I’ve experienced much of life. Part of that experience included years associated with, learning about, and practicing aspects of a 12-step program. While I wasn’t trying to recover from chemical addiction, I wanted to know if this was a viable option for friends and loved ones. The experience was beneficial.
The aspect of the human condition that allows us to be overcome by addiction or related problems (eating disorders, sex, food, etc.) is an interesting and frightening mystery. Loss of control is one of our shared basic fears.
I attended numerous Al-anon, AA, and NA meetings. I’ve talked to people who support “the program” and some who don’t. I have read about the successes, failures, and marketing deceptions (or just lies) of recovery treatment programs.
Critics and supporters of these programs abound. While I don’t take a position for or against, there are several pro or con issues that should be pointed out. I want to write this for two reasons.
Disclosure: I have not actively participated in a program of this nature in more than four years. But I did for over 16 years.
First, 12-step programs are generally religiously or godly (“higher power”) based. While many members will take issue with this, many others will not. Furthermore, steps 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, and (to a lesser degree) 12 are based on involving or invoking a god. Meetings within the USA usually are specifically of a Christian nature and theme. Because Christianity is the predominant religion of America (and much of the world), it brings a clear religious bias to meetings, groups, and fellowships. However, at least initially, groups are generally open and accepting of members who are not Christian. They are supposed to be. However, the discomfort level experienced by non-believers at such meetings is understandable.
Second, I’ve been asked about, and I have wondered about, how non-believers manage a program that is so obviously in opposition to their core beliefs, or non-beliefs. I recently read a blog by a former meth user, Jerome. He got me to thinking about ‘the program’ again, and about this question. His view of NA is rather caustic. Based upon what he told me, he has a point – several, actually. It was not just that it was based on god or religion that was off-putting for him. It seems to me (and he may correct me) that his biggest problem was the negatively obnoxious “this is the only way” attitude of the group leadership he encountered. In my experience, this is one of the unfortunate problems with AA and NA. Less so in Al-anon, but those members are not trying to overcome addiction.
To be fair, when I was in a leadership position with a 12-step program, I told members that they either worked the program, or they did not. It was up to them. However, them telling me that the program was not working when they were not ‘doing’ anything but attending meetings indicated other issues. I was taught, and I have always believed that we each have a right to our own program. If that program is not working, something should change. Recovery is too complicated to go into all of that detail in one blog.
I think many aspects of the program provided me with a path to better things in life. Criticising the program for its faults is fair enough, but I prefer not to throw the baby out with the bath water (cliché, but apropos). Twenty years ago, the program helped me to deal with ‘me’ and how I felt mentally, physically, and spiritually. Eventually, because of my experience with ‘the program’, I decided that life for all of us is really all about how we feel.
The following short list of adaptations reflect my program. I think everyone can benefit from this approach, addict or not, believer or not. It reflects what many program people might call Bill’s (me, not Bill W.) ‘experience, strength, and hope.’ In parenthesis, I credit the AA program step I adapted for my personal use.
- People die from denial. When we have a problem, we need to admit it. (AA step 1)
- Do you know you? You can do your own self-analysis (or get help from a counselor, shrink, or knowledgeable friend). It’s fun and rewarding, but it can be difficult (took me about a year). In past blogs, I’ve written about three questions I came up with while teaching a secular recovery program. I consider them helpful: What do you want? How do you want things to be? If you could change anything about the future, what would that be? There’s a lot more to this ‘self-inventory’ and discovery process. It could be a whole program unto itself, but I think it’s worth doing. (AA step 4)
- If you do harm to someone, apologize for it (if you mean it). If you owe a debt, pay it. (AA step 9). Sooner is better, in my opinion.
- My favorite is when you are wrong and you realize it, admit it quickly – to yourself and to someone who cares. I don’t know how much drama this removed from my life. I suspect even more of my drama was removed for my friends, family, and work-mates. (AA step 10). I personally don’t advocate apologizing for error, if no harm is done. I have been called arrogant for this. It’s a personal choice. We are all often wrong and that’s okay.
- I think there is something good and symbiotically beneficial in helping others. We should help people where and when we can, and we should be open to receiving help. (AA step 12)
This is a limited list. In many ways, living a healthy and happy life is much more involved than what I have said.
I suggest we each intentionally choose and do our own program in life, live as healthy as possible, keep learning, and laugh until it hurts.
If you are considering a 12-step program for any reason, I see no reason not to give it a try. As they are fond of saying, “We will gladly refund your misery.”