12 Questions for a 4th Step

by Dan F.

What became Alcoholics Anonymous dates from June 10, 1935, when Bill gave Dr. Bob his last beer. A month earlier, members of the Oxford Group, a back-to-basics Christian movement started by dissatisfied Lutheran minister Frank Buchman, had brought them together to meet and talk. Buchman was willing to work with people of different religions without demanding they convert to Christianity. A.A.’s first book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was drafted using the language of that group. The text was heavily edited before publication with input from 300 non-alcoholics (religious, medical and academic professionals) who received a draft of the book, as well as the 100 people who were members of the yet-to-be-named alcohol recovery program.

A.A. has always taken concepts and language from outside sources before, during, and after its birth. On A.A.’s 20th anniversary, Bill W. said, “It would be false pride to believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cure-all, even for alcoholism … Let us constantly remind ourselves that the experts in religion are the clergymen; that the practice of medicine is for physicians; and that we, the recovered alcoholics, are their assistants.” (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 232.) In a Grapevine article for A.A.’s 25th anniversary, Bill W. drew on three non-alcoholics’ work for the spiritual principles behind the Twelve Steps: his own doctor, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, for Step One; William James, the American psychologist who delivered the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1901-1902 which became the book The Varieties of Religious Experience, for Step Twelve; and Episcopal minister Rev. Dr. Samuel Shoemaker, the leader of the Oxford Group in the 1930s, for Steps Two through Eleven. (The Language of the Heart, pp. 297-298.)

A.A. borrowed spiritual concepts during and after its birth

I keep my two feet planted in A.A. because I am one of the minority who cannot safely drink alcohol. I keep my ears, eyes, mind and heart open to all sources of information and inspiration inside and outside of A.A. Pioneers of A.A. did, too, in order to continue to grow farther away from the last drink and realize the “full potential of … genetic endowment,” as Dr. George Sheehan used to preach the night before the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which I ran a dozen times.

I have been sober over half my life and half of A.A.’s life. I have written the 12 Questions, below, with language discovered from sources on my journey on the Road of Happy Destiny. They help me find out who I am and what my higher power wants of me each day.

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want?
  3. What do I not want?
  4. What behavior of mine helps me
    reach what I want?
  5. What behavior of mine does not
    help me reach what I want?
  6. What behavior of mine helps build
    relationships with others?
  7. What behavior of mine harms
    relationships with others?
  8. What do others say they like
    about my behavior?
  9. What do others say they do not
    like about my behavior?
  10. What have I done well today?
  11. What have I not done well today?
  12. What behavior do I admire in
    other people and want to imitate?


Dan F. was born in San Francisco a month after the first edition
of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939. He took his
last drink in Washington, D.C. December 8, 1976, the day after
he attended his first A.A. meeting. He lives with his wife in Europe
and does volunteer service for three international nonprofit, non-
governmental organizations (NGOs).

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