The Twelve-Step Suite — Dream Theater [Analysis]

In January of 2002, progressive metal band Dream Theater released their 6th studio album, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”. The first track of this two-disc album, The Glass Prison, marked the beginning of what would soon be known as Dream Theater’s ‘Twelve-Step Suite’, a five-song compilation with twelve parts dealing with alcoholism. This suite is known for it’s unusually heavy, and aggressive nature, unusual only because it’s coming from Dream Theater, whom, up until that point, had remained a little less guitar-oriented. The ‘Twelve-Step Suite’ is actually a bit of creative therapy by Dream Theater’s drummer, song-writer, and one of the founding members, the legendary Mike Portnoy, after he dealt with a experience involving alcoholism and drug abuse up until April of 2000, after the ‘Scenes From a Memory’ Tour when he joined the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step Program. Each song in the suit deals with two or three of the twelve steps, and each of the steps begins with the prefix, “Re-” as short for “Rehabilitation”. It should also be noted that The Mirror, a track on the 1994 album ‘Awake’, also dealt with Portnoy’s alcoholism, and serves as an unofficial prologue to the ‘Twelve-Step Suite’, and I will first being going into detail with The Mirror, as it ties in significantly with the rest of the suite.
By itself and on first look, The Mirror doesn’t appear to be related to alcohol at all. It can be easily mistaken as a break-up song, or simply a song about betrayal. However, when grouped with the ‘Twelve-Step Suite’, it has absolutely everything to do with Alcohol. Several references, or at least significant commonalities, exist between the suite and The Mirror, making it the unofficial prologue it is. Lets begin breaking it down:

The Mirror (‘Awake’, 1994)

Why won’t you leave me alone?
Lurking every corner, everywhere I go.”

The first stanza personifies temptation as a dark entity that always exists in the speakers mind. This personification can be related to alcohol and the addiction it creates in the consumer, causing him to always be tempted to do it. This temptation will soon lead to the speakers loss of self control.

“Self control-
Don’t turn your back on me now
When I need you most.”

Here, the consumer finds that he is losing his own self control, which has been personified as a person that has betrayed the speaker in his hour of need, and the speaker begins to give in to the temptation spoken of before. However, this hour of need is one that will never pass as long as that temptation is there, making the resistance futile.

“Constant Pressure tests my will,
My will or my won’t.
My self control escapes from me still…”

This stanza offers a nice little play on words with “my will or my won’t.” This can be interpreted as the speakers ability to say no, his will to not give in to temptation. Both of these (“will” and “will not”) relate the self-control and the ability to control oneself, and maintain their disposition.

How could you be so cruel
And expect my faith in return?”

This is where the song begins to become a little vague. If we take into account that the song is titled The Mirror, then we should be able to decipher it. The “hypocrite” is either alcohol, or, in fact, the speaker himself. The speaker must be talking into a mirror, and that mirror reflection of himself is himself as an alcoholic; in other words, his mirror reflection symbolizes his alcoholism. The speaker is also obviously struggling with his alcoholism, as signified by his attempt at resisting it, and in this stanza he is acknowledging that his alcoholism is bad for him, but he can’t break free of the temptation.

Is not as hard as it seems
When you close the door.”

This stanza shows his acknowledgment that he must break away from his addiction and withstand temptation. He describes that it is not hard to try and fight alcohol when it’s obviously ruining his life. The door that’s been closed is probably an opportunity that has been lost as a result of alcoholism.

“I spent so long trusting in you.
I trust you forgot.
Just when I thought I believed in you.”

Here we see that the speaker has been dealing with alcoholism for quite a long time, and that when it first started it was not such a bad thing. However, alcoholism perhaps “forgot” that it was originally helping the speaker out, and instead began negatively affecting him instead.

“It’s time for me to deal.
Becoming all too real.
Living in fear-
Why did you lie and pretend?
This has to come to an end.
I’ll never trust you again.
It’s time you made your amends.
Look in the mirror my friend.”

This segment is sort of the chorus of the song and addresses the speakers call to action. “To deal” with the problem means for the speaker to take responsibility for the situation and take it into his own hands. The “all too real” part describes the constant pressure on the speaker as he takes his responsibility to break himself free of alcoholism. The alcohol “lie[d] and pretend[ed]” with him, causing him to lose his trust, and leading him to never forgive alcohol. However, the entire time the speaker is looking in the mirror, and is really saying he cannot forgive himself for what he has done.
At this point the song shifts perspectives, possibly speaking from the side of alcoholism because the lyrical tone starts to seem a bit more apologetic than angry, as it has been so far.

