There’s More to Recovery Than 12 Steps

For many of us, Alcoholics Anonymous (or any other 12-step program) is the first introduction to recovery. The text of the Big Book explains, “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

This is true—as long as you have the desire, you are a member. Nobody can kick you out. Beyond that, it might get a little complicated for some of us. Not for all of us—there are plenty of happy, satisfied 12-step folks who have never gone beyond what the Big Book and the program itself has to offer, who have never questioned its language or methods.

Even though the language of 12-step literature seems simple and the program seems simple, it is not; it is a tall order, but you get there step by step, and you might benefit from the assistance of a good sponsor and sober friends to help you along the way—so you’re not alone.

It’s important for us, people with addiction, to talk to one another, to continue to seek reality and truth, to be gentle with ourselves as we recover, and treat our program of recovery as an always-evolving, beautiful voyage, yet one that can occasionally be a problematic journey.

The reason I often mention 12-step programs in my blogs and in my book, is because AA was a good place for me when I needed to first get sober. It was in the rooms of AA where I listened to others’ stories and identified, and did the program the way it was shown to me. When you’re at the end of your rope, it’s good to sit among those who have been where you been, who listen to your stories and who share stories of their own. It was certainly the place where I felt at home in the beginning. It helped me to stay in recovery even though, eventually, I had a lot of questions about it—in particular about the Higher Power aspect of it and about some of the language that was used in the rooms of AA.

The reason why the language troubled me was because I found it—later, once the fog of alcoholism dispersed a little—shaming. For me, it created an internal conflict that didn’t make my sobriety feel whole, didn’t make my self feel whole. And WHOLE was what I was aspiring to be once the bottle was no longer an option. But I stayed in the program for a long time, while also looking for my own solution to how I felt. I read the 12-step literature and in meetings I heard about the dangers of having too much ego and the need to humble yourself and to take responsibility for things for which I might’ve not had any control of (such as what happened at my birth).

As a man still in search of his very identity, I found it confusing, but above all I wanted to stay sober, so I kept my questions to myself. As I grew up in AA, it became too uncomfortable for me to accept many of its traditional tenants. Take some of the slogans for example. You can see them at some of the meetings and people are called out to interpret them. Here are my interpretations—that would probably not support what AA would like me to say:

  • “Your Best Thinking Got You Here” – Not true! It helped many trauma sufferers to survive and be here today.
  • “Think, Think, Think” – Does not work when trauma’s survival mode kicks in.
  • “One Day at a Time” – What happened 50 years ago (in my case) still plays out in the present and likely will going forward and need to be addressed.
  • “This Too Shall Pass” – As evidenced by what? It’s still here many years after it happened.  How long must I wait?

The slogans aren’t bad—but it’s okay to look beyond them, question their meaning.  In my future blogs, I hope to talk about many aspects of 12-step programs and some of the possible solutions that can address some of the confusion that might need clarification, depending on your own story. Our addiction unites us, but we come from many different places.  THERE IS A SOLUTION – a way to utilize what we have while respecting the trauma that might not fully validated and processed through the 12 steps.

Not all that happened to you, or to me, is the result of alcoholism, so we need to look at addiction as only part of the problem that drives us to self-destruction. We need to buffer our recovery with other resources—therapy, readings, other support groups, etc. – and a broad philosophy for life and its challenges.  We should be very careful when subscribing to the dismantling-of-ego that oftentimes happens in the AA rooms, as our egos are very fragile and beat up in the first place. We need to nourish ourselves better to become better.  AA is just the first step to recovery and it cannot be the final step for many of us.

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