I’m not sure if there is currently an upsurge in 12 step bashing recently or if I’m just, by accident, coming across a lot of it. It seems everywhere I turn this past few months there’s a new book, or article or ex 12 step member with a blog telling of the evils or 12 step fellowships; spouting about the ridiculousness of 12 steppers relying on a Higher Power to get them sober as if it was akin to something out of a fairytale. Now I’m not talking about people who have differing opinions per se. That’s a whole different thing. I am whole heartedly supportive of any fellow human on the path to recovery finding what’s best for them and I totally get that 12 step is not for everyone. In fact I have friends who left 12 step fellowships after many years of sobriety and are doing great without it, at least for now. There are of course many avenues to recovery from the long list of addictions in our society today, which in my opinion is a very positive thing. But is there any reason to be down on a program in such an extreme manner that has worked for millions of people for seventy plus years? So good are the bashers at manipulating words, that sometimes when I read these assaults on 12 step it makes me feel like I should be ashamed about being pro 12 step. This of course is ridiculous. Personally without them I’d be up to my neck in every addictive substance known to man and probably creating new ones. But really, I feel sometimes that the term“12 step” has almost become a derogatory term in some circles.
What really bothers me the most is the way anti 12 steppers misrepresent what the programs are really about and they manage to do this beautifully by using the term “powerless” in a negative manner. They just love to make it sound like 12 step attendees are subjected to a barrage of negative, soul destroying, brainwashing; their self esteem being crushed by old timers diminishing their already sparse self worth by telling them they are powerless and must conform to their evil ways. What a pile of crap. Of course most of you will know that the term “powerless” is mentioned in the first step. But what it actually says is I am “powerless” over alcohol, or “powerless” over food, or whatever your preferred substance or behavior is. It does not say you are a powerless good for nothing. Quite frankly, in my humble yet quite extensive experience, being powerless over certain substances is absolutely true for those of us who find ourselves addicted. Once an addict ingests their drug of choice they have little or no control (or power) over how much of that substance they consume or what the consequences will be. Quite a simple and realistic concept don’t you think? It is a fact, for example, that if an alcoholic drinks alcohol it triggers a physiological and mental process in the body that produces craving and obsession. And that’s an actual scientific fact, not something I or anyone else just plucked from obscurity. Yet the term will be used in misrepresentative rants by people who, it seems, are determined to debunk the reputation of 12 step programs.
Then of course, there’s the God thing. Oh boy how the haters love to beat this one with a big stick. Apparently, in 12 step groups everyone must conform to the one idea of a Christian God, and if you don’t, the old timers will come and get you-Again! Actually it is my understanding that most 12 step groups have their fair share of atheists and agnostics and that there is actually no requirement to believe in any form of god. I certainly know of people in 12 step groups in my area that use the G.O.D. term to interpret Good Orderly Direction, and they look to the collective group for their “Higher Power”. Anyone I’ve spoken to has never been told that they need to believe in a preconceived idea of a Christian God nor a God of any other faith for that matter. Here’s my humble experience again, sorry! I have never been looked down on because I do not follow Christian beliefs nor have I ever had an old timer chastise me because my idea of a Higher Power is not the same as theirs. Believe me, having been raised in a staunchly Catholic era in Irish history, any notion that it was necessary for me to conform to Christianity would have been rejected in a rather forceful manner. In fact what I’ve found is the total freedom to believe in something I chose or in fact, to believe in nothing at all. I experience nothing but encouragement to think and express myself freely, and I do. I’ve made plenty of wrong turns and mistakes in my recovery and I have been nurtured through them, not told that I’ll burn in hell for all eternity. The only people that I have ever been ridiculed by about my beliefs are by people outside of 12 step groups.
Another bugbear for me is the fact that some like to ignore the fact that addiction is about far more than the substance. I’m constantly reading statistics about how the majority of people experiencing addiction to alcohol, manage to get sober by themselves without any form of program. So is that physically sober? What about the other components of the disease? Now maybe I’m a vastly inferior being, but for me there is no way on this earth that I could have fought this disease alone. I absolutely need help from an army of people to kick my many habits, and I will reiterate, that no, I don’t think 12 step is the only way, but it does work.
I’ve also read on several occasions that people felt pressurised by other members when they talked about the use of anti-depressants, that its frowned upon in the 12 step world. Well, actually, yet again, more crap! In my 12 step world, seeking outside help when needed is highly encouraged, and boy have I sought it. I’ve never once been told to stop taking medication but to always follow medical advice on such matters and that I should be commended for being honest enough to realize I needed further help. I believe it talks about that old “seeking outside help when needed” in the original 12 step text, which is AA’s Big Book. It also says something in there about it not being a cure all. Maybe anti 12 steppers failed to read that text and just don’t know.
It has often occurred to me that perhaps I’m just really lucky to have found so much love and encouragement inside the 12 step groups I attend. However, I’m surrounded by hundreds of people who have had the same experience, so I don’t think it’s luck. I am also very aware that in EVERY organization, be it religious, political or otherwise there will always be a percentage of bad eggs who will want to take advantage of people and be in control. I’m sure lots of people have had bad experiences and that perhaps there are groups in general that are just not working 12 step principles but their own version of. Of course there is going to be those who will use their perceived power and knowledge to prey on people. I hear about that all the time too. The men are just unscrupulous sex crazed abusers, right? Here I go with my opinion again! Actually no, they are not. While I absolutely do not condone the predatory nature of some members, none of us got into 12 step groups for being Mother Theresa and we are not going to become her over night. I’m sure if you scratch the surface of any recovery group you will find those who have ulterior motives. Lots of our behaviors follow us into recovery, and changing them takes time. Many of us are really sick puppies. There are dangerous, unethical people everywhere in society, including 12 step groups. However, those people and or groups do not represent the majority nor the real essence of 12 step ethics. There are thousands of groups to choose from and if you don’t like the atmosphere and philosophy of one then find another.
If I was to spend my time nit picking over every word that has the potential to offended me inside a 12 step setting, I’m sure I’d be turned off too. I chose to listen to the real 12 steppers who promote freedom of thought, expression and attitude and talk about spiritual principles. I avoid the sexual predators and egomaniacs, and let them get on with their program. After all it’s rarely a secret as to who these members are. I do however, keep my mind open, just in case I don’t actually know everything, and give myself a chance to learn something. It helps when you chose to focus on the reality of what 12 step programs have brought to millions of people all over the world and not the agenda filled naysayers. Perhaps I should just stop reading these malignant articles. I might just keep my sanity a bit longer.