Your Guide to the 13th Step of a 12 Step Program

Your Guide to the 13th Step of a 12-Step Program

The Unspoken Step of Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12 Step program has been a foundation of stability and support for individuals recovering from their addiction. Fellowship groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer judgement-free support, structure, and mentors that guild individuals in rebuilding their life and relationships.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to quit abusing drugs or alcohol.

That is it. Anyone can join.

Due to the leniency on membership, some people who join will have ill intentions, exploit other members, and/or prey on vulnerability of the members who really need the guidance. This is where the 13th Step of AA has made a name for itself in group meetings around the world.

What is the 13th Step of AA?

Sometimes the 13th Step is an action known as ‘13th Stepping’ and the members of these fellowships do this action with or without ill intentions. 13th Stepping is not an official step of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (or any 12 Step group).

The 13th Step is where a member with more than a year of sobriety tries to start up a sexual relationship with somebody who is new in recovery – or less than a year sober. To understand why 13th Stepping is viewed negatively you have to first understand the recovery process.

Recovering From an Addiction: Brief Explanation

It is no secret that struggling through an addiction takes a hard toll of you mentally and physically. Many people enter a treatment facility harboring trauma, social skill problems, regret, shame, and spiritual suffrage. Substance abuse treatment modalities are designed to help those people overcome those feelings, traumatic scars, and negative outlooks on life.

To cope with their experience, some people struggle with co-dependency and more often than not depend of sexual stimuli to replace the withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. In the first year of sobriety, patients learn to love themselves, make peace with their behaviors during their active addiction, and learn to view social interactions with boundaries and honesty.

This is where 13th Stepping has gotten a negative wrap in the program. It interrupts a person’s healing process, puts a person’s sobriety at risk, and adds obstacles in the first year of sobriety that isn’t always needed when someone is recovering from a long-term illness.

But every story has two sides to it and the 13th Step is no different.

The Dark Side of the 13th Step

Not everyone in these types of programs feel this way about the 13th Step but due to the negative impact it has a someone who is new to sobriety, the majority feel this is dangerous. Thirteenth stepping can be dangerous by:

  • Vulnerable State of Healing: In the first year of someone’s sobriety, they are highly vulnerable. Learning to trust others again, learning to reach out in moments of crisis, learning to deal with stress in a healthy manner; this is just the tip of the iceberg to what people need to learn or relearn when recovering from an addiction. Therefore, it is easy for other people to take advantage of them. Sexual predators or dealers in disguise often hang out or around meetings of this nature knowing the vulnerability of those who need the program to change their lives.
  • Interruption of the Healing Process: Early sobriety requires reflection, humility, and making peace with their past. They have to learn to respect the way they feel and not seek out stimuli to replace the feelings they do not want. Learning to love yourself and all your faults take time. How do you learn to love other people, when you have not learned to love yourself? Relationships take attention, honesty, and communication. Many of these skills have to be relearned in the first year of sobriety.
  • Relapse Risks: Guilt, shame, and broken relationships are often high on the list of why people relapse. Treatment programs are designed as 90-day treatment programs or more because the longer you are sober the less likely you are to relapse. Having a new romantic relationship within the first-year causes added struggle for relapse. Lover’s quarrel, communication, codependency, judgement – all these things come with a new relationship and are often a reason to relapse.
  • Negative View of the Fellowship: In the first year of sobriety a strong support system is needed. When those AA members who have achieved long term sobriety drive away a new member causes a long-term struggle with relapse and recovery.
  • Sexual Trauma Triggers: It is no secret sex, drugs, and alcohol exist in active addiction. Some use sexual favors as means to get drunk or get high and others experience sexual abuse due to their under-the-influence state of mind. Regardless of someone’s sexual outlook due to active addiction, healing is needed. 13th Stepping can cause a person to feel unsafe at a meeting and feel sexual pressure. This could trigger PTSD and cause a relapse.
  • Sexual Predators: There are some individuals in AA who move from one newcomer to the next. Whether the person is trying to seek out stimuli to replace what alcohol or drugs did for them, self-esteem issues, fear of loneliness, and/or continuing an unhealthy cycle coping- these actions do not encourage a healthy sober lifestyle. Sexual predictors have many reasons on why they pick the partners they do and they all tend to be selfish and hurt those that get involved.

There are many other reasons why 13th Stepping is dangerous for both people involved. That is why this step specifically focuses of one person having more years in sobriety than the other. In a fellowship that practices humility and making amends, starting a sexual relationship can be considered very selfish.