“Lets stare the problem right in the eye.
It’s plagued me from coast to coast.
Racing the clock to please everyone.
All but the one who matters the most.”

In this stanza, the speaker acknowledges that there is a problem, and speaks as if he is not treating himself right. This may be the mirrored image speaking to himself and apologizing for not doing the right things for himself. The third line in this stanza may possibly hint that the reason for the drinking is do to the pressure of those around him, constantly trying to please those without actually give second thought to himself, so he turns to drinking.

“Reflections of reality
Are slowly coming into view.
How in the hell could you possibly forgive me?
After all the hell I put you through.”

This stanza invokes an image of a blurred mirror becoming clear. This new, clearer image presents the speaker with a vivid image of himself. If it truly is the side of alcoholism speaking, then it has finally seen what it has done to the consumer, and regrets it, begging for forgiveness.

“It’s time for me to deal.
Becoming all to real.
Living in fear–
Why’d I betray my friend?
Lying until the end.
Living life so pretend.
It’s time to make my amends.
I’ll never hurt you again.”

This is a repeat of the chorus, however the last half has been changed. Instead of accusing someone of something, this chorus apologizes for it. The side of alcoholism is regretting what it has done to its mirror image, and beats itself up for it, promising to never hurt him again. Thus ends the song, and it is left unclear whether or not the first speaker forgave alcoholism and went back to it or not. Although, if take into account succeeding songs, then it can probably be assumed that the speaker did indeed fall back into the hands of alcoholism, and leads us to the Twelve-Step Suite.
Now the official suite begins, consisting of five strong songs, each broken up into a few parts. While, musically, no references back to The Mirror are made, several lyrical references are, which is why it is so widely believed to be the unofficial prologue. Knowing the artists in question, this was no accident. Otherwise, the songs within the suite are deeply tied in with each other, making them lyrically, and musically inseparable. The first in the suite is The Glass Prison.

The Glass Prison (‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’, 2002)

I. Reflections
“Cunning, Baffling, Powerful.
Been beaten to a pulp.
Vigorous, Irresistible.
Sick and tired and laid low.
Dominating, Invincible.
Black-out, loss of control.
Overwhelming, Unquenchable.
I’m powerless, have to let go.”

As we can see, every other line is describing something different than the other lines. The odd-numbered lines are describing something omnipotent, while the even-numbered lines describe the speaker, a victim to whatever the odd-numbered lines are describing. In this first stanza, we already see that the speaker is, among many things, an unhappy victim of alcoholic, or just a generalized, yet deadly, addiction.

“I can’t escape it.
It leaves me frail and worn.
Can no longer take it.
Senses tattered and torn.”

Here we can see that the speaker has already, at least once, tried to rid himself of the addiction. This can possibly, as far-fetched as it sounds, be an indirect reference to the events in The Mirror. This addiction is obviously causing harm to the consumer, and leaving him numb. This numbness is probably the sensual inhibition of being drunk, or at least under the influence of something.

“Hopeless surrender.
Obsession’s got me beat.
Losing the will to live.
Admitting complete defeat.”

Each line in this stanza has at least one word that relates to losing (surrender, defeat, etc). The speaker’s own resistance to his addiction is leaving him nowhere, and the addiction just becomes stronger as the speaker is likely going through withdrawals and falling back into alcoholism.

“Fatal descent.
Spinning around.
I’ve gone too far
To turn back ’round.”

The speaker’s alcoholism has gone on so far that the withdrawals he has are making it almost impossible for him to just give up. The “fatal descent” is likely referring to the path toward death that he is walking by either giving up alcohol and going through terrible withdrawals, or by drinking himself to death. Either way is a horrible way to go. The “spinning around” is likely a dizziness also caused by either withdrawals, or intoxication.

“Desperate attempt.
Stop the progression
At any length
Lift this obsession.”

At this point, the speaker has become desperate for anything that will stop or slow the progression of his addiction. He desperately wants how, yet he finds himself unable to do it on his own, so he ends up giving back in to his addiction.

“Crawl into my glass prison.
A place where no one knows.
My secret lonely world begins.”

Here the speaker has given back into his alcoholism, as referenced by “glass prison”. The glass prison is a glass of alcohol, no matter what kind, and represents how he has become a slave to the glass. Nobody but him knows what it’s like to be in there, because it’s his own personal escape. The more he drinks, the more imprisoned he becomes, but the more isolated from the pains of the world he is.

“So much safer here.
A place where I can go.
To forget about my daily sins.”

