2000 Philadelphia

NDEs and the 12 Steps

2000 North American Conference

Conference Presentation Materials

Note that these are presentations made by individuals at an IANDS conference, and do NOT necessarily represent the views of the IANDS organization.

NDEs and the 12 Steps

presented by
Karl Williamson
Chris Carson


The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have been called the most important human achievement of the 20th century (by M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled). This is because they lead, as do many NDEs, to a spiritual awakening, the absence of which, he and we view as the fundamental problem of the human condition.  Indeed, the inspiration for the 12 steps came about as a result of an NDE-like experience.  And, in fact, a full-blown NDE is similar to the first five of the 12 steps. We believe that the remaining seven steps can serve as a guide for the NDEr to reintegrate into being in this world. And the 12 as a whole, a guide for just about anyone trying to be happier.  The 12 Steps have been adapted by many people to address many problems besides alcoholism.

A full NDE is similar to the first 5 steps.  How do the remaining 7 steps help reintegrate?  These remaining 7 steps are one guide to stopping our ego from running us, re-establishing broken relationships, and living so that we have nothing to be ashamed of.


  1. Introduction
  2. The founding of A.A.
  3. The subsequent extension of A.A principals to non-alcoholism related issues
  4. The 12 steps
  5. Similarities of the 12 steps to NDEs
  6. How the 12 steps extend beyond NDEs
  7. Discussion


  • Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Ernest Kurtz.  Hazelden/Pittman Archives Press.
  • Bill W..  Robert Thomsen.  Hazelden/Pittman Archives Press.
  • AA: The Way It Began.  Bill Pittman.  Hazelden Information and Educational Services.
  • Turning Point: A History of Early Aa's Spiritual Roots and Successes.  Dick B.  Paradise Research Publications.

The Founding of a Movement: Bill Wilson's Light Experience

The following took place in Bill Wilson's ( the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) Hospital Room.  (Note: From that time on Bill Wilson never took another drink.)  Text is excerpted from: ( Bill W. by Robert Thomsen.  Perennial Library, Copyright 1975).

"His hands clasped the footboard of the bed.  But how? How? The cancer of alcohol had already killed his mind, his will, his spirit, and it was only a matter of time before it would kill his body.  Yet at this moment, with the last vestige of pride, the last trace of obstinacy crushed out of him, still he knew he wanted to live.

His fingers relaxed a little on the footboard, his arms slowly reached out and up.  "I want," he said aloud, "I want...."

Ever since infancy, they said, he'd been reaching out this way, arms up, fingers spread, and as far back as he could remember he'd been saying just that.  But always before it had been an unfinished sentence.  Now it had it's ending.  He wanted to live.  He would do anything, anything, to be allowed to go on living.  "Oh God," he cried, and it was the sound not of a man, but of a trapped and crippled animal.  "If there is a God, show me, Show me.  Give me some sign."

As he formed the words, in that very instant he was aware first of a light, a great white light that filled the room, then he suddenly seemed caught up in a kind of joy, an ecstasy such as he would never find words to describe.  It was as though he were standing high on a mountaintop and a strong clear wind blew against him, around him, through him -but it seemed a wind not of air, but of spirit- and as this happened he had the feeling that he was stepping into another world, a new world of consciousness, and everywhere now there was a wondrous feeling of Presence which all his life he had been seeking.  No-where had he ever felt so complete, so satisfied, so embraced.

This happened, and it happened as suddenly and as definitely as one may receive a shock from an electrode, or feel heat when a hand is placed close to a flame.  Then when it passed, when the light slowly dimmed, and the ecstasy subsided-and whether this was a matter of minutes or much longer he never knew; he was beyond any reckoning of time- the sense of Presence was still there about him, within him.  And with it there was still another sense, a sense of rightness.  No matter how wrong things seemed to be, they were as they were meant to be.  There could be no doubt of ultimate order in the universe, the cosmos was not dead matter, but a part of the living Presence, just as he was part of it.

Now, in place of the light, the exaltation, he was filled with a peace such as he had never known.  He had heard of men who'd tried to open the universe to themselves; he had opened himself to the universe.  He had heard men say there was a bit of God in everyone, but this feeling that he was a part of God, himself a living part of the higher power, was a new and revolutionary feeling."


The 12 Steps

A number of organizations use the 12 steps, with wording slightly changed from the original version from Alchoholics Anonymous.  Below are both the original and the version from Adult Children of Alcoholics, which substitutes "people, places, and things" for "alcohol" in Step 1, and removes the masculine pronoun in reference to God.