There is always another side to every story and the 13th step is no different.

Your Guide to the 13th Step of a 12-Step Program infograph

Learning to Love Again: 13th Step

For many people with years of active addiction under their belt, they have often felt toxic, lack of purpose, abused and in emotional pain from the way they view the world and the way the world has treated them. To become addicted to a substance means to have over indulged to the point of physical dependency. That over indulgence can lead to suicidal thoughts which in turn fuels the destructive cycle of alcohol or drug abuse.

Sometimes, people need love to heal and finding genuine love at a fellowship program like AA happens all the time because:

A Partner with a Common Interest: Healthy relationships thrive on common interest. The more you have in common with your partner, the stronger the relationship. Finding a partner in AA encourage a lifestyle both people enjoy and support.

Inspiration and Hope: During the first year of sobriety, the person looks to others to set an example for a new way of life. Developing an intimate relationship with someone who has more years in sobriety makes this lifestyle change possible. It also helps provide accountability free of judgment.

Finding Purpose and Setting Goals: During the early years of recovery, many find purpose again, feel less like a burden to others, and learn to set small goals that give them good brain chemicals of accomplishment. Setting long-term and short-term goals encourages long term sobriety. Having a romantic relationship can help a person realize what they want and how to achieve it.

Developing Healthy Relationships Guided by the 12 Steps: Fellowship groups like AA focus on honesty, humility, judgment-free environment, and making amends. If both people practice these in a new relationship, they build a type of love or bond that can survive years and years of trials and tribulations.

A Reason to Keep Coming Back: Fellowship groups may not be for everyone and may be the hardest part for someone new in recovery. AA is by no means easy. You have to make amends, deal with stressors, practice humility to overcome selfish desires, and above all else stay sober. Many members have had thoughts about leaving a fellowship and not returning due to these difficulties. Having love interest in the group encourages them to keep coming back, to surround themselves with a sober community of acceptance, and wake up each morning in hopes of seeing their love interest at their favorite meeting.

It is true, not all relationships work out and this is the same for fellowship relationships. But that is life and the 12 Step program teaches dealing with life on life’s terms. If those in recovery know that 13th Stepping can be bad and good, then why does it still happen?

Why 13th Stepping Happens

There are a number of reasons why people in fellowship groups still 13th Step:

  • Filling that Void: Some people find it hard to develop healthy romantic relationships without the assistance of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes people need an intimate relationship to fill a void that either their addiction left or the sexual trauma they experienced.
  • Developing Personality: More often than not, addiction causes self-hate fueled by shame and regret. Years and years of active addiction causes the person to have a toxic personality. In that first year of sobriety the person must learn to develop a better self-image that is not built on hate. Just because people stop drinking does not always mean that they become better people. This is a process that requires self-love and before you develop a better self-image, their current personality can be toxic to someone else.
  • Social Club of the Vulnerable: Sexual predators exist and sometimes they attend AA groups because they know they can find a sexual partner with a history that meets their needs. This is why having a year sober before hoping into an intimate relationship is important to every fellowship and frown upon 13th Stepping.
  • Self-esteem and Instant Stimuli: When people are in their first year of sobriety, they may believe that sex will help them feel better or to cope with self-loathing. Using sex as a means to feel wanted, needed, loved, and/or attractive happens. I may not be the best coping mechanism but it is a familiar one to active addiction.

Addictive Personalities and 13th Stepping

Progress not perfection. Every meeting across the nation firmly believes in self- improvement. It takes time to break old habits and recreate one’s self in an image that they believe supports their new lifestyle.

The addictive personality is a set of characteristics that make people more prone to falling into addiction or feeding addictive compulsiveness. When people become sober, they need to learn how to identify the characteristics of their addictive personality and find healthy ways to change or cope with these characteristics. This makes them susceptible to 13th Stepping with or without ill intentions. Those with an addictive personality often experience:

Impulsive Behaviors: Tendency to act impulsively without understanding the consequences of their actions. This is often where guilt and shame become toxic to their own self-esteem.

Instant Gratification Seeking: When the person needs instant gratification all the time and does whatever they can to achieve it. Sex addicts tend to struggle with this a lot distorting what being intimate in a relationship means to both partners.

Thrill of Defiance: Many addicts have a high tolerance for deviance. The thrill felt of breaking a rule or going against the social norm is a stimuli that is not healthy.

