Before I begin, let me assure you that I love AA and the 12-step program that it follows and that it has brought to millions of addicts and the world at large. AA saved my life. It showed me that I was not alone, that there were thousands of people who suffered from addiction and who lived in my area. I took great solace in the fact that I was not the only one who had issues with feelings of isolation, with fitting in, and with a past that was ravaged by antisocial behavior.
I immersed myself in a community whose main focus, whose very reason for being, was the recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Sorry - I mean the recovery from alcohol. If you need to recover from drugs, you have to attend a different meeting, even though alcohol is a drug; the only differences are that it’s a liquid and that it’s legal. And that’s frequently a topic for much debate. Most people who suffer from alcoholism also have a history of drug abuse, stemming back to the stories you can read in the Big Book wherein the various authors mention drugs as part of their stories. Despite this, most AA meetings begin with a request for those who share to limit their comments to their struggles around alcohol.
Meetings, and the programs they support, need structure in order to be effective. With structure comes rules of conduct, and general streams of thought that are intended to produce a desired result. Add to this, the oft-present tendency for addicts to lie and manipulate, and you end up with a rock-solid list of expectations on the part of members for themselves as well as each other.
This is where 12-step begins to lose its ability to help every person who is struