Twelve Step Art

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About TwelveDrawings

[Content verified as being up-to-date by TwelveDrawings in 2018.] is a "Thank You" to my Higher Power

This website is not really about art. It is about Twelve Step recovery. I am not a professional artist and these drawings are not for sale. They are the result of a spiritual experience that has re-formed me.

NOTE: If you are not familiar with the Twelve Steps of recovery from alcohol, drugs, or behavior-based addictions, this website is not an introduction or explanation. If you want an introduction to Twelve Step recovery, go to the official website of a national group. Some are included in the "Other Helpful Sites" list (lower right).

If you are already in a Twelve Step program, please ignore anything you see here that does not align with the conference-approved literature in your particular program.

Drawing Attention to "Old-School" Twelve Step Words

I was born with the ability to draw. But for twenty years, my pen produced nothing more than a few nonsensical doodles. Then one day, I looked down and saw the "Serenity" drawing emerge from my pen. It was as startling as if the family dog suddenly stood on its hind legs and calmly recited Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

At that time, I had been in recovery for perhaps a year. I was surprised when more and more drawings sprang forth—it was inexplicable. Where were they coming from and where were they going? Then I remembered that people in Twelve Step meetings commonly offer "personal shares" or short talks. I recognized that my drawings were my own form of personal share. Not special; just different.

"Old School"

My ink drawings are out of step with a world of colorful, high-resolution, PhotoShop images. To be honest, the reason I create old-school pen and ink drawings is because I don't know how to create anything else. The archaic style seems appropriate, since the subject is old-school Twelve Step recovery. Whether you know or care about alcohol or addiction recovery, I hope you will glance through these illustrations. Downloads are free IF they are for your PERSONAL use only. 

About the Artist
This artist remains anonymous. Maybe that sounds intriguing or mysterious, but it shouldn't. In Twelve Step recovery, anonymity is the spiritual basis of all Twelve Step Traditions (see Tradition Twelve). So while my identity is not really a secret, I am remaining anonymous to please the Higher Power that got me sober.
          The particular programs I belong to remain anonymous as well. Each Twelve Step group deals with a distinct "Problem", but their common "Solution" is found in its original form in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Thanks to the "Big Book Comes Alive" recordings by Joe and Charlie, that has become very clear to me. (More about Joe & Charlie here )

There are "Artist's Comments" Below Individual Illustrations
As time permits, I am adding Artist's Comments to each drawing. There is not text with every drawing yet, so you may have to poke around to discover all of them. My comments explain exactly what that image meant to me in my recovery, for whatever that is worth. If you do not wish to read the comments, I suggest you not scroll down and, instead, simply enjoy the drawings alone.

There are seven completed sets of TwelveDrawings, which are:

• Twelve Words from the Serenity Prayer - this title is self-explanatory

• Twelve Steps - one key word from each of the Steps

• Twelve Traditions - one key word from each of the Twelve Traditions

• Twelve Promises - one key word from each of the Promises

• Twelve Metaphors - metaphors (or verbal imagery) used in the Big Book of AA

• Twelve Insanities - words taken from the Big Book description of alcoholic insanity (p. 37)

• Religious or Not? - twelve words taken from the 1934 Webster Dictionary definition of "religion"

Only four of the above sets are included in the website. More may be added in the future. Some of the new drawings can be seen in my Twitter profile.

My ideas arise from prayer and meditation. Sometimes, the emerging illustrations startle me. Certain drawings (like "Courage") make my eyes brim with emotions every time I see them. My hair stands up as if God was pressing nearer to see. For that reason alone, I have continued.

I have deliberately tried to avoid using classic symbols. For example, there are no mythical or Biblical images such as an angel hovering in the air while wielding a fiery sword. I wanted each drawing to contain things I have seen in real life—or reasonably might. That was important to me, because that's how Recovery was for me: drawn from real life. So, instead of mythical figures, there is a fairly ordinary looking squirrel in the Twelve Steps "Ready" drawing. His energetic leap is a visual reminder of a leap of faith I took in Step 6: feeling exhilerated and entirely READY for whatever was coming next. 

I hope you enjoy looking at the drawings. I hope they may make some small contribution to living better Today. I hope you will keep coming back.


NOTE: All of my drawings and written material are protected by ©opyrights and I take those rights seriously. You may download whatever drawings or text you want for personal use. Any other use or reuse will require specific permission, obtained in advance by writing to [email protected] . National Twelve Step Organizations welcome and will be charged nothing for the use of my art when arranged in advance. All Twelve Traditions will be maintained.