Being under the influence of alcohol gives the speaker a safe feeling; he enters his “happy place”. In this safe place, he drinks away everything he has done since the last time he drank until he can’t feel or remember anything at all. This forgetting of daily sins is similar to confessing in a Catholic Church, but instead of confessing to a priest, he confesses to a glass of alcohol.

“Life here in my glass prison.
A place I once called home.
Fall in nocturnal bliss again.”

Here the speaker openly confesses that the glass prison is no longer home, yet it is a source of “nocturnal bliss”, or nighttime happiness. The speaker knows that drinking is bad for him, yet he needs it in order to drink away his pain.

“Chasing a long lost friend.
I no longer can control.
Just waiting for this hopelessness to end.”

The “long lost friend” is likely a direct reference back to The Mirror, especially so when you consider every other use of the word “friend” in the rest of the suite. The “long lost friend” line refers back to the “Look in the mirror, my friend” line of the previous song. This friend is the alcoholism, the friend that had once made the speaker happy, but he loses control of him, leaving the speaker hopeless. He’s trying to catch that happiness again, but it comes out to no avail, resulting in the speaker drinking more and more in order to recapture that feeling of bliss he once felt when he first began drinking. All this drinking is only making the speaker worse and worse.

II. Restoration
“Run – fast from the wreckage of the past.
A shattered glass prison wall behind me.
Fight – past walking through the ashes.
A distant oasis before me.”

In this second part of the song, the speaker has finished reflecting on his past and alcohol’s affect on him, and he is now working to breaking away from it once and for all, “restoring” his own vitality. At this point, the speaker has probably put down his last drink and is trying to put himself as far a head of it as possible, running “from the wreckage of [his] past.” The distant oasis is either his ultimate goal of becoming sober, or a far-away salvation that will come to help him in his hour of need.

“Cry – desperate crawling on my knees.
Begging God to please stop the insanity.
Help me – I’m trying to believe.
Stop wallowing in my self pity.”

It would appear as though the speaker is going through heavy withdrawals and he’s trying to resists it as best as he can. He is reaching out for any small shred of hope to help him through the pain and keep him from falling back into the temptation. This withdrawal may have also caused a depression in the speaker if he is feeling self pity.

“’We’ve been waiting for you my friend.
The writing’s been on the wall.
All it takes is a little faith.
You know you’re the same as us all.’”

This line is spoken from an outside party, seeking to comfort the speaker. This new party may be an Alcoholics Anonymous group full of other people going through the same thing the speaker is, as indicated by “you know you’re the same as us all.” The writing on the wall is like an ominous fortune or guidelines telling either the AA members of the speakers arrival, or telling the speaker of the way to sobriety.

“Help me – I can’t break out this prison all alone.
Save me – I’m drowning and I’m hopeless on my own.
Heal me – I can’t restore my sanity alone.”

In this stanza, an image of someone in the fetal position comes to mind, based on the way these lines are delivered, as well as the content. The speaker is seeking assistance somebody, anybody, because he is feeling utterly helpless in what he is doing, fearing he may give in at any time.

“Enter the door.
Fighting no more.
Help me restore.
To my sanity.
At this temple of hope.”

The door spoken of may be the final threshold the speaker needs to cross in order to overcome his addiction. However, as expressed by the “fighting no more,” the speaker is on the verge of giving up and is almost at his limit, and may be crying to God for help. The “temple of hope” may be similar to the oasis spoken of before, and is simply a symbol of salvation for the speaker.

“I need to learn.
Teach me how.
Sorrow to burn.
Help me return.
To humanity.
I’ll be fearless and thorough.
To enter this temple of hope.”

Here, the speaker is acknowledging that he needs to try his best to overcome this hell, and is setting standards for himself. This stanza is in a very similar style as the last, and carries the same messages. However, one thing different about this stanza is that it shows that the speaker is still fighting to hold on, even when all seems lost.

Transcend the pain.
Living the life.
Opened my eyes.
This new odyssey.
Of rigorous honesty.”

The song now compares the speaker’s rehabilitation to Homer’s The Odyssey,and the story is made into the speaker’s life adventure that will ultimately lead to him being a better, stronger person. The stanza also explains some of the steps that need to be taken to fully rehabilitate, such as being humble, honest, and simply believing in oneself.

That I never knew.
Soundness of mind
Helped me to find
Courage to change
All the things that I can.”

The speaker now describes a new-found peace in his life that has ultimately helped him become a much better, stronger person. With each of the stanzas of this style, we see that the speaker has become closer and closer to overcoming his addiction and finishing his rehabilitation, but he still has a ways to go.

