We often hear people in AA talk about the 13th step. The 12 steps of AA are a program of recovery and a blue print for living a happy, spiritual sober life. Practiced on a daily basis they are a wonderful way of life which restores the heart, soul and lives of many alcoholics. So what is the 13th step? The 13th step was originally used by AA to describe our final step to the casket having lived a life of sobriety in the practice of the 12 steps. As the program evolved it became the phrase used to describe the practice of dating newcomers in the program or dating members with less than solid sobriety.
Intimate relationships are not easy for anybody and can be especially troublesome for the alcoholic. The disease of alcoholism is a life threatening one and the potential for death is almost inevitable without recovery. Getting involved with a volatile newcomer and risking the trauma that can be arise from an unsuccessful relationship is callously risking the life of another alcoholic. The emotional trauma that can arise from these failed relationships in the newly sober vulnerable member can lead to relapse and since relapse can lead to death the practice has become known as the 13th step. When we look at the severity of the issue its understandable why members with a lot of sobriety despise the practice and recommend to newcomers that they do not date anybody in or out of the program until they have at least a year of sobriety, the same is true of longer term members dating newcomers. Many newcomers wont listen and many old timers are willing participants in 13 stepping the newcomers. The results are rarely good. I have seen many people in AA form wonderful relationships with other members which last a lifetime but rarely are they newcomers when this happens. There is a reason AA recommends that your focus only on your sobriety for the first year as if your life depends on it it because it does.
The 13th step as it is known today is considered to be a self willful and destructive behavior and one which sober alcoholics working a strong program discourage and find reprehensible. I always encourage women I sponsor to only attend women’s meetings while they work on their sobriety and get some time behind them. When the time is right with solid sobriety under their belts they can have the type of relationships they have always wanted based on respect. love and the ideal they set for themselves in the 4th and 5th steps. I have rarely seen the early sobriety of “13th Step” relationships work out very well they almost always lead to heartbreak and, even more seriously, relapse.