Ask Paul at the RSIC: The 12 steps aren’t specific to just alcoholism |

Ask Paul at the RSIC: The 12 steps aren’t specific to just alcoholism

Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S

Special to First Nation's Focus

The Red Road to Wellbriety discusses how the positive warrior lives in a love-based system.
Photo: Getty Images

Have you ever asked yourself “who am I?” Why do you like the things you like, act the way you act, and think the way you think? What are your goals? Are you healthy in mind and body?

In the “Red Road to Wellbriety,” the Elders help us figure out this essential question through a process of working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (12 Steps) in the “Indian way.

Many times I hear people complain about the 12 Steps. They say it’s not effective and it’s just a bunch of old guys telling their drunken stories. Or they compare their drinking to others who drank more alcohol than they have and come to the conclusion that they are not that bad.

The Elders realize that there are powerful personal messages in these 12 Steps and have made them easier to understand. First they arranged the 12 Steps in a circle. When we look at the 12 Steps as a wheel, it makes sense. As always, the process starts in the East, advances to the South, continues in the West and concludes in the North.

Great, but how does this help answer the question — “Who Am I?” And what about the person who doesn’t drink alcohol, how can this help them when they aren’t an alcoholic? The answer is you don’t have to be an alcoholic to use the 12 Steps.

Actually, the word “alcohol” is only mentioned in the first half of the first step. The rest of the steps are created for self-exploration and making changes in behaviors and thoughts that are not serving you.

Breaking down steps 1-6

So, back to the 12 steps. The Elders tell us that first we must find our relationship with the Creator.

The East is where we start. This is where we explore Steps 1, 2 and 3. The East has the power of new beginnings. The sun comes up in the East and turns darkness to light. Individually we ask the Creator to enlighten our insides and to bring lightness where we had darkness.

Step 1 is dedicated to honesty. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that we had lost control of our lives. Remember, to take out alcohol if it is not a problem. If you have problems with another substance, you can replace alcohol with the other substance.

Or if you have problems with behaviors like shopping, gaming, gambling, the internet, etc., you can replace the word alcohol with the behavior. If you have no substance or behavior that is negatively impacting you, just move on to the next step.

Step 2 is dedicated to Hope. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could help us regain control. How do you define your Higher Power?

Step 3 is dedicated to Faith. We made a decision to ask for help from a Higher Power and others who understand.

Steps 4, 5 and 6 help us find ourselves. For these steps we face the South. The South is the direction where the sun spreads its warmth and helps us with our personal growth.

Many years ago when a person felt lost, an Elder would take them down to a quiet pond, and have the person look at their reflection. The Elder would ask them if they liked the person they saw.

Today you can look in the mirror and ask yourself the same question. You can also ask yourself if you and your actions would make the Elders proud. If not, you can start making changes right now!

Keep in mind this self-exploration is not meant to beat you up or get down on yourself. The idea of a personal inventory is to make good decisions going forward and learn from previous mistakes. There’s an old saying that if you keep doing what you always did, you’ll keep getting what you always got.

Do you follow the Elders’ values?

The Elders valued being respectful, caring, trustworthy, committed, courageous, honest, fearless, strong, prayerful, loving and kind.

This is a good time to ask yourself if you are following more of the Elders’ values. Or, are you more angry; disrespectful to property and/or nature; gossiping; abusive — either verbally physically or emotionally — fearful and/or selfish?

If you tend toward the latter of these descriptions ask yourself; “Why am I this way, and do I want to change?” If you answered “yes” to change, here are some tips:

• If you are abusing substances, STOP. You will see all kinds of positive changes very quickly.

• Take an inventory of where you invest your time each day, including the people you spend time with and your activities.

• Ask yourself if you judge yourself and compare yourself to others — or, do you support and care for others?

• Ask yourself — are you always full of stress trying to achieve more and control others or outcomes? Remember the Elders valued character over positions of power and wealth.

• Ask yourself — do you gossip to sabotage others or try to manipulate situations to achieve more power?

• Ask yourself — are you more interested in producing something of value and caring for people you love with your time or constantly chasing more money and trying to impress people?

A deeper look at steps 4-6

This is the time to reflect and see if your actions and thoughts are in line with your core beliefs and values. Steps 4-6 help us explore these questions. It is wise to have a guide help you with these steps.

Some people call this guide a sponsor. Some people use an Elder, Medicine Person or someone they trust to work through these steps. Whomever you choose, make sure they have experience with working through the Steps. You don’t want to take a chance with this very important exercise.

Step 4 is dedicated to Courage. We stopped and thought about our strengths and our weaknesses and thought about ourselves. (It takes courage to look at yourself honestly.)

Step 5 is dedicated to Integrity. We admitted to the Great Spirit, to ourselves and to another person the things we thought were wrong about ourselves.

Step 6 is dedicated to Willingness. We are ready, with the help of the Great Spirit, to change.

Life has an interesting way of unfolding. These questions and the 12 Steps are made for your own self-exploration. This is an opportunity to check out where you are and change course back to the Red Road.

If you have veered off, don’t worry — the Red Road is wide. You can regain your integrity if needed by changing your thoughts and behaviors.

The Red Road to Wellbriety discusses how the positive warrior lives in a love-based system. It says, “The positive warrior feels a great deal of unity, harmony and balance in their lives. They feel a great deal of respect and are able to forgive when injustices are done to them. They are men and women of honor and integrity.”

The positive warrior is an excellent role model to live by.

Next month we’ll go over Steps 7 through 12 to complete the circle

“Ask Paul” is a health column by Paul Snyder, MA, LADC-S, a Substance Use Counselor at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center. It publishes each month in The Camp News, the monthly newsletter for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony community. Have a question for Paul? Email him at


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