“’We’ll help you preform this miracle.
But you must set you past free.
You dug the hole, but you can’t bury your soul.
Open your mind and you’ll see.’”

This is another stanza spoken by an outside party, likely the same Alcoholics Anonymous group since this stanza is presented in the same way as the other. The AA is offering their full support of the speaker, but warns him that must be him that finally helps himself out of the hole he has dug and to his final salvation. After this stanza the “help me, save me, heal me” stanza is repeated, and the second part of this song comes to an end.

III. Revelation
“Way off in the distance I saw a door
I tried to open.
I tried forcing with all of my will but still
The door wouldn’t open.”

This door is the same door spoken of a few stanzas up, and is likely a symbol of a final task, or step, in the rehabilitation progress. As we can see the speaker describes that he is unable to open the door, no matter how hard he tries.

“Unable to trust in my faith
I turned and walked away.
I looked around, felt a chill in the air
Took my will and turned it over.”

The speaker is filled with self-doubt, “unable to trust in [his own] faith”, essentially causing him to give up trying to break through the door. His will, once courageous and ready to take on the will has now been turned over and made into something weak and helpless.

“The glass prison which once help me is gone,
A long lost fortress.
Armed only with liberty
and the key of my willingness.”

Here, the speaker reflects over his escape from his glass prison, and describes his new-found freedom. However, his last task is to open the door and enter a whole new world of sobriety. His will is the key to open the door, but his will has been shaken and may be unable to get him through the final obstacles.

“Fell down to my knees and prayed,
‘Thy will be done.’
I turned around, saw a light shining through.
The door was wide open.”

In this final stanza of the song, the speaker prays to God for the strength and courage to do what needs to be done, and asks for his “will [to] be done.” With this last desperate attempt at salvation, his prayers finally come through and the door opens up for him, allowing his rehabilitation to be complete. Thus ends The Glass Prison and the first three steps of the suite. This song is likely an overture of the entire suite, since it seems to wrap up the entire rehabilitation progress, while the other songs seem to be somewhere in the middle, going into much more detail. Now we move onto the second song in the suite, This Dying Soul.

This Dying Soul (‘Train of Thought’, 2003)

IV. Reflections of Reality (Revisited)
“Hello, Mirror – so glad to see you my friend; it’s been a while.
Searching, Fearless – where do I begin to heal this wound of self-denial?”

This song is a direct reference to two different songs, the first being The Mirror, as represented by the speaker speaking to his mirror reflection. The second reference is to the intro of their 1999 album, ‘Metropolis, Pt II: Scenes From a Memory’, on the song, Regression. This entire album is a concept album telling the story of a young girl who was murdered in the 1920’s. This girl later reincarnates into a man living in the 1990’s, and essentially becomes a mirror image of him that he sees. The actual line itself is, “Hello, Victoria – so glad to see you my friend; it’s been a while.” This lines fits in with the Twelve-Step Suite because the speaker’s mirror image is his alcoholism. Both lines deal with having a separate mirror image of oneself. The second line in this song deals with the speaker trying to find out where to start his rehabilitation and reflecting on how he can fix his problems.

“Face yourself man!
Brace yourself man! And trace your hell back!”

Here, an outside voice of reason tells the speaker to start at the beginning, and find the root of his problem.

“You’ve been blinded. Living like a one-way cold existence all the while.
Now it’s time to stare the problem right between the eyes, you long lost child.”

This outside voice seems to be one trying to help the speaker out and lead him down the road to recovery by showing him the root of his problems. The second line may be an reference back to The Mirror’s line, “Lets stare the problem right in the eye.” However that line is spoken from the perspective of alcoholism, and this outside voice may be a voice trying to deceive the speaker.

“I wanna feel your body breaking.
Wanna feel your body breaking and shaking and left in the cold.
I want to heal your conscience making a change to fix this dying soul.”

This stanza confirms that the outside voice is really the voice of alcoholism, which has moved from an apologetic stance to one of evil proportions, working against the speaker. In the last line, the outside voice speaks as though fixing the speaker’s problems is a bad thing, and this outside voice is attempting to correct this bad thing. This stanza makes the voice of alcoholism seem like an evil mastermind plotting a diabolical plan, and the speaker is the victim.

“Born into this world a broken home.
Surrounded by love, yet all alone.
Forced into a life that’s split in two.
A mother and a father both pulling you.”

Now the song begins to reflect on the original speaker’s life, starting with his childhood. This stanza gives off the sense that the speaker’s parents were divorced, leaving the child in the middle. This split in his life left him lonely, confused, and possibly angry with the entire world for what’s happened to him.

