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The concept of a 12-step program comes from the principles of the Oxford Group, a Lutheran group that applied the 12 steps to Christian life. After the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, the focus changed from straight-up Christianity to spiritualism. Of course, Christian believers were still allowed to consider the God mentioned in the 12 steps to be theirs. But, AA is open to people of all faiths. Therefore, all members are encouraged to apply the 12 steps to their personal beliefs.
As far as the symbols in the group go, they are all about change and rebirth. The Phoenix is the most obvious example, rising from the ashes to begin anew. The ninth step, which is all about making amends, is roughly akin to a penitent asking for absolution from a priest. The triangle within the circle represents service, unity, and recovery. Alternatively, it can also mean strength, hope, and willpower. The circle itself surrounds the triangle and represents the supportive communities from which members of 12-step programs derive strength.
The Origin of the Symbol
AA adopted the circle-and-triangle symbol in 1955 at the St. Louis International Convention. At the convention, the members decided that the symbol should also stand for the union between mind and body toward the goal of sobriety. Today, the symbol of the circle and triangle is on every milestone coin that members earn as they go through life.
The symbol is universal as a representation of AA in the same way that, “Easy does it,” “One day at a time,” and, “My friend Bill W.” are. The circle and triangle tangentially apply to other addiction support groups because their 12-step programs are built upon AA’s in the same way that AA’s is based upon the Oxford Group.
Decoding the Symbol: The Triangle
Each of the three main points that the triangle symbolizes has its own meaning. For example, unity refers to the fellowship that addicts develop in these programs. That sense of community doesn’t just stop at the walls of the meeting, however. It branches out into the wider community at large. Recovery has to do with both the journey through life and the 12 steps themselves. The phrase, “Once an addict, always an addict,” is 100% true. Recovery is a lifelong process, which is why, “One day at a time,” is the group’s No. 1 watchword. Addicts wind up taking and taking and taking, so giving back through magnanimous acts of service is part of the program. Service is also a good way for these addicts to make amends to the people they’ve hurt through their addiction.
Decoding the Symbol: The Circle
The circle expands upon the concept of unity. The idea is that everyone should help addicts the same way that they help anyone with other diseases. Alcoholism and other addictions are not failings of character or indications of stupidity. They are diseases and should be treated as such. People bring someone who’s shut in with COVID-19 groceries and casseroles. Even someone who’s healthy but has a broken leg gets help. The unity of society should apply to addicts. We all should strive to help them overcome their urge to use so that their lifelong recovery has a better chance of success. People who avail themselves of 12-step programs generally look out for each other. We should emulate them in that way.
Importance of Symbols in Recovery
Addiction breeds chaos. Recovery strives to beat back the chaos. Having a symbol as a rallying point reinforces both the goal and the behaviors that people must exhibit to achieve that goal. They act as strong reminders of both hope for the future and previous successes. When the craving is nearly unbearable, returning to the symbol of the circle and triangle, the Phoenix, or the lotus shows that you can change and that you’ve asked to change and that you’re working to change. Having the backing of the community ensures a chance for success, and the symbol can be a reminder of that as well.
Recovery is largely experienced in the abstract. The concepts of the 12 steps aren’t physical. When you hold onto your one-year coin, feel the circle and triangle as tangible representation of your success, it’s inspirational. All of these reasons are why the symbols are crucial for 12-step processes.
The 12 Steps and Their Role in Recovery
1. Admitting that you’re powerless against alcohol and/or other drugs to which you’re addicted
The simple phrase, “Hi, I’m [name], and I’m an alcoholic,” is empowering because of its simplicity. The phrase applies equally to other addictions. Just admitting it is daunting in the face of a society that demonizes addiction. Remember, though, that your addiction doesn’t define you.
2. Believing that a power greater than you can help restore your sanity
It could be the deity of any one of the more than 2,000 belief systems extant in the world today. That deity can become a symbol onto which you can hold when you experience the tough times. Tapping into the power of faith helps build faith in yourself too.
