13th Stepping Script Clauses

“In recovery, manipulating another into a relationship, be it emotional, financial, or sexual, violates the core values and Twelve Traditions of our program. “Thirteenth Stepping” is a term used to describe this kind of unhealthy relationship. Thirteenth-stepping is harmful to both people involved and to the overall health of a meeting. Newcomers may be especially vulnerable.


...One possible action a group might take is to amend the meeting format to include a definition of thirteenth stepping, perhaps using wording from the preceding paragraph.” 

(Healthy Meetings Matter, page 12)

What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you experienced 13 stepping? Have you tried addressing it in your meeting? Please share your feedback at the Fellowship Feedback Forum:

This message was originally Group Conscienced by the CoDA Communications Committee comm@coda.org. Material above is excerpted directly from Healthy Meetings Matter Booklet & is Conference approved. While we are sharing it with the fellowship in the spirit of recovery and service, the copyright to this material is fully owned by Codependents Anonymous, Inc. 

Below are script clauses written by different CoDA groups. Meetings can use the group conscience process to vote to add these to their script, modify them, or create their own. 

Thank you to the groups who wrote these script clauses. 

13th Stepping Clause // Example 1

Written by a CoDA group in the Los Angeles area

It is highly inappropriate for anyone to exploit you romantically, sexually, or financially. This is commonly known as "13 Stepping," and is sometimes used in the guise of teaching the program. No one has the right to tell you how to work your program.

13th Stepping Clause // Example 2

Adapted (from the longer version below) by a CoDA group in the Los Angeles area and shared August 2021 with permission from the subcommittee who wrote it

In CoDA, we come to share and learn about developing healthy relationships. We use the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as our guide in this process.

Some meetings speak of the “13th Step” or “13th Stepping”. This is not a true step, but a name for the practice of people attending Twelve Step meetings for other purposes, such as finding dates, selling products or services, or otherwise distracting us from doing the work.  Many codependents also have issues with love and sex addiction, and members may act consciously or unconsciously in these ways.

While having someone’s attention feels good to us, we remind you that recovery is offered free without expectation of anything in return.

If you think someone is 13th Stepping or otherwise acting inappropriately, you can discuss it with any of this meeting’s trusted servants, your sponsor or another recovery friend, or even a professional, such as a therapist. You are not alone. Together, we can strive to keep CoDA meetings a safe place to be vulnerable and be supported in our recovery.

13th Stepping Clause // Example 3

Written and approved by Washington State CoDA fellowship in September 2006

What is it?

13th stepping in CoDA can be clarified and addressed openly, with no shame or blame.  13th Stepping is sometimes referred to as “hitting on newcomers."  It can also simply be defined as making inappropriate romantic and/or sexual advances to members, under the guise of helping with recovery.  13th stepping could include attending only to find dates.  It also could include sexual innuendos and joking to control or embarass someone else in the program. 

13th stepping does not apply to all dating within CoDA or other 12 step programs.  It may sometimes be considered appropriate for those with similar amounts of time to date, as we may choose those in active recovery, and/or who are supportive of our own, in order to pursue healthy relationships. 

Why might it happen?

As newcomers, we usually begin recovery during a painful time, and we are likely feeling vulnerable.  As children, we may have been so desperate for someone to love us, that it may feel nearly impossible to recognize an inappropriate gesture or turn down an offer that appeals to us as an adult.  As codependents, a new romantic relationship may be our favorite drug-of-choice.  Even those who have been in recovery for awhile may still be growing in awareness and working through these issues.  Rescuing and caretaking by another member, especially in the guise of helping with recovery, may appear to be nurturing, supportive, and feel very good to us. 

If however, there is a romantic/sexual agenda, it is considered 13th stepping.  CoDA is a group of people whose common problem is an inability to maintain healthy, mature, functional relationships.  Many codependents also have issues with love and sex addiction, and members may act consciously or unconsciously in these ways.  We may meet members with unclear boundaries, or who are not aware of their deeper motives.   

What can I do?

A newcomer is encouraged to say “No” to anyone or anything that is uncomfortable for them.  As adults in recovery we are learning to choose healthy relationships and set boundaries where needed. 