“Then you had to deal with loss and death.
Everybody thinking they know best.
Coping with this shit at such an age.
Can only fill a kid with pain and rage.”

At this point in the speaker’s life, somebody close to him had obviously died; whether it was a parent, a best friend, or just someone really close to him remains unclear. All the people around him, likely family members and close peers, probably try to help the speaker, but none of them do anything that really makes any progress, and probably makes it worse. With all of these things going wrong for the speaker at this age, his anger grows

“Family disease pumped through your blood.
Never had the chance you thought you could.
Running all the while with no escape.
Turning all that pain into blame and hate.”

Here, it becomes apparent that there’s probably been some domestic issues involving his family, but it remains unclear exactly what these issues were, whether it was child abuse, or something else. The speaker finds that his life is being lead downhill, and all the opportunities he looked forward to as a kid turned out to be false, likely because of the problems within his family.

“Living on your own by twenty-one.
Not a single care and having fun.
Consuming all the life in front of you.
Burning out the fuse and smoking the residue.”

This stanza alludes to all the alcohol and substance abuse the speaker did when he reached the age of twenty-one, the legal drinking age. Words like “consuming”, “burning”, “smoking”, and “residue” add to the theme of substance abuse from any kind of product, be it alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal drugs.

“Possessive obsessions.
Selfish childish games.
Vengeful resentments.
Passing all the blame.”

This stanza addresses the immaturity of the speaker, only caring about himself and blaming others. The substance abuse has likely caused the speaker to become self-centered, and to bring out all the repressed hate he had for those around him, soon making it become irrational and towards anyone.

“Living out a life of decadence.
Acting without thought of consequence.
Spreading your lies from coast to coast.
While spitting on the ones who matter the most.”

This stanza also emphasizes the speaker’s immature and self-centered nature. The last two lines are most definitely a reference back to The Mirror because they paraphrase two lines from the same stanza in said song. The speaker’s self-destructive ways are also effecting those around him, almost becoming hostile to those he would otherwise call friends.

“Running power mad with no control.
Fighting for the credit they once stole.
No one can ever tell you what to do.
Ruling others’ lives while they can’t stand the thought of you.”

This stanza makes the speaker seem like a mad, corrupt, and rabid dog. The speaker is lashing out at the world with anger, emphasized by the affects of alcohol, yet it is also making him seem like he’s on top of the world. However, this attitude is disconcerting those around him, almost to the point where they do not even want to deal with him anymore.

“A living reflection seen from miles away.
A hopeless affliction having run astray.”

This “living reflection” goes back to what The Mirror was dealing with in regards to having a mirror image of oneself that reflects their alcoholic side. This reflection of alcoholism is “seen from miles away”, obviously showing that it is loud, haphazard, and noticeable by everybody. The “hopeless affliction” is the addiction to the alcohol, and it has now gone beyond control of the speaker, resulting in him becoming an alcoholic.
At this point, the song repeats the “I want to feel your body breaking” stanza, spoken by the uncontrollable alcoholism.

“Now that you can see all you have done.
It’s time to take that step into the kingdom.
All your sins will only make you strong.
And help you break through the prison wall.”

Now the song has gone back to the speakers attempt at overcoming his addiction. He has now reflected over his entire life up until this point, going over everything that has lead him up to where he is now. The speaker has now recognized the mistakes he has made in his life, and he will now begin learning from these mistakes, which will “help [him] break through the prison wall,” which is a direct reference back to The Glass Prison. This ends part IV of the suite, and thus begins part V.

V. Release
“Come to me my friend (listen to me)
I’ll help this torture end. (help to set me free)
Let your ego go (I can’t carry this load)
You can’t go through this alone (I feel so hopeless and exposed)
You’ll find your piece of mind (give me some direction)
You can no longer hide (break out of this isolation)
Let humility (openness, honesty)
And become what you can be (a healing tranquility)”

A (true) helping hand has now come about to aid the speaker as he begins his rehabilitation. He is likely speaking to willing friends, an Alcoholics Anonymous group, or some form of rehabilitative guide. While the speaker (speaking in parenthesis) is doubtful of himself, those around him are trying their best to support the speaker and help him through his time of need.
“Help me. Save me. Heal me.
I can’t break out of this prison all alone.”
This is another direct reference to The Glass Prison, taking parts of specific lines and making them into one line, delivering the same message.

“These tormenting ghost of yesterday will vanish when exposed.
You can’t hold onto your secrets; they’ll only send you back alone.”

Here, these people helping the speaker, whoever they may, are urging the speaker to spill his guts and tell of his pain and torment. This is the classic form of therapy in which the patient talks about a problem, and simply talking about it will help him feel better. This, or they are trying to get the speaker to admit he has a problem; admitting one has a problem is the first step to fixing that problem.

