Top Ten 12-Step Catchphrases

By Charlie Patterson

12-step catchphrases can be very helpful to those in recovery. “Old timers” of the various programs are fountains of these slogans, with the uncanny ability to utter just the right phrase at the most painful moment. A good catchphrase is a real zinger, able to both sting the ego and inspire recommitment to 12-step principles. Love them or hate them, 12-step catchphrases are enigmatic in their ability to both help and annoy simultaneously.

1) “One day at a time.”

How many times have you heard this one? Hundreds? Thousands? Billions? Trillions? Hundreds of trillions? More than a phrase, its a zen-like state of mind. Worried about a big problem? Just take it one step at a time. Don’t stare at the mountaintop, just look at the trail in front of you. It’s truly a great one.

2) “Let go, let god.”

One of the more abstract 12-step catchphrases, yet the most popular. Its meaning is tricky to explain to the outsider. It means that you’re better off in life going with the flow and letting things happen rather than trying to control outcomes. Many 12-steppers have the unfortunate habit of trying to control things beyond their control, and unable to find peace with destiny. The word “god” can be substituted with “higher power” for atheists and agnostics, but it doesn’t sound too catchy that way.

3) “This too shall pass”

Early in recovery, many 12-steppers have trouble dealing with adverse events, large or small. Many a 12-stepper has gone off the deep end because they just couldn’t deal. Those who prevail, however, understand that all problems “shall pass,” or subside after a period of time. Patience and application of the 12 steps are key to this state of mind.

4) “Nothing is so bad that a drink won’t make worse.”

While a drink, drug, or other form of relapse may provide a brief moment of respite for life’s difficulties, the misery is always compounded by relapse. Successful 12-steppers know this, and that’s why they still attend meetings, share and hold commitments after multiple years of recovery, and pound newcomers’ eardrums with this excellent tagline.

5) “Easy Does It”

This is an elegantly simple 12-step slogan. It’s message can be applied to all facets of life. “Easy does it” means, in other words, don’t freak out, chill out, relax, calm down, take a deep breath. Untreated alcoholics and addicts, without a drink or drug, sometimes flip out. Just don’t, and you’ll be better off. Really, just don’t.

6) “Principles before Personalities”

Another versatile slogan, this saying is best applied to a 12-stepper who’s ready to drink because he/she is fed up with the characters at their local 12 step meeting or treatment center. They’re using accumulated resentments as a reason to say “F-this, I’m taking a drink.” This catch phrase reminds us that the principles keep us sober, not the people.

7) “How’s that working for you?”

Perhaps this is the funniest of all 12-step sayings. For proper delivery, timing is crucial. Here’s a demonstration of how this phrase is properly used.

NEWCOMER (TO SPONSOR):  “I just got back together with my ex-girlfriend and took a job as a bartender.”

SPONSOR (GRINNING): “How’s that working for you?”

When this catchphrase is properly used, the word “that” always refers to some sort of self-destructive behavior that will generally bring an addict/alcoholic closer to relapse. It’s just the sort of subtle reminder that addicts and alcoholics need every now and then because they’re not an introspective bunch.

8) “Keep coming back.”

This classic saying can be maddening to newcomers. Is it a trick? Is there a hidden meaning? Could it really be that simple? Yes, actually it is. Just stay sober, keep coming back to meetings and life will get easier.

9) “Don’t leave before the magic happens.”

In other words, don’t give up on sobriety before your dreams come true. Addicts and alcoholics can be very impatient. They can also have undue senses of entitlement. This combination of traits makes waiting for anything a chore, and this is one of the reasons relapse is so prevalent. Time and time again, however, dreams come true and magic does happen to people in 12-step programs, lending this catchphrase plenty of validity.

10) “Keep it simple, stupid.”

The 12 steps are not complicated, but leave it to addicts and alcoholics to view the 12 steps as tantamount to building the space shuttle with basic household tools and duct tape. The word “stupid” is crucial to the impact and value of this catchphrase to newcomers. It’s a reminder to newcomers to stay humble. Addicts and alcoholics have a difficult time admitting ignorance. While it may seem to some a somewhat negative phrase, it’s just the sort of tough love needed by many in early recovery.

4 thoughts on “Top Ten 12-Step Catchphrases

  1. ” just turn it over”

  2. Wait for the second beat

  3. Love and Tolerance is our code!

  4. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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