Our Original Six Step Program

Our Original Six Step Program

Our Original Six Step Program

In the pioneering period of Alcoholics Anonymous (before the publication of the Big Book), the Founders developed a program of recovery consisting of Six Steps. The Twelve Steps as we know them today were written especially for the Big Book, as discussed in Bill W.’s official A.A. biography (Pass It On, Page 196-197):

[While writing Alcoholics Anonymous] “Bill came to a place that had been a barrier in his own mind and had given him considerable worry. He had to set down the actual program for the alcoholic to follow, and he wanted to make it as powerful as possible.

He had a great fear that the message might be misunderstood by alcoholics in distant places. It was one thing to pass on the message face-to-face, when one could personally observe the other’s reactions and be present to respond to objections, questions or confusion. In print, there was no second chance…

The basic material for the chapter was the word-of-mouth program that Bill had been talking ever since his own recovery. It was heavy with Oxford Group principles, and had in addition some of the ideas Bill had gleaned from William James and from Dr Silkworth. Moreover, Bill had worked with Dr. Bob and other alcoholics in testing and sifting the workability and effectiveness of the early program. While he would be the nominal author of the fifth chapter, he was in fact serving as spokesman for all the others.

According to Bill, their word-of-mouth program had thus far been a pretty consistent procedure, containing six steps to achieve and maintain their sobriety. There is no evidence that the Oxford Group had such a specific program; yet the Oxford Group ideas pervade in these original six steps, as listed by Bill:

1. We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.
3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.
4. We made restitution to all those harmed by our drinking.
5. We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.
6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.”

These original Six Steps correspond to our current Steps One, Four, Five, Nine, Twelve and Eleven, respectively. Thus, Steps Two, Three, Six, Seven, Eight and Ten as we know them today were added to the program when the Big Book was written.

A slightly different version of the original Six Steps appears in the personal story “He Sold Himself Short” in the Big Book itself (Page 263, Fourth Edition):

“[Dr. Bob] had me to the office and we spent three or four hours formally going through the Six-Step program as was at that time. The six steps were:

1. Complete deflation.
2. Dependence and guidance from a Higher Power.
3. Moral inventory.
4. Confession.
5. Restitution.
6. Continued work with other alcoholics.

Dr. Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up several of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm, and resentments. We went over these at great length, and then he finally asked me if I wanted these defects of character removed. When I said yes, we both knelt at his desk and prayed, each of us asking to have these defects taken away.”

Interestingly, the last two sentences describe this man taking Steps Six and Seven as we know them today with Dr. Bob, though these were not formally part of the program as it then existed.

In love & service,



  1. Avatar

    Christopher Taylor

    Says October 01, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    I had heard there was only 6 originally, and while I’m reading, “power of habit,” by Charles Duhigg, chapter 3 has referenced Bill Wilson, and how the original 12 steps became! Wanting clarity of coarse I goggled it, and here I am! Sure appreciate your service!

    • Rick W.

      Rick W.

      Says October 02, 2022 at 7:46 am

      Thank you CT!!!! I am blessed beyond measure to GET (versus have) to do it. God bless my friend!

    • Avatar

      Powerless Pete

      Says January 11, 2023 at 10:28 am

      Check out Dr. Bob any old timers and also check out Wale P on Astorian and Dick B Digby especially as route 46 books on the original old school AA he’s out of Hawaii I had him come to my meetings in the Florida Keys and was totally amazed how much people have changed AA from the original AA started in 1935 they published the big book and 1939 but in how it works it says rarely have we seen a person fail us fully followed our path and they didn’t have the big book but they had a 93% recovery rate but it’s all written down in Dr. Bob and the old-timers but Digby son Ken B has taken over for his father who died a couple years ago he’s on Facebook it’s only for those who want to get rocket it into the fourth dimension Let’s keep AAA pure and simple

  2. Avatar

    Pam Isrow

    Says March 15, 2023 at 8:46 pm

    Rick, Thank you for this history of the steps. I came across Take the 12 while looking for different wording for Step 6. I am doing the 6 and 7th steps with a sponsee. The idea that Dr. Bob and Bill W prayed together gives me a feeling of beauty of serenity of letting go. Thank you for put this on the internet.

    • Avatar

      Rick W.

      Says March 16, 2023 at 8:34 am

      Thanks Pam! We truly are blessed aren’t we?

  3. Avatar

    Richard B

    Says May 22, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    A further elaboration on the origins can be gleaned from Anne Smith’s journal, 1933 – 1939. She is referred to as the “Mother of AA” This completely shatters all the misconceptions we have about early AA. She played a much more important role in the development of our recovery program.

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