“Your fearless admissions will help expel your destructive obsessions.
With my help I know you can be at one with God and man.”

This stanza continues by saying that the if the speaker admits his problem it will help him get over the problems, and his “destructive obsessions,” which include substance abuse and alcoholism. Being “at one with God and man” probably means being at peace with everything around him. In the Catholic religion, people confess in a church in order to expel themselves of their sins, so this line may be referring to this.

“Hear me. Believe me. Take me.
I’m ready to break through this prison wall.”

Each verb in the first line alludes to the speaker finally confessing his problem, and he is asking for others to listen to what he has to say. Lastly, the speaker ends with saying he’s ready to start truly beginning to overcome his weaknesses, and working toward being a better man. This thus ends This Dying Soul, and we will now be moving onto The Root of All Evil, in which the next part in the suite happens to be “Ready”, in reference to the speaker’s new-found readiness to begin.

The Root of All Evil (‘Octavarium’, 2005)

VI. Ready
“Proud enough for you to call me arrogant.
Greedy enough to be labeled a thief.
Angry enough for me to go and hurt man.
Cruel enough for me to feel no grief.”

Now that the speaker is ready to begin, he finally starts with the process of admitting his problem. In this stanza the speaker is confessing all of his unfavorable traits in order to cleanse himself of them and begin on his journey to become a better person.

“Never could have just a part of it.
I always need more to get by.
Getting right down to the heart of it.
The root of all evil has been running my whole life.”

The speaker now explains his relationship with alcohol. “Always need[ing] more to get by” explains the withdrawals the speaker has, and how he needs more and more just to get that same feeling he got the first time he drank. The root of all evil, according to the speaker, is alcohol and that root has been one that has been effecting him his entire life. Now that he has addressed this, he will be able to begin putting it behind him.

“Dirty enough for me to lust.
Leaving nothing left to trust.
Jealous enough to still feel envious.
Lazy enough to sleep all day,
And let me life just waste away.
Selfish enough to make you wait for me.”

In this stanza, delivered in the same fashion as the first, the speaker continues to admit his flaws and continue with the rehabilitation process.

“Driven blindly by our sins.
Misled so easily.
Entirely ready to leave it behind.
I’m begging to break free.”

The first half of this stanza has the speaker explaining that in his whole life he has been misled by his sins, caused by his alcoholism. The second half has the speaker telling us that he is tired of all of it, and he now wants to become his own person. He is now finished admitting his flaws, and is begging to continue with the rehabilitation process so he can get out of this as soon as possible.

“Take all of me
The desires that keep burning deep inside.
Cast them all away
And help to give me strength to face another day.
I am ready
Help me be what I can be.”

Now that he has admitted his flaws to someone, he asks them to take all of what he has said from the speaker and throw them away, forever cleansing the speaker of those undesirable traits. Once the speaker has rid himself of these, he will be able to continue one to become a stronger person and be all that he can be. This ends the sixth step in the suite, and makes way for the seventh.

VII. Remove
“Self-centered fear has got a hold of me.
Clutching my throat.
Self-righteous anger running all through me.
Ready to explode.
Procrastination paralyzing me.
Wanting me dead.
These obsessions that keep haunting me
Won’t leave my head.”

The speaker has now removed all the alcohol, and any other substances, from his life and finds that the withdrawals are coming in. He is now struggling to hold his ground and persevere through this tough phase of resisting all temptation and overcoming his addiction.

“Help to do for me what I can’t do myself,
Take this fear and pain.
I can’t break out of this prison all alone.
Help me break these chains.”

Another reference back to The Glass Prison, the speaker is asking for assistance in taking on this duty because he fears that he will not be able to do it all alone, or else he will fall back into his obsession.

“Humility now my only hope.
Won’t you take all of me?
Heal this dying soul.”

Once again, the speaker gives up his pride to ask that another help with his problems. The last line is a clear reference back to This Dying Soul.

“I can feel my body breaking.
I can feel my body breaking.
I’m ready to let it all go.
I can feel by body shaking
Right down to the foundation
The root of it all.”

This stanza is a rehashing of the “I want to feel your body breaking” stanza in This Dying Soul, but this time it is spoken from the speakers point of view as he feels the withdrawals becoming heavier and much more painful. The pain resonates from the “root of it all”, which is the speakers need for alcohol in his life. However, the speaker is ready to release that need and overcome his obsession, so he must persevere.
After this stanza is a repeat of the last stanza of the sixth step, and the seventh step is ended with it as well. This concludes the song, The Root of All Evil, and moves on to the fourth song in the suite, and certainly the most passive song of the compilation, Repentance.

