What is 13th Stepping?

13th stepping is a term for when a person who has been in recovery for a year or more initiates a sexual relationship with an individual who is new to a 12-step program (usually having been in recovery for less than a year). In 12-step programs, this behavior is frowned upon because it can be dangerous for both individuals involved, especially the early recovery person, and it is important to be able to recognize the actions that can often be associated with one who is attempting to create a 13th step relationship.

Why is 13th Stepping Bad?

This type of relationship may not always be dangerous, but in many cases, it can seriously cause problems for the person who is new to the program. People who are just starting out in their recoveries need to focus on their sobriety as well as on their journey through the 12 steps, and when they begin focusing on a new relationship, this can cause them to be less concentrated on what is really important.

In addition, individuals who are new to recovery are often very fragile, and if the relationship doesn’t work out, as is often the case, the individual may turn back to substance abuse as a means of coping or use the failed relationship as an excuse to relapse.

13th Stepping

It’s inappropriate to start a romantic relationship with someone new to 12-step groups, as they are in a fragile stage of their recovery.

Some people who have been in 12-step groups for a long time may also prey on individuals who have not, telling them things that are untrue about the program in order to get them to do what they want or to easily obtain a sexual conquest. This is a reprehensible behavior that any 12-step program should attempt to discourage. Also, while some individuals can start relationships with those who have been in the program longer and still have it be beneficial, a person should never start a relationship of a sexual nature with their sponsor under any circumstances.

How Can I Avoid 13th Stepping?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, AA and other 12-step programs are designed to “help people in recovery with abstinence and other healthy lifestyle goals” through community-level social support. One of the best ways you can avoid 13th stepping is to remember this and to attend meetings looking for help with your recovery, not for a romantic partner.

Other ways you can avoid those who could compromise your recovery––or to avoid doing so to anyone else––are to:

  • Make a promise to yourself not to date anyone for your first year of recovery.
  • Find a sponsor who is outside your romantic or sexual preference.
  • Speak to a sponsor if someone makes you feel uncomfortable with their flirtations or advances.
  • Pay attention to the way others are reacting to your flirtations or friendship; if you believe they want more than you do, be kind but direct.
  • Make sure you are secure in your sobriety before you consider dating someone, and also be certain that the other individual is as well.

If you would like to learn more about 12-step programs or find a meeting in your area, call 888-905-9004.

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