ACA VersionAA Version
  1. We admitted we were powerless over people, places, and things, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry it out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who still suffer, and to practise these principles in all our affairs.
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our short-comings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affair



From the Steps to the NDE

  1. Dying
  2. Attracted by the light
  3. Going toward the light
  4. Life review
  5. Life review.  (Note that Step 5 says, "with another human being," which doesn't happen in a life review.)


Alcoholism as a SPIRITUAL Dis-ease: Progression and Recovery

Alcoholism as a SPIRITUAL Dis-ease: Progression and Recovery


Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics


  1. Fear of losing control.  ACAs maintain control of their feelings, their behavior, and try to control the feelings and behavior of others.  They do not do this to hurt either themselves or others, but because they are afraid.  They fear that their lives will get worse if they relinquish control, and they get very anxious when they cannot control a situation.
  2. Fear of feelings.  ACAs have buried their feelings (especially anger and sadness) since childhood and cannot feel or express emotions easily.  Eventually they fear all intense feelings, even a good feeling such as joy.
  3. Fear of conflict.  ACAs are frightened by people in authority, angry people, and personal criticism, so that they often mistake common assertiveness on the part of others for anger.  As a result of this fear ACAs are constantly seeking approval, and they lose their identities in the process.  They often find themselves in a self-imposed state of isolation.
  4. An over developed sense of responsibility.  ACAs are hypersensitive to the needs of others.  Their self-esteem comes from others' opinions of them, and thus they have a compulsive need to be perfect.
  5. Feelings of guilt when they stand up for themselves instead of demurring to others.  ACAs sacrifice their own needs in an effort to be ``responsible'', and therefore avoid guilt.
  6. An inability to relax, let go, and have fun.  Trying to have fun is stressful for ACAs, especially when others are watching.  The child inside is terrified, and in an effort to appear perfect, exercises such strict control that spontaneity suffers.
  7. Harsh, even fierce, self-criticism.  ACAs are burdened with a very low sense of self-respect, no matter how competent they may be.
  8. Denial.  Whenever ACAs feel threatened, they tend to deny that which provoked their fears.
  9. Difficulties with intimate relationships.  Intimacy gives ACAs the feeling of losing control, and requires self-love and the ability to express one's needs.  As a result, ACAs frequently have difficulty with their sexuality, and they repeat relationship patterns.
  10. They see themselves as victims.  ACAs may be either aggressive or passive victims, and they are often attracted to others like them in their friendship, love, and career relationships.
  11. Compulsive behavior.  ACAs may work or eat compulsively, become addicted to a relationship, or behave compulsively in other ways.  Tragically, ACAs may drink compulsively, and become alcoholics themselves.
  12. A tendency to be more comfortable with chaos than with peace.  ACAs become addicted to excitement and drama, which can give them their fix of adrenaline and the feeling of power which accompanies it.
  13. The tendency to confuse love with pity.  As a result, ACAs often love people they can rescue.
  14. Fear of abandonment.  ACAs will do anything to preserve a relationship, rather than face the pain of abandonment.
  15. The tendency, when under pressure, to see everything and everyone in extremes.
  16. Physical illness.  ACAs are very susceptible to stress-related illnesses.
  17. Suffering from a backlog of grief.  Losses experienced during childhood were often never grieved for, since the alcoholic family does not tolerate such intensely uncomfortable feelings.  Current losses cannot be felt without calling up these past feelings.  As a result, ACAs are frequently depressed.
  18. A tendency to react rather than to act.  ACAs remain hypervigilant, constantly scanning the environment for potential catastrophies.
  19. An ability to survive.  If you are listening to this list, you are a survivor.


The Problem, restated

Our families were inconsistent, unpredictable, arbitrary, and chaotic.  Alcoholism is a family disease; there are no unaffected bystanders.  We took on the characteristics of that disease even if we did not pick up the drink.  Denial, isolation, control, shame, and inappropriate guilt are legacies from our families of origin.  As a result of these symptoms, we feel hopeless and helpless.