Who Are "Joe and Charlie"?

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You will see several references on this site to "Joe & Charlie". Their names are sometimes heard at local Twelve Step meetings. So, who exactly are Joe and Charlie? They were two long-recovered alcoholics who traveled the world for several decades, sharing their insights into the Big Book of AA. Because all Twelve Step programs are derived from the AA Big Book, I suspect their recordings might help anyone in ANY Twelve Step program....not just AA.

The Big Book Study (officially called "The Big Book Comes Alive") recordings are not conference-approved literature. Any sponsee interested in listening to the series should ask their sponsor first. I can recommend the talks with confidence because many long-sober speakers have openly given credit to Joe and Charlie with their own recovery. I have heard people say said they never really "got" how Twelve Step recovery works until they heard the free-wheeling and good-natured recordings of Joe P and Charlie McQ. I know that was true for me. 

To say it more clearly, Joe and Charlie's talks saved my life. When I first got into recovery, I could not really grasp what I was reading and I did not get sober. I was about to give up and go back out there. My kindly mother startled me by mailing me a complete set of the recordings. At first, I scoffed. Then, I listened. Honestly, I doubt I would be alive today if I had not heard that Old-School message carried directly to me by Joe and Charlie's talks.

Joe and Charlie inspired my habit of looking up recovery-related words in the dictionary. Listening to two rough-hewn men casually discussing the Latin roots of the word "resentment" was stunning at first (i.e., I was startled to learn that to "resent" meant to "feel again". I had always inventoried my resentments as if the word meant to simply feel angry. With a new and more historically accurate definition in mind, the resentment inventory became much more powerful for me.) Bringing such mental discipline reading the Big Book had never occurred to me. Joe and Charlie's lifelong search for recovery in the Big Book still inspires me today through their recordings.

This website is dedicated to the tireless work of Joe and Charlie, and the others behind the scenes who helped them carry their Message to thousands like me.

Joe McQ passed away October 25th, 2007. Another gentleman (coincidentally named Joe) continued presenting the Big Book Study with Charlie P until the latter died in April of 21, 2011. All three of these men gave voluntarily of their time for many years, helping others gain a better understanding of the practice and history of Twelve Step recovery.

Listening to Big Book Study recordings cannot change the importance of thoroughly reading the Big Book or your own recovery program's literature. But because the complete series of recordings lasts many hours, I believe only the most devoted sponsor could duplicate all the careful review of the Twelve Step process that is presented in these talks. 

If you go looking for these recordings online or elsewhere, you will probably find numerous versions of them. The exact content of Joe & Charlie's discussions changed surprisingly little over the years—I notice that recordings from the 1980s sound remarkably similar to talks given decades later. I suspect the pair saw many lives being saved by their original talk and made a strenuous effort not to change it for fear of "spoiling" its good results.

•  Here is a link to FREE MP3 downloads up-to-date Joe & Charlie Big Book Studies: 

I personally got sober while listening to one of the earliest recordings which included Joe McQ. However, the core remained very similar throughout the decades of recordings, including the ones made after Joe McQ passed away. I happen to prefer the 1987 talk because it included Joe McQ in his full vibrancy at which charges for some recordings and has no financial or other connection to my website.

[Update as of January 2020: I have found a site that ofers the original Joe McQ and Charlie recording at no charge]

DISCLAIMER: None of the above sites endorse my site, nor can I guarantee their current availability. Naturally, you may do your own search for Joe and Charlie's Big Book Study (officially titled "The Big Book Comes Alive").

May we meet you as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. God Bless you and keep you until then.


What's the REAL reason for this site?

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When I first achieved lengthy sobriety, I found that every word in the Big Book made much more sense to me. I thought I could get others sober by sharing the Big Book, word for word. However, I had difficulty getting others to see what I was seeing. I would speak with passion and confidence and verve and clarity—only to see their eyes glaze over with boredom. I have since discovered this is not unusual. Even AA co-founder Bill Wilson spent months of early sobriety going from bar-to-bar, trying to share his spiritual experience with other drunks. I had no better luck than Bill did.

I did not give up. I still worked with others. I encouraged them to listen to "The Big Book Comes Alive" study (see the "Who are Joe and Charlie?" link in the far right column of this website). Unfortunately, most newcomers were far too rattled to patiently sit and listen to these recordings. They needed smaller bites of information. 

