12 Steps For “Normal” People. ~ Herb Deer

Via on Mar 8, 2012
Photo: Alan Cleaver




Issues with lust, power, control, drugs, etc., do not simply go away by themselves after some experience of oneness or enlightenment or God! It takes a lot of self-reflection, conscious “letting go” and the ability to ask for help and apologize, regularly.

Who said normal people can’t work the 12 steps?

Just because these step are usually reserved for people who either sold their baby or their mother on Ebay for another fix doesn’t mean you “normal” people can’t get help too!

The beauty of these steps is that what they really do is help us see we’re trying to control things we can’t and help us let and ask for help, take responsibility and apologize when we screw up! Who would have imagined that apologizing was a spiritual practice?

This has less to do with hard core addiction and everything to do with ego! Which applies to everyone—especially assholes!

And of course, if by now you have not gotten the irony of the word “normal” then these steps will be perfect for you!

In examples of public people who act out in weird ways, such as priests, teachers and spiritual leaders, there is always some compulsive/addictive issues that could have been resolved with some simple step work.

I worked the steps due to being addicted to drugs, alcoholic, sex and food.

They helped me a lot, not the drugs, the steps. Now all my normal friends are jealous because I’m so much happier and stable then they are, so I thought I’d try to help them too, even though they don’t qualify for an addictive program.

Before I became a teacher, when I saw silly behavior or heard stories about Zen masters, I wondered how a Zen teacher could act that way! Doesn’t enlightenment somehow protect us from being an addicted asshole? Well—no, actually, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t! But now I know why they acted that way because now I see that I wish I could act that way too. And if I’m not careful, I will. Sometimes it takes more than a spiritual practice to resolve all of our issues. Sometimes it takes two spiritual practices. This applies to all different religions and spiritual leaders who have fucked up! But more importantly, this applies to you and me.

Issues with lust, power, control, drugs, etc., do not simply go away by themselves after some experience of oneness or enlightenment or God! It takes a lot of self-reflection, conscious “letting go” and the ability to ask for help and apologize, regularly.

I have translated the 12 steps in the following way to be more palatable to “normal“ people:

1) Admit I have issues and im unhappy because of them

2) Believe I can heal if I let go and ask for help

3) Let go of “control”

4) List all resentments I have caused or have gotten, list my part in them and my issues/triggers

5) Share this list with someone

6) List my emotional issues and triggers

7) Ask for help with these issues

8 ) List all the people I’ve hurt

9) Apologize to them

10) Do all these things regularly

11) Meditate/pray

12) Help others

Good luck! Look for a meeting popping up near you and “Like” our 12 Steps For “Normal” People!


Editor: Kelly Brichta


Herb Eko Deer is a Zen teacher at Sweetwater Zen Center in National City, CA near San Diego. He’s been sober since 2004, and grew up in Dallas, TX. He incorporates these 12 steps into his Zen teaching, as well as martial arts.





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17 Responses to “12 Steps For “Normal” People. ~ Herb Deer”

  1. Annie Ory says:

    Actually, you are completely wrong about the enlightened Zen Master being just as susceptible to drugs and alcohol and sex as anyone else. You mistakenly imagine that because someone positions themselves as an enlightened Zen Master that they are, in fact such a being. If your so called enlightened Zen Master succumbs to drugs, sex and alcohol, then s/he was NOT enlightened. This distinction is not important in my life because I don't do the whole "master" thing and I don't imagine I've ever met an "enlightened" person, but the Buddha's teachings, which I do read and ponder, show that when truly enlightened there is no need or desire for such things any longer. True enlightenment would, if you were to attain it, and don't ask me how, leave you completely free from any desire to escape, and all of these things, when abused, are escapes.

    I suppose what you meant to say was that following a spiritual path doesn't protect you, and that may be true. I only point out this linguistic flaw in your argument because there has been so much pain and anguish over the whole master/guru question here lately, and it just didn't seem right to let it lay there as people are already so confused about what it means to be a guru or to be enlightened that leaving people with the impression that an alcoholic could also be an enlightened master, and simultaneously be a sex addict, seemed unnecessarily confounding.

  2. Rick Cummings says:

    Love the simplicity of your 12 step model. There is a need so great in our reality for a simple model capable of providing a useful path for those of us not blessed with profound reasoning or analytic skills. We are left to battle the complexities of the world we live in with our wits, some common sense and instinct. Sometimes these aren’t enough to win the battle and we succumb to one vice or another to find a way through this existance. Your model is the framework for an alternative that I think can help so many people. The more I reflect on each element of your model the more deep and comprehensive I see the value. Thanks so much Herb for sharing “your way” with the world. I know your model is going to make a major positive difference in someone’s life today.