3. Making that decision to turn over your life to whichever deity you worship
All of us have our own perception and understanding of the deity we worship. Dedicating your recovery to the glory of that deity is also a strong incentive to stay on the wagon. It’s also part of the greater community symbolized by the circle because you can identify with people who worship the same way you do.
4. Being fearless while making a deep and brutally honest inventory of ourselves
Communication within the group is essential, but communication with ourselves is equally important. We must be honest about our addiction. We must practice self-examination that includes terrible things to behold. Because this kind of raw process is so difficult, it’s essential to have others to hold us up and support us in our journey. Remember, though, that we should also be uplifting and supporting others as we go through life.
5. Admitting what we’ve done wrong, both to our chosen deity and to other human beings
Part of the healing process is accountability. We must acknowledge every bad thing that we’ve done because of our addiction. It doesn’t make us a bad person to admit that these things happened. It only means that we’ve done these bad things and that we take the necessary responsibility for them. Again, the concept of unity supports the recovery process.
6. Turning to our chosen deity for absolution and help in helping us stop doing the bad things
Our chosen deity is part of our community, and unity with that deity is as important as unity within the group, our families, and our friends. We require that absolution before our Phoenix-like rebirth as recovering addicts and not just addicts.
7. Humbly asking for continuing help regarding our shortcomings
Addiction is almost always not alone among our shortcomings. We’re human, after all, and that means that we’re imperfect. Of course, we’ll never achieve perfection, but accepting responsibility and asking for help with our faults is a good way to proceed in life. The idea is to learn to recognize bad behaviors even outside of the realm of our addictions. Then, it’s to take back our power from the substances we’ve abused and to learn to cope with the stress of our new lives.
8. Making a list of everyone we’ve harmed with our addictions
Chances are, this list is going to be long, particularly if you’ve been an addict for a long time. We can’t leave anyone out. That’s not only unfair to anyone we leave out but also to us because it lessens our accountability.
9. Making amends to those who we’ve wronged
Unless doing so would put someone in danger, we should seek out anyone we’ve harmed, or otherwise wronged, and try to make things right. This should be in person if possible. Humility and contriteness are not weaknesses. They show great strength of character and prove that you’re not “just an addict.” You’re a person who’s willing to change.
10. Putting everything learned into practice
Making amends is great, but you have to mean it forever. You have to take stock continually and make changes to your behavior along the way. You have to acknowledge wrongs to both others and to yourself as they happen and strive to make things right as soon as possible.
11. Seeking grace from our chosen deity
Through meditation and prayer, you can broaden your knowledge of self and how you react to situations. Asking your chosen deity for grace and spiritual support keeps you centered on the right path.
12. Sharing your knowledge and experiences with other addicts
You may not be able to, “Go, and sin no more,” but you can share your successes and foibles with others so that they don’t feel alone. By doing this, you become part of the circle yourself. You’re now part of “the greater community,” and part of the 12th step is in realizing this and taking the responsibility seriously.
Addiction isn’t the end. It doesn’t damn you to an eternity of suffering. Only refusing to acknowledge your addiction does those things. Seek help. When you’re in a better place, offer others help. Be a sponsor. Give back to the community in other ways. Your worth as a person is absolute. Honor that worth through community support. Easy does it, and good luck.
What is the “Circle with triangle inside” meaning?
Ah, in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs, the symbol of a circle with a triangle inside has a specific meaning.
In this context:
- The triangle represents the three part answer – Unity, Recovery, and Service – to a three part disease – Physical, Mental, and Spiritual, which the founders of AA saw as the three dimensions of alcoholism.
- The circle represents wholeness or oneness and reflects the entire world of AA.
In essence, this emblem represents the intertwined relationship between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the disease and the recovery journey. It underscores the principles at the heart of AA’s approach to sobriety and healing.