I had recently been looking up some Big Book words in a 1930s Webster's Dictionary. Their definitions really brought the Twelve Steps alive in a way that my oridinary "modern day" definitions did not. I believed that those old school definitions revealed much about what Bill Wilson seemed to be saying. I made some personal drawings to help me remember each definition in case my memory faded. That plan worked, and many more drawings followed. They were very personal responses to the deeper meanings I found in the 1930s definitions AS THEY RELATED TO MY OWN TWELVE STEP WORK. (Sorry for the all caps, but I really want this point to be clear.)

I wanted to call attention to those 1930s definitions of Twelve Steps words. That's the REAL reason for this site

FAIR WARNING: This website is not conference-approved by any Twelve Step program. If you don't understand why, I strongly suggest you ask your sponsor or anyone who has long-term sobriety in your program. Conference approved literature has been carefully reviewed hundreds of times by countless sober people. The information is considered safe and sound for use in recovery work. By comparison, only one person has reviewed the information on this website. 

Please be wary of the information on this site or on personal sites like this. Common sense should tell you this. You don't know anything about me (the sole person involved in creating the artwork and writing). You have no way of knowing whether I am sober now or ever have been. I warn my sponsees that their desperation for recovery will cause them to latch onto ANY idea that sounds good to them. Worse, they will eagerly believe anything which reinforces their incorrect old assumptions, biases, sickness, etc.

So please do NOT assume that just because you find my pictures to be interesting or because you agree with anything written here, that you are headed towards sobriety. If you are not yet sober, I urge you to leave this site right now. It will only confuse you. I am very serious about this.

However, if you have become sober using the Twelve Steps as first outlined in the book Alcholics Anonymous (the "Big Book"), then this site may be of interest. My words and images are personal shares, comparable to someone sharing their experience, strength, and hope in a face-to-face meeting. 

If someone's share includes statements that are not found in conference-approved literature, everyone in the meeting should know to ignore that part of the share (e.g., If someone shares, "I could not get sober if I did not take a hot shower while chanting the Pledge of Allegiance before working the Steps every day." My reaction would be: "Good for you, friend. But that is not found anywhere in the Big Book so it is NOT necessary in order to achieve sobriety.") Please approach what I have shared here with that same caution.

I hope you find inspiration. I pray you find experience, strength, and hope. But you will only find sobriety through the grace of God as you understand God. And the most reliable path I know to that Higher Power is to 1) attend meetings, 2) get a sponsor, and 3) work the Twelve Steps daily and without holding anything back.

Once graced with sobriety, I invite you to come back here. Maybe what seemed mildly interesting during your first visit will become more meaningful with each new visit during your lifetime of recovery.



Who Says There are Twelve Metaphors?

No one thinks of there being "Twelve Metaphors" in the Big Book of AA besides me

This is your fair warning. If you ever mention the "Twelve Metaphors" to anyone in a Twelve Step meeting, they will not know what you are talking about. The idea that there are twelve metaphors is based on my own observations. Please do NOT regard this idea as an official or traditional interpretation of the Big Book of AA. It is not. Period.

The Big Book is littered with descriptions of people and situations. While many of those mentioned in the text are known to be based on people who Bill Wilson personally knew, others appear to have been invented simply to make a point. A good example is the quirky Jay-walker who dashed around in busy street traffic (BB p.37). Another is a man sinking hopelessly into quicksand (BB p.8). Another is an actor who insists on directing the play he is starring in (BB p. 60). I doubt that these descriptions are based on real events in Bill's life. I suspect he created them to help make a point. These vivid scenarios served that purpose, teaching me important lessons about recovery. I asked an English major what to call fictional ideas that illustrate an important truth. She thought for a moment, then said that the proper word was "metaphor".

Once I started looking, I found numerous metaphors in the Big Book. Some were familiar facts or phrases that I had heard elsewhere, like "In the prize ring, this would be called leading with the chin." (BB p.77). He writes that a certain alcoholic "is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits." Bill wrote about Christopher Columbus proving that the world is round (BB p.51).

However, I chose to focus on those unique scenarios that Bill probably invented for his own use. For example, Bill described a drowning man grasping for a slender reed (BB p.28). I doubt he ever experienced that. He talked about the plight of men who have lost their legs (BB p.30). Bill still had both of his legs. He spoke in detail about people who survived the sinking of an ocean liner. I doubt that Bill or anyone he knew had ever been rescued after a shipwreck—though the sinking of the Titanic was well known (BB p.17). Bill made use of metaphors that everyday people could relate to during the  late 1930s. Happily for us, most remain remarkably understandable today*.

