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Calling All “12-Steppers”

Ray Zimmerman | Jun 18, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Ray Zimmerman | Jun 18, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

I’m from a family that has an addiction problem, so I have greatly benefited from attending twelve-step self-help meetings for the past twenty years. In fact, my journey from atheism to faith began as a result of my involvement in a twelve-step program, which prepared me to appreciate the beauty and vision of the Baha’i Faith.

Many people turn to various harmful substances and behaviors to numb physical and emotional pain, and to distract themselves from inner emptiness and confusion. This negatively affects their lives — and the lives of their family members. For about the last eighty years, people struggling with addictions have found solutions in recovery programs based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs offer spiritual practices that lead to sobriety and serenity. Baha’is can benefit from learning about these programs, especially those Baha’is whose lives have been affected by addiction and trauma. At the same time, the Baha’i Faith has a lot to offer “twelve-steppers” who strive for spiritual growth and would like to take part in a worldwide community committed to the unity and the progress of humankind.

Twelve-step programs consist of people who meet together regularly to discuss a common problem such as alcoholism or drug addiction. The members share their experience, strength and hope about their efforts to recognize their powerlessness over an addictive substance or behavior, or a family member’s addiction, and to seek spiritual growth as a way to recover. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the Twelve Steps, they try to carry the message to others who still suffer. In doing so, the members of these programs feel increasingly connected to God, to themselves, and to their families and communities.

As a twelve-stepper myself, I’ve found many similarities between the Baha’i Faith and twelve-step programs. For example, both encourage spiritual growth through self-knowledge, and both have what I would call an open-ended understanding of God. Twelve-step meetings welcome people of all faiths, rely on the program’s literature for guidance, and encourage members to find a Higher Power they can turn to for help.

Baha’is also welcome members of all religions (or no religion at all) to meetings, and the Baha’i Writings refer to God as an “unknowable essence” Who loves us and provides us with guidance through sacred Scripture. The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Similarly, Baha’is admit powerlessness each day with a short prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, that begins:

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth… – Baha’i Prayers, p. 133.

Indeed, both communities use prayer to overcome willful and self-destructive instincts, and both encourage meditation without prescribing any particular method. Twelve-steppers and Baha’is try to abstain from backbiting, criticism, and disunity, and both learn the value of service to humanity as the surest path to serenity.

I also happily found some striking similarities in the organizational models of the twelve-step programs and the Baha’i Faith. Both spiritual communities focus on unity, and follow a “servant-leadership” model, democratically electing leaders to serve the membership. Both communities support themselves financially, without outside funds or influence. The twelve-step programs use “attraction rather than promotion” to spread the message to potential newcomers; Baha’is also don’t proselytize, and tend to talk about their religion only if others show an interest.

12 Step ProgramSome differences between the Baha’i Faith and the twelve-step programs exist, but these weren’t deal-breakers for me. For example, A.A. and Al-Anon target only those affected by alcoholism, while the Baha’i Faith seeks to unify and heal humanity as a whole. The Twelve Steps themselves are referred to in the program as suggestions, while Baha’is see the Teachings of Baha’u’llah as Divine prescriptions. Nonetheless, many twelve-steppers believe in the Baha’i concept of the fundamental unity of all religions, and don’t have any difficulty with the Baha’i idea that God has always provided divine Teachings to humanity through a succession of Messengers including Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, and — most recently — Baha’u’llah.

Twelve-step programs offer simple and effective ways to recover from the effects of addictions. Because of many shared principles and practices, twelve-steppers will find in the Baha’i Faith a warm, inviting atmosphere where they can explore spiritual growth, investigate all faiths, and extend their service work by making their vision “world-embracing.” In my own case, twelve-step recovery makes me a better Baha’i — and being a Baha’i helps me to work a more effective and spiritual twelve-step program.

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Comments

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  • Laura Pretty
    Mar 28, 2021
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    Yes is there any zoom meetings available for people/ Baha’i s in recovery?
  • Theresa Difrancesco
    May 28, 2020
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    Are there meetings on zoom that I may attend? In southern California?
  • Brenda Lorraine
    Nov 7, 2019
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    Greetings, I have been having a woman’s Addictions Anonymous meetings at my house on Sunday mornings. We only use Bahai books in our meetings and it is more of an open forum. All of the women also attend various 12 step program meetings. I was wondering has anyone come across any written Bahai materials that can be used at the opening and the closing of a meeting.? Things that relate to the 12 step program that are written with Bahai insights. For instance we always say “what you hear hear let it stay here” and then there is ...the “how it works” that is always read at the opening of 12 step programs. Does anyone know of Bahai material like that? Also, are there Bahai 12 step meetings on line? Thank you
    Read more...
  • s seefan
    Aug 1, 2017
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    AA member 1st. Became a Baha'i 5 years later. Just a minute point not to take away from a great article. Where I live we don't refer to AA as a self-help program. We view it as a 'we program' whose membership is a group of alcoholics seeking help from a Higher Power. We can't self-help. That's been our biggest difficulty in life, trying to seek answers on our own by whatever means. Baha'i Faith differs in its scope while AA's focus is on alcoholism. It's like Baha'i Children classes focus on "children's" education but all ...spiritual qualities are incorporated in both. All in all an excellent & informative article. One I'd be honored to share with friends & family ...
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    • Dennis Skey
      Jun 3, 2018
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      Excellent point about "Self-help". The only requirement to join AA is the desire to stop drinking. Thus you can join the fellowship. But the fellowship is not enough to be cured. If you want to be returned to sanity it is the opinion of the doctor and the early members that you must follow the 12 steps as described in the Big Books. You need a spiritual event, which you must do with the help of a sponsor, and eventually become a sponsor yourself. AA is based off the 6 steps ...from the Oxford Group. This group although based on Christian teaching, like the Baha'i Faith embraced other faiths. I think they actually come calling on Shoghi Effendi.
      Read more...
  • Susan Bensch
    Aug 1, 2017
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    This is a great read and I will be sharing it with friends. Working in the field of Mental Health for 40 years I find I am able to incorporate the principle and values from the Faith into groups and counseling without mentioning my Faith. Occasionally I will attend a 12-Step group for general support and find I learn about myself with each meeting. I usually come away from a meeting saying; 'Boy I really needed to hear that.' I feel connected with confirmations toward my personal healing and feeling blessed at being in the right field of service. ...
    Read more...
  • Samantha Bonnie
    Aug 7, 2013
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    Thank you for highlighting these connections!
  • Justice Saint Rain
    Jun 26, 2013
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    Very nice quick summary. I've just written a series of books that blend some 12-step ideas with Baha'i ideas and my own experience. The series is called "Love, Lust and the Longing for God." It is geared towards a general audience and presents Baha'i ideas without really talking about the Faith. I have always wanted to publish a book that outlines the similarities that you have mentioned in greater detail. Have you considered expanding on this article for publication?
    • Maureen McLaughlin
      Oct 23, 2018
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      To Justice St Rain: I am a Baha'i and have read both of your books: Falling Into Grace and 12 Steps And The Baha'i Faith...I am not comfortable with social media sites and so have been searching for your email address...I seek a consultation. If you would be so kind, please email me directly. My name is Maureen and my address is: faerycastle@webtv.net.
    • Ray Zimmerman
      Jun 28, 2013
      -
      I'd be happy to talk to you about this. Please email at rayzimmerman9@gmail.com with your phone number so we can talk.
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