Unbalanced Relationships: Healthy relationships take time, communication, and effort. People with an addictive personality do not see the value in ‘giving-and-taking’ in a relationship due to their insecurities. They tend to be highly insecure in relationships, and this may mean that their relationships tend to be short lived. This can mean that they move from one sexual encounter to the next when they feel judged, unsatisfied, shame, regret, or self-loathing.

The first year of sobriety means chipping away at those character flaws that led them into addictive behaviors. This process needs time, reflection, and guidance – hence why waiting a year before starting a romantic relationship is best practices.

How to Deal with the 13th Step when New to Recovery

Being in recovery means learning how to deal with stressors in a healthy way that maintains sobriety. It is acceptable to have a sexual relationship but remember that your sobriety must always come first and communicating that up front is needed. There are a number of ways for dealing with 13th Stepping when new in recovery:

  • Mentorship Without Sex: If a sponsor makes any type of sexual advances right away then the sponsorship must end. A sponsor is there to provide support and advice, and they have a full understanding of the behavior and criteria being a sponsor in this type of program. Any sexual advances in the beginning could mean they are a sexual predator and therefore toxic to your sobriety.
  • Understanding Priorities: Anything that jeopardizes sobriety needs to be deprioritized. Staying sober needs to be their main priority and sexual relationships could put this at risk. Newcomers should avoid any type of sexual relationship within the first year of their recovery and take the time to learn to love themselves.
  • Avoiding Sexual Tension: It is human to have sexual desires. It is best practice to have gay members choose a sponsor of the opposite sex, and that heterosexuals stick with same-sex sponsors. The reason is sexual tension.
  • Setting Healthy Boundaries: Setting health boundaries is one of the most commonly known concepts to learn in recovery. If you are uncomfortable with how members of your fellowship group treat you, speak up! Voice your boundaries and make your goals clear for the first year of sobriety.

Love or Lust: 13th Stepping in a 12 Step Program

It is human to develop attraction and encounter people who leave a lasting impression on you. But the moment you step out of a substance abuse treatment center and into a fellowship meeting, know your priorities and allow your journey of self-discovery be truly about you.

Many fellowship members know they are 13th Stepping and others do not. They just experience the attraction of two people and the need for companionship in the journey of finding a better version on them worthy of love.

Give yourself that first year of sobriety to learn to love yourself again and know that when you are ready for a romantic relationship, your partner will thank you for being the person you are because you took that time to heal.

  1. I always heard of till 12th step before in the recovery process from addiction. But, 13th step is bit complicated and seems more important to me after reading the post.

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the best-known organizations in the world and is the originator of the now-famous and widely used 12-step model of recovery.

  3. I thought the 13 th step was something on negative side when i first read it but after seeing the explanation. it is the need i think,

  4. Thank you Detax to rehab for sharing these type of stories with all of us.These type of posts are really very much helpful for many people.

  5. When I read and understand about those steps above, it’s seem diffcifult to do. But I know with full and hard dedication peoples who want to recover will able to do it.

  6. This 13th step if introduced appropriately is a definite game changer positively for anyone on the sobriety path. It won’t work for everyone though but it’s more probable to work for more. I’ll call it the power that’s embedded in love. Thanks for this new eye opener.

  7. This is an amazing piece of work. It is detailed and well constructed, and entails everything one needs to know about alcoholism addiction down to recovery.

  8. Wow! 13th step out of 12 steps. That just to fill the curiosity of the mind. Just be focus and recovery is close. Thanks to Detox

  9. I guess the 13th step has its advantages and disadvantages, it depends on the angle you are looking at it from. The point there is learn to love yourself again. Detox to rehab thanks for this program it is really helping lives.

  10. This is a very beautiful article on the steps. Very informative and educative thank you guys for a good and well done job.

  11. I think it’s wrong to start a sexual relationship with someone who is new in does more harm than good..its better for the person to his or herself at least one year of sobriety and figure out when they are ready to have a relationship….taking time to heal before starting a relationship is the best…

  12. Not gonna lie I find the 13th step funny as it just equates to having sex lets be real here. Negative? No because to me LOVE is one of the fundamental laws that governs everything and it is proven that being with the right people really helps so by all means I agree. It is not good or evil but rather it depends on who is doing it.

  13. First time hearing about the 13 Stepping. I think since this has more negative effects than good ones,people who undergone the program should know better than to be in that scenario. They should love themselves first before committing to any kind of relationship.

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