I do not claim that Bill W. deliberately included Twelve Metaphors—that is not supported by any facts. But I once heard a long-recovered person say "I have to re-read the Big Book often to discover those new parts that seem to appear in it overnight." Bill's use of various metaphors have often helped me expand my understanding of his Message as I go back over the literature. I try to bring those insights to life through my illustrations. Renewing and deepending my connection to the Big Book remains a vital part of my own daily recovery.


* "The nip of the wringer" (BB p.43) is Bill's way of describing a near miss with trouble. An example would be getting stopped by the police for DUI, but before reaching your car window, the policeman gets called away to stop a bank robbery. You deserved the punishment that was coming, but somehow you were spared. "Nip of the wringer" was probably a very common figure of speech in the 1930s. The wringer being mentioned was a hazardous mechanical roller on clothes washing machines at that time. However, such wringers are  outdated today. In the Artist's Comments for my "The Wringer" drawing, I explain why I included it among the Twelve Metaphors.

Serenity Prayer: Serenity



"God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change"

The words of the Serenity Prayer seem as if they were created specifically for use on sentimental screen savers, inspirational posters, and syrupy greeting cards. They often hover majestically against a background of scenic sunsets, ocean shores, and mountain streams. The prayer sometimes comes close to sounding like a cliché. But the hope it offers is deadly serious to those who yearn to experience a day of sober serenity.

In 1934, Webster's Dictionary offered this definition: "Serenity n. The quality of being bright, clear, and calm".

As an artist who wishes to offer an original perspective, I wasn't pleased when my prayer and meditation on the word "Serenity" produced YET ANOTHER pastoral drawing. All of the other drawings in my Serenity Prayer series had been slightly surprising, unconventional, and even mysterious. Still, I remained committed to making the drawings that my Higher Power inspired, whether I understood them or not.

It wasn't until the Serenity illustration was finished that the real point of the illustration became clear to me.

In the drawing, a tree is perched on the shore of a river. The surface of that river is broken up by very common-looking waves. But in the area closest to the tree, the water appears very still and smooth. That's not entirely unusual. Who hasn't seen exactly that type of becalmed water in the midst of light waves?

Then a memory came back to me. My high school physics teacher taught that when a wave travels, it will not stop until it is stopped by another force. We may think of waves as tapering down as they travel, but that's not entirely accurate. The reason they appear to lose size is because their force becomes spread out around an increasingly expanding circle. Waves cannot stop abruptly in mid-water.

Still, haven't we have all seen such patches of mirror-smooth water amid rippling waters? I am confident that science can explain it—I am sure of that. But I still marvel at whenever I see that effect on real water. 

I now know I can turn my inward gaze toward flat water when confronted by a world of choppy, honking, distracting noise. I no longer ask my Higher Power to stop the world around me. I can ask for help being bright, clear, and calm whenever I choose to.

Serenity Prayer: Grant




"God, GRANT me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change"

This drawing may confuse you at first. It is not lovely like most "inspiring" artwork is. But please bear with me; you may feel as surprised as I was.

I looked up the word "grant" in my 1934 Webster's Dictionary. The word is so familiar that I almost didn't bother. However, its 1934 meaning was not what I expected. I think of the word "grant" as meaning the same thing as "to give". I usually hear it in connection with someone applying for a financial grant and receiving they money they requested. To me, it basically seems like a gift. There are usually strings attached to that type of grant and a certain outcome is often required. But once the grant is—well—granted, the person gets money from the grantor. So until now, "grant" always meant "to give".

But the definition was this: "Grant v. to agree or assent to".

Giving is not even mentioned. Why would we ask the God of our understanding, to "agree" instead of to "give"? Personally, whenever I recited the Serenity Prayer, I thought I was asking to be GIVEN courage, serenity, and wisdom. My request was the same as saying: "God won't you please, please, please, PLEASE give me those good qualities?" But with the dictionary open in from of me, the that request did not fit. 

Begging God to give me qualities that He has never refused to give me suddenly seemed a little absurd. Then more and more and MORE absurd.

Did I really believe that God sits idly by until people like me beg for good qualities? Did it seem likely that God would reply, "Well, I'm not so SURE. Do you DESERVE good human qualities?" We cannot know God's motives fully, but that image struck me as being extremely unlikely. OF COURSE our Higher Power wants us to have good qualities!

Those financial grants I referred to earlier are not given out literally at random or as favors. For example, grants intended for "Female Farmers" will go only to female farmers. Here in the mundane world, the funding offered by grant-offering institutions can be depleted. But can the Divine "budget" for supplying good human qualities ever run out?

