we will look at the first three steps shared by all twelve step recovery programs. 

1. I’m powerless

The first step, contrary to all the satire, is not “to admit that you have a problem”. Everyone with an addiction or who struggles with a particular passion or sin understands that they have a problem. But knowledge never solved it. The key is to realize that we are powerless over that problem and that we cannot solve the problem on our own. So the first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over ____ – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Whatever my struggle, I must admit that the passion is greater than my ability to conquer it. I’m powerless over it. My life is unmanageable; it cannot be managed by me alone.  Try as I might, I cannot fix myself. In fact, I have to give up trying to fight it. You see, if I’m fighting it directly, I subconsciously believe that I have the power to control my passion.

So the first step is to give up. It might even sound a bit defeatist to say, “don’t fight,” but the key is to stop playing God. This opens up the door to the next step.

2. I came to believe

Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Those of us who believe in God might want to skip over this step. But how much do we truly believe in Him if we never let God be the Lord and Master of our lives? I have to give up control so that God can get to work. After we give up trying to fix ourselves by admitting we’re powerless, we have to come to Christ. We have to come to – to wake up – to the reality of our present situation. We have to come to believe that He alone can heal us.

“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Only when I stop, stand before the Lord, and trust in Him can I have the gift of faith. Now we have a decision to make.

3. I made a decision

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Each day, we are called to be coworkers with God, to work in synergy with Him. The Christian walk is about lifting your foot in faith, trusting Him to bring it down onto solid ground. So in step three, we just have to make a decision. Making this decision helps us put that belief into action by giving our will and our life over to God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Step three makes the words of Christ our constant petition: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This step reminds us to commit ourselves to Christ and to offer up our will to Him every day, throughout the day. During the Liturgy, the priest calls us to commit ourselves to Christ several times as if to remind us that once isn’t enough. We’re constantly trying to take our will back, to live our lives according to our own will. But now, in step three, we make a decision to trust in Christ and His will.


The steps that follow all stand upon the foundation of these first three steps. The goal of the steps, as with the Christian life, is the transformation and healing of a person, rather than just the elimination of a bad habit. You don’t need to be an addict to benefit from the wisdom of the twelve steps, because they are ultimately a reminder of what the Church is calling all of us to do on a daily basis.

What are you powerless over in your life? Have you come to believe that Jesus Christ can restore you? How have you turned your will and your life over to Christ?


Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit:

First three steps

Pushing a rock 

Hands tied 

Arms open to sky