  3. Hector V. Barrientos-Bullock Harleigh Quinn says:

    Thank you for this.
    When my (Now estranged) wife felt that because she was now spiritual and doing yoga, she did not have to apologize but deserved forgiveness, I repeated to her, I think it's the fourth or fifth step of the 12 step program (I used to go to support a girlfriend in the past. I will admit I have never been addicted to anything except cigarettes, which have been hell to quit)

    At any rate, I told Ania "Mukti Yogini" that she needed to list out whom she had hurt and apologize to them, that she needed to list out her wrongs and admit them to those she elected to tell fallacies to.

    Of course in her refusal I learned she was a narcissist, thus no apology will ever come, however, I have always known this applies to normal people as well as addicts.

    I thank you for revealing I have not been singular in this belief, and it is even more welcoming that it is coming from a zen buddhist teacher as I attempted to teller from a mahayana buddhist perspective as well.

    • herb says:

      thanks Harleigh, no doubt the steps would heal the world if everyone took them seriously! the addicts have simply been the ones to benefit the most so far-i guess because they/we need them the most! the love is now trickling down to those who just need it alot! waiting for apologies from estranged wives is like waiting for a package of twinkies to spoil! apparently it happens in theory.

      why not blow her away by being the first to take these steps and apologize for your apart in your difficulties (as infinitesimally negligible as it is im sure)!!

      • I did that long ago.
        The reality is she is a clinical narcissist.
        She will more than likely NEVER apologize, because that is not what narcissists do.
        Her foray into yoga and spirituality (buddhism, taoism, hinduism. All things I have lived my life by. Probably why I have that charisma that she was always jealous of and I never actually wanted) helped her develop what is called a "spiritualized ego", reading people like Eckhart Tolle, Rhonda Byrne, Wayne Dwyer, Byron Katie, and Ram Das religiously, using spirituality as self help, which it was never meant to be.

        Being a narcissist means she will also never do that deep introspection required in meditation, and will, instead, let her ego provide her with visions of things such as flowers blooming.

        I am not the first persons life she destroyed, I am only the one that married her, so she chose to do the worst with me.

        I don't feel there is any way to reach her besides solitary confinement, forcing her to truly face herself, not having distractions of being able to impress others with her false ego.

  4. Velora says:

    Thanks for this post… I enjoyed the simplication of the steps in lay terms. I have to say, though, that in your attempt to be funny, I found your tone somewhat patronizing and offensive – ie, saying that these steps are usually reserved for those who sell their mother. The audience on here is pretty intelligent and almost all readers know someone who has gone through some kind of serious problem with addiction. Your point would have been just as effective without the "funny" undertones.

    • herb says:

      sorry if i offended you! i will remember your advice and even ask for help next time! do you know someone who has gone through serious addiction? would you consider working the steps yourself, perhaps even adding me to your resentment list to share with someone? this is the real measure of effectiveness to my mind!

  5. Ron Dean says:

    Great article, but, as someone in recovery, I would add one clarification … that is your re-writing of Step 9. The actual wording of the step is "Made direct amends to those people except when to do so would injure them or other". A lot of times, most times in fact, a simple "I'm sorry" just isn't enough.

    If I haven't paid my bills or stolen from someone, I repay the money with interest *and* apologize. Some people have risked and even gone to prison to make amends. Then there are the living amends … you can't contact the person or that person has died, so you vow to change your behavior and stick to it. Then there are spouses who have committed adultery … rather than break-up the family, they live with the guilt and shame, and work *really* hard at being a better partner.

    Apology just isn't enough. Aside from that, great article.

    • herb says:

      thanks Ron, i agree with what your saying, and maybe such a detailed account of this step will come in the "book version". when i make amends i always stress that i am still continuing to do this work on myself to make sure these behaviors won't happen again in the future-ever… if possible, one day at a time!! and i consider going to meetings or sharing about my issues regularly the "action" of step 9, because if i stop getting support and asking for accountability then my promises and changes and apologies become empty and faster than i can say "i dont need help" i am running my own show again.

      thanks for your thoughtful reply!

      • Ron Dean says:

        Again, Sensei, you are spot on.

        Not getting support and asking for accountability is meaningless. When I had to make those amends to people I could not contact or who were no longer present sentient beings, I ended each letter with a statement "I accept the karma of my actions, will make every effort to be a better person, and I am *so* sorry for what I did." Then I burnt it in a puja (fire) ceremony with my sponsor. BTW, I really wasn't a "bad" person.

        There is so much karma (good, bad, and indifferent in the world). Some of it was given to me, some I created, and some was just randomly in my realm and attached to me (taking in karma from other sentient beings, as we are all connected).

        Apology and making amends are very different things. But an apology, in my humble opinion, is part of the amends process.

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  9. Luigi says:

    where's the Higher Power? maybe a bit too much simplification…

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