I have trouble imagining my Higher Power being selfish or stingy when faced with such unselfish requests. Is there any voice in Heaven bellowing, "We are receiving far too many earthly requests for courage, serenity, and wisdom. Cut off the supply immediately!!!"

Only the voice of inner fear would conceive a selfish God like that. My fear often disguises itself as an unquestionable authority or indisputable assumption. To confront my fear, I began drawing what my fear would have me believe. I envisioned a cruel-looking and intimidating barrier between me and Serenity. The barrier is tall and bristling with spikes, wires, chains, and nails. I could never penetrate it or scale it. If God is cruel, then He would be sneering and taunting: "See how beautiful Serenity looks? Well I'm certainly not going to let YOU have it. I'm going to give it to someone else, not YOU!"

Is that God? Or is that odd?

I had to admit that it was my fear—not my Higher Power—which denied me access to courage, serenity, and wisdom. I have come to believe that my Higher Power has already imbued me with those qualities. He doesn't really "give" them to me today, they became my birthright long ago.

The key to unlocking this "Grant" drawing is sitting out in plain sight. A glance to the right and the left of the barrier shows the fence is very narrow. As long as I remain frozen by my fear, I will face nightmarish blockages which are entirely inside my own mind. If I move away from the spot that fear has lured me into, I realize that God has already granted me everything I need in the Serenity Prayer—long before I ask.

The next time I prayed the Serenity Prayer, I didn't feel I was pleading for a handout. Rather, I felt I was saying "thank you" for receiving what my Higher Power had already agreed to long ago.

— Amen to that


TRIVIA: If parts of this fence vaguely remind you of a concentration camp fence, that is on purpose. I wanted this fence to look horrible and that's the most horrible type of fence I know of. Does my desire to show something scary confuse you? To be honest, this drawing confuses most people and I understand why. It is showing us the world as Fear would have us see it. Fear wants us to view the world this way: "One way or the other, I will always be denied the good life that I yearn for." And who can argue with Fear? It is high and wide and deep and terrifying. In a moment of real panic, Fear blocks out everything else and completely fills up our entire view of the world. Like that fence in my drawing, my Fear is scary as hell. Fortunately fear is not my Higher Power. I don't have to believe it and trust it and follow it. I can take a step back from it at any time, and ask my real Higher Power to show me what He sees. When I do that, fear shrinks a little at first. Then I notice there is hopeful information that my fear forgot to mention. And fear shrinks a bit more. And soon, I notice I am not surrounded by a fence of fear anymore. In fact, fear usually shows me only a small piece of the whole picture. I can choose to stay "trapped" behind that small fence OR I often can choose to go a different way. Like around it. Away from it. Find another path that is free from fear. Oh it looks huge and awful, alright. But the only way that fear can replace my Higher Power is if I let it. I ask God to grant me the courage and serenity not to let that happen today.

Serenity Prayer: God


Artist's Remarks

"GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change"

I have often heard other members of Twelve Step groups refer to life's most divine force with the phrase "a power greater than human power" or simply as "My Higher Power". I sometimes wondered how these unique and somewhat mysterious phrases came to Bill Wilson's mind as he wrote the Big Book of AA. I opened my enormous 1934 Webster's Dictionary to see which words were used by Webster's staff to literally define god.

The principal definition: "God n. a being of more than human attributes and powers"

Hmmm. Interesting. "A being of more than human powers" vs "A Higher Power". There certainly is some similarity between Webster's definition and the trademark phrases used in the Twelve Step groups. It might be pure coincidence; I have no way of knowing. Still, this dictionary definition helped me grasp the Twelve Step definition more clearly. My solution will never come from a human power. Not from myself, family, fellowship, professionals, clergy, sponsors, etc. No power that is human power can help me. Once I got sober, I knew this to be true.

I have used my drawing skills to underscore the point. The "God" drawing includes items reflecting the greatest of human forces, including the diploma (education), the beaker (science), the gavel (justice), the rose (love), the crown (royalty), the pearls (wealth), the drill (industry), the stethoscope (medicine), the football (sports) etc. The drawing also includes seductive temptations found in human affairs including the bullet (violence), the shot glass (alcohol), the pills (drugs), the bra strap (sex), the cigar (tobacco), dice (gambling), etc.

So, the hand which appears in the "God" drawing is not a hand at all. It is an empty space where the clutter of human powers cannot reach. In effect, I have drawn God by not drawing God at all. I have made the drawing to remind myself that when I strive to find Him, I can start by ruling out all human powers in the world. And there, the real search can begin.

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