12 Steps For “Normal” People. ~ Herb Deer

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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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anonymous Dec 30, 2015 1:44am

I am member of Nar Anon. It is a 12 step program for family and friends of addicts. I have learned so much about myself and the people in general. Since the program is done at my own pace and in own time I have the freedom to take my recovery in any direction I choose.
My conclusion: The majority of people suffer from a disease called neurosis.it is basically a disease of the ego. It’s cause is trauma we’ve lived since the womb and possibly past lives. It affects the way we think which in turn affects every aspect of our being. Neurosis is passed down through generations. My family member’s addiction did not cause my problems. They have always been there
My family member’s addiction was the magnifying glass that made my problems impossible to ignore and hide.
Some of the ways the disease manifests are, and one or a combination of thousands of behavioral and psycological disorders such as, drug abuse, gambling, hoarding, codependency, controlling behaviors, douchebaggery etc…
The best way known for releiving these symptoms of the disease is by working a 12 step program.There are over 300 different 22 strep programs to choose from. If done right you will learn to keep your ego in check and change negative actions into positive actions that work.
My life has improved exponentially as I continue my journey and I feel very fortunate to have found Nar Anon. It has helped me improve every facet of my life, not just my addiction to rescuing my addict.
In the 12 step program the 2nd step introduces us to a higher power. The second step was the pivotal step in my recovery. I could discover a higher power of my own understanding to help me with my journey.
I didn’t see any mention of one in the steps in this article.
I think that since there are so many programs to choose from, people who are “normal” can find one which suits them and their specific area of need. Although I enjoyed your article and you are a good writer, I feel that there is so much more to be gained from a program that cannot happen simply by reading. I think it’s important to live it.

anonymous Dec 30, 2015 1:32am

I’ve heard it said in “the rooms,” and completely agree myself, that everyone (even “normal” people) could benefit from working the 12 Steps. However, I feel that your rewording has stripped them of their true intent of “trust God, clean house, help others.” I can understand a reinterpretation of step one, but no matter what, it boils down to powerlessness and unmanageabilty. The rest of the steps are exact instructions on how to regain that personal power, especially, as it’s been pointed out, step 9, which is not about being sorry, but about being accountable. I hope, for anyone who is truly interested in a spiritual awakening as experienced by millions of recovering alcoholics, addicts, and their families worldwide (afterall, these steps are also used by Alan-ons), they will seek out the original 12 Steps, which can be found by simply typing those words into any search engine. Fourteen years ago, those steps saved my life. I promise you, “normal” or not, they can help you, too, if you are honest, open-minded, and willing. And please remember this, anywhere it says the word God, it really means, insert a Higher Power of your choice. Good luck on your journey xo

anonymous Dec 29, 2015 8:21pm

Being a member of several 12 step programs since December 1981, I believe all humans could benefit from the directions and lessons of these steps, I often talked about putting the steps in all schools as the Big Book is actually a textbook, and what awesome principals our children could learn from these directions for living. I enjoyed your article and have shared it. Thank you and “keep on trudgin”

anonymous Dec 29, 2015 3:16pm

Step 9 us not just apologizing to people we hurt its about making it right. Making amends in not just a simple im sorry. If u for example owe someone money that you need to pay them back. Its amends not im sorry

anonymous Dec 29, 2015 1:46pm

is a declaration of who we are and what we are.
Humans are by present nature imperfect, defective, and conflicted, thus, to paraphrase Jung,
"our destiny is a manifestation of our internal subconscious conflicts."
Iyengar touched on this with his analogy of the ripples on the top of a pond being a manifestation of the ripples in the sand on the bottom.
The STEPS — and a guide! — allow us to ASK for the defects to be removed or at least reduced.
Now, abide by the same warning that Patanjali gave about the Sidhis: vainglory –spiritual pride– is an obstacle to progress. The "powers" can be a trap.

UNFORTUNATELY, most people are not sick enough to undertake a process that requires a complete debasement of the ego.

But it's a start. Thanks for publishing. Stay on the path, but don't start to think that you own it.

anonymous Nov 10, 2015 1:08pm

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

anonymous Mar 22, 2012 7:38am

[…] The people who helped me get clean and sober continue to help me ask for honesty. This work is exactly the same as the work on the mat—I face my body and my breath, I face my whole complete self. It is a radical way to live. I recommend it. […]

anonymous Mar 15, 2012 5:22am

[…] Top performers in life strive for excellence. They are constantly improving, step by step and minute by minute. High achievers do not compare themselves to others; everyone is on their own […]

anonymous Mar 10, 2012 10:33am

[…] (And if you think that those meetings aren’t for you and those aren’t your kind of peopl… […]

anonymous Mar 9, 2012 11:53am

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.

    anonymous Mar 9, 2012 12:25pm

    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!

      anonymous Mar 9, 2012 5:35pm

      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.

anonymous Mar 9, 2012 6:32am

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.

    anonymous Mar 9, 2012 9:35am

    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!

anonymous Mar 8, 2012 5:21pm

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.

    anonymous Mar 8, 2012 10:45pm

    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)!!

      anonymous Mar 10, 2012 3:44pm

      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.

anonymous Mar 8, 2012 1:26pm

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.

anonymous Mar 8, 2012 7:00am

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.

    anonymous Mar 8, 2012 9:06am

    thank you for clarifying this, im glad to know im completely wrong! no wonder i need these steps! Word

      anonymous Mar 8, 2012 8:20pm

      cool answer! thats not where i was going to go, lol!

      anonymous Jan 3, 2016 9:11pm

      Haha… I like this answer a lot. I enjoyed reading your article, and way to roll with the punches! I changed the steps to work for me as well, but instead of simplifying, I re-wrote in "truth language" – well, that's what I like to call it anyway.

    anonymous Dec 29, 2015 1:40pm

    Good job. NOR would he call his-self "enlightened."
    "We are not saints. "
    Nor would a yoga call himself saint— or even "yogi".

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