  1. Our childhood rules and survival strategies, which once provided a semblance of sanity and safety, are now the rigid masks which we dare not remove to expose our anger and sadness.
  2. We were taught to ignore what was really going on in our families.  We learned to pretend that there was nothing wrong, and so we began to distrust others, ourselves, and even our own senses.
  3. In our traumatic childhoods, we had to be in control of both our outward expressions and our inner awareness.  This estranged us from all our feelings, and we lost our ability to recognize them.
  4. We deny, minimize or repress our feelings because we experience strong emotions as being ``out of control,'' and because we think that such feelings must generate actions.  We are still unaware of the impact our inability to identify and express our feelings has had on our mental and physical health.
  5. We tend to isolate ourselves out of fear and to feel uneasy around other people, especially authority figures.
  6. In our families, everything was either black or white; there was no in-between.  We still tend to think, feel, and act in all-or-nothing ways.  For us, things seem to be either all right or all wrong, and since things are seldom all right, they are often all wrong.
  7. We remain ``hypervigilant,'' needing to know what is before us, beside us, and behind us at all times.  We are always alert to any changes in our environment.
  8. We don't act, we react.  Usually, we overreact.
  9. We have become addicted to excitement from years of living in the midst of a dramatic and often dangerous family soap opera.
  10. We lack self-esteem as a result of being shamed as children.  We perpetuate these parental messages by judging ourselves and others harshly.  We try to cover up our poor opinions of ourselves by being perfectionistic, controlling, contemptuous, and gossipy.
  11. We felt responsible for the problems of our unstable families, and as a result we do not feel entitled to live independent lives now.
  12. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility toward others, but we rarely consider our responsibility to ourselves.  Or we might be quite irresponsible, expecting others to take responsibility for solving our problems.
  13. We feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves or act in our own best interests.  We give in to others' need and opinions instead of taking care of ourselves.
  14. We are intimidated by angry people and personal criticism.  This causes us to feel inadequate and insecure.
  15. As children, we had parents who were not there for us.  As adults, we continue to attract emotionally unavailable people.  We have trouble with intimacy, security, trust, and commitment in our relationships.
  16. We are dependent personalities who are so terrified of rejection or abandonment that we tend to stay in situations that are harmful to us.  Our fears and dependency stop us from ending unfulfilling relationships and prevent us from entering into fulfilling ones.
  17. We are desperate for love and approval and will do anything to make people like us.  Lacking clearly defined personal boundaries, we become enmeshed in our partner's needs and emotions.  Not wanting to hurt others, we remain ``loyal'' in relationships even when there is evidence that our loyalty is undeserved.
  18. We are predisposed to be victims or rescuers in our love, friendship, and career relationships.  We confuse love with pity, and tend to ``love'' people whom we can pity and rescue.
  19. We become alcoholics, marry them, or do both.  Or we find another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic or an overeater, with whom we can play out our fear of abandonment.
  20. We are each a survivor because each of our families was like a war zone -- and we made it through.  If you are reading or listening to this list, then you can, have, and will survive.


12 Traditions

  1. Our common welfare should come first, personal recovery depends on ACA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority -- a loving God as expressed in our group conscience.  Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for membership is a desire to recover from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family.
  4. Each group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or ACA as a whole.  We cooperate with all other 12-Step programs.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose -- to carry its message to the adult child who still suffers.
  6. An ACA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the ACA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every ACA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Adult Children of Alcoholics should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. ACA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Adult Children of Alcoholics has no opinion on outside issues; hence the ACA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, TV and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.


How to Reverse Your Progress -- Simply Decide to work these 12 Steps

  1. I decided I could handle my emotional problems if other people would just quit trying to run my life.
  2. I firmly believed that there is no greater power than myself, and anyone who said so was insane.
  3. I made a decision to remove my will and my life from God who didn't understand me anyhow.
  4. I made a searching and thorough moral inventory of everyone I knew so they couldn't fool me and take advantage of my good nature.
  5. I sought these people out and tried to get them to admit to me, by God, the exact nature of their wrongs.
  6. I became willing to help these people get rid of these defects of character.
  7. I was humble enought to ask these people to remove their shortcomings.
  8. I kept a list of all the people who had harmed me and waited patiently for a chance to get even with them.
  9. I got even with these people whenever possible except when to do so would get me in trouble, too.
  10. I continued to take everyone's inventory and when they were wrong, which was most of the time, I promptly made them admit it.
  11. I sought through the concentration of my will power to get God, who didn't understand me anyhow, to see that my ideas were best and that He ought to give me the power to carry them out.
  12. Having maintained my emotional problems for twenty-five years with these steps, I can thoroughly recommend them to others who don't want to lose their hard-earned status and wish to be left alone to practice neurosis in everything they do for the rest of the days of their lives.

(Author Unknown)


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