Repentance (‘Systematic Chaos’, 2007)

VIII. Regret
“Hello, Mirror, so glad to see you my friend. It’s been a while…”

Here we have a repeat of the first line in This Dying Soul, delivered in exact same way, though this time the speaker is addressing his alcoholic side in a form of remembrance.

“Staring at the empty page before me.
All the years of wreckage running through my head.
Patterns of my life I thought adorned me.
Revealing hurtful shame and deep lament.”

The speaker, now sober, is reflecting over his entire life and the affect alcohol has had in his life. He explains that it was all fun and games on the surface, but it actually added more and more to his repressed pain.

“Overwhelming sorrow now absorbs me
As the pen begins to trace my darkest past.
Signs throughout my life that should have warned me.
Of all the wrongs I’ve done for which I must repent.”

Regret fills the speakers heart as he reflects over his life as he realizes the wrongs he has done to himself, other people, and the world. Now that the speaker is sober and looking to make a better man out of himself, he feels as though he must somehow make up for all that he has ever done wrong in his life.

“I once thought it better to regret
Things that I have done than haven’t.
Sometimes you’ve got to be wrong
And learn the hard way.
Sometimes you’ve got to be strong
When you think it’s too late.”

Now that his alcoholic days are over, it could be possible that the speaker now regrets not doing things in his life while he had the chance, such as apologizing to people. The speaker’s mission now is to go back and repent for all he has done by going back to those he has hurt and asking their forgiveness, even if it seems like it is too late for apologies.

“Staring at the finished page before me.
All the damage now so clear and evident.
Thinking about the dreaded task in store for me.
A bitter fear at the thought of my amends.”

The speaker has now finished reflecting over all the damage he has done in his life, and must now take on the task of apologizing for what he has done. However, the speaker fears the reaction he will get from everybody he has hurt, and fears that he will not be forgiven for what he has done. It is unclear whether the speaker actually wrote down all the bad things he had done in his life, or if the written page and pen are simply a metaphor for him reflecting over his life.

“Hoping that the step will help restore me.
To face my past and ask for forgiveness.
Cleaning up my dirty side of this unswept street.
Could this be the beginning of the end?”

The speaker hopes that by doing this step he will be brought one step closer to finishing the twelve steps and becoming free of alcohol once and for all. The “unswept street” is probably a metaphor for his life, and he hopes to clean it up before it is too late. By doing so, it may be the “beginning of the end” of his rehabilitation process.
After that stanza we get a repeat of the “I once thought it better to regret” stanza, however the last two lines are different:

“Just when you’re through hanging on,
You’re saved.”

These last two lines explain that just when things seem like they are at their worst, they begin to become better until you are finally saved, a simple rewording of the expression, “go through Hell in order to reach Heaven.” After this, several recordings are played of different people apologizing for things they have done, further supporting the apologetic theme of the song. They are not, however, part of the actual lyrics, and are a little hard to hear if you do not listen close.
This ends step eight of the suite, and now begins step nine. In step nine the lyrics are almost completely inaudible because they are be spoken very low behind the music and very easily to be missed.

IX. Restitution
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
We will comprehend the word ‘serenity’ and we will know peace.
No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away.
Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could no do for ourselves.”

Here is a long list of goals made by the speaker, and perhaps a small group of others, promising to make themselves better, unselfish people. As the title of this step suggests, this list is probably what the speaker plans on doing in order to repent for all that he has done.

“Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will materialize if we work for them.”

The speaker explains that this is not an impossible goal, and all efforts can pay off if one only works at them.

“You’re only as sick as your secrets, but the truth shall set you free…
The truth is the truth, so all you can do is live with it.”

Honesty is one of the key virtues in life, and is explained by the speaker that the truth is the key to living a healthy, pain-free life. Lies build up and holds a person down, until they break him, but once he speaks the truth and admits his lies, he is set free of the burden.
This now ends Repentance, the fourth song in the suite, and the final three parts are ready to be summed up in the last song, The Shattered Fortress, which is easily the most aggressive song out of all of them.

The Shattered Fortress (‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’, 2009)

X. Restraint
“Freedom – Calls my name.
Serenity – Keeps me sane.
Happiness – It dulls the pain.”

The speaker is nearing the final steps in his rehabilitation, and he is so close to becoming free of his addiction. Freedom, serenity and happiness have been three words that have been used multiple times in the suite, creating a motif symbolizing what the speaker’s goals are throughout the entire process. In this final song, the speaker is finally about to fulfill those goals.