We suggest that if a newcomer is not now in a romantic relationship or is ending one at this time, that they not enter a new romantic relationship for at least one year upon beginning in CoDA.  Likewise, it is also suggested that if one is already in a relationship when entering CoDA, he or she may want to wait a year to before making a choice to end it.  The exception is if the relationship is abusive.  As codependents newly in recovery it may not be clear what is abusive; to help identify abusive behavior, it can be helpful to talk with a sponsor, and/or a counselor.  We allow ourselves time to develop new recovery tools, healthier behaviors and better boundaries to replace our old dysfunctional patterns.  We allow ourselves time to build our relationships with ourselves and our Higher Power before entering into a new relationship.

In CoDA we learn that healthy, safe and supportive friendships encourage independent thinking and responsibility for self.  These healthy friendships allow space for others to grow at their own pace.  In healthy friendships the individuals are willing to discuss and accomodate differences, and there is no shame and manipulation.

Together, we can strive to keep CoDA meetings a safe place to be vulnerable and be supported in our recovery. 

13th Stepping Clause // Example 4

Written by the San Francisco Bay Area Intergroup, click for full pdf 

Proposed Statement for Use by Meetings regarding “Thirteenth stepping”

(see next page for definitions of Thirteenth stepping)

We encourage groups to formulate their own strategies to protect members from 13th stepping; we suggest addressing 13th stepping by drafting a statement that expresses group conscience about relationships between those who share the home group, inviting a lead share about 13th stepping at regular intervals, and sharing information with newcomers in parking lot conversations. We want to remind members of CoDA that any situation that escalates beyond what can be resolved through conversation between group members and their sponsors, if criminal in nature, should be directed to the properly appointed authorities; no harassment, violation or violence should be tolerated or ignored. We also remind you that some of the codependent traits make codependents especially vulnerable to 13th stepping. By remembering that the following traits are characteristics of codependents, we can all be committed to interacting in thoughtful ways. Awareness of 13th stepping helps all members protect the CoDA recovery community.

Codependent Traits that Make Us Vulnerable to 13th Stepping:

● Have difficulty identifying what we are feeling

● Minimize, alter, or deny how we truly feel.

● Perceive ourselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.

● Lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.

● Value others’ approval of our thinking, feelings, and behavior over our own.

● Do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons.

● Compromise our own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.

● Put aside our own interests in order to do what others want.

● Are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.

● Are afraid to express our beliefs, opinions, and feelings when we differ from those of others.

● Accept sexual attention when we want love.

● Make decisions without regard to the consequences.

● Have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.

● Demand that our needs be met by others.

● Use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.

● Use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.

● Use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.

Excerpt from Co-Dependents Anonymous ‘Big Book’ 

(Third Ed.), p. 103

“What is “Thirteenth Stepping?”

“This term originated in several other Twelve Step programs to describe unhealthy and inappropriate sexual behaviors that take place within the Fellowship. One person could be taking advantage of another when he or she is in a vulnerable or painful spot, or someone may be using a nurturing hug for sexual gratification. It could apply to sexual innuendos or sexual joking to control, embarrass, or subtly negotiate sexually with another. Thirteenth Stepping also occurs in meetings when members flirt, dress inappropriately, or attend just to find dates.

“In an attempt to approach the subject without shame or blame (because many people are unaware of these behaviors), some members of the Fellowship make announcements or engage in discussions concerning Thirteenth stepping and the potential damage it can cause. Whether we’re engaging in inappropriate behaviors, receiving, or witnessing them, we must all work together to create and maintain CoDA meetings where the members can feel safe to be vulnerable, share their thoughts and feelings, and receive support for their recovery without manipulation or control.”

Excerpt from Co-Dependents Anonymous Fellowship Service Manual 

(as revised 2021-10-30), p. 23

Co-Dependents Anonymous does not accept harassment, bullying, CoDA implied definition of 13th stepping or expressed intolerance of any kind... 13th Stepping includes using CoDA authority for personal sexual, electoral, financial, et al, gain.