“Honest – To see my place.
Open – To other ways.
Willingness – To understand.

Justice – But do not judge.
Courtesy – For others’ flaws.
Kindness – It’s not that hard.

Self-restraint – Of tongue and pen.
Inventory – My daily friend.
Analysis – Let down your guard.”

These last three stanzas follow suit with what the first stanza did, and states the extent of the speaker’s rebirth as a new person. He explains his new morals and what he does to be a better person.

“Look in the mirror.
What do you see?
The shattered fortress
That once bound me.”

One of the final references back to The Mirror, but this time the speaker no longer sees a reflection of his alcoholic self. Instead, the speaker now sees a broken glass prison, the one he escaped from, now an empty shattered fortress.

“Fateful ascent.
Through darkest fires.
I’ve found the path
To take me higher.”

This stanza parallels the “Fatal descent” stanza seen seven years prior in The Glass Prison. Instead of falling down a path toward certain death, the speaker is now transcending the pain and rising above the addiction, ultimately coming out on top.

“You’re smart enough for me to trust. Go live your life now.
Just keep these steps in your life and you’ll know how.
If you’re not sure, ask yourself:
‘Have I done to them as I would have them do to me?’”

Whoever is speaking to the speaker in this stanza is probably one of the people that helped him through this rehabilitation process and taught the speaker the twelve steps. This guide is now cutting the speaker loose and allowing him to finish the final steps on his own in order to better serve him.

“Look in the mirror.
What’s that you see?
The shattered fortress.
Fly now be free.”

This rewording of the previous “look in the mirror” stanza further supports that the guide is letting the speaker go on his own with the “fly now be free” line. Now that the glass prison is gone, it is up to the speaker to go into the world and live freely to put his addiction behind him at last. After that stanza, the “fateful ascent” stanza is repeated once more.

“I once thought it better to be right
But now I have finally seen the light.
Sometimes you’ve got to be wrong
And learn from mistakes.
I live with serenity now. Not self-righteous hate.”

This stanza parallels the “I once thought it better to regret” stanza in Repentance, but now it replaces “regret” with “be[ing] right.” These lines continue the show the speaker’s learning process, and how he has grown so much since beginning his rehabilitation. Instead of being angry with the world, he is now at peace with everything, which ends the tenth step.

XI. Receive
“Now that you can see all you have done
It’s time to take that step into the kingdom.
All your sins will help to make you strong
And help you break right through the prison wall.”

This is a repeat of a stanza seen in This Dying Soul. The repetition is significant because the speaker will finally being entering the kingdom, which has also been referred to as “the door”, or “the temple of hope” in The Glass Prison. The kingdom represents the speaker’s freedom from his addiction, and once he reaches that point, he will finally have gotten over his obsession.

“Keep all of me.
The desires that once burned me deep inside.
Help me live today.
And help to give me grace
To carry out your ways.
I am ready
Help me be what I can be.
I am ready
Help guide me and keep me free.”

This stanza is another rewording from a past song, though this time it is from The Root of All Evil. Instead of “take all of me”, the speaker is now asking the taker to “keep all of me” in order to fulling separate the speaker from his past desires and addictions. Although, this time the speaker is asking for grace instead of strength, and the speaker plans to use that grace to help others instead of the strength to help himself.

XII. Responsible
“I am responsible.
When anyone, anywhere
Reaches out for help,
I want my hand to be there.”

Now that the speaker has gone through his twelve steps, he plans on becoming a guide to help others with his same problem. He has grown as a person, first being a self-righteous alcoholic, to being a person in desperate need of help, to going through the rehabilitation process and finally growing into somebody who wishes to help others instead of indulging himself. The stanza repeats once and the song ends, thus ending the epic that is ‘The Twelve-Step Suite’.
These set of songs may have been Mike Portnoy’s way of trying to help people out like he wanted to in that last stanza. It may have started as a creative way of self therapy, but it ended up being a guide for all the fans listening, an inspiration to do the right thing after seeing Portnoy’s example and learn from his experience. If these set of songs ever do truly help even one single person, then I am sure Mike Portnoy would be proud of his accomplishment. I personally think what he did is awesome, and I am glad that he followed it through all the way to the end. If it inspired me to do anything, it certainly inspired me to write this analytical essay of the suite, which helped me figure out what his message truly was, and not just believe it was a set of songs simply dealing with alcoholism. After going through this process, I can say that, even if it did not help anyone else, it certainly helped me, and I’m glad for that. Thank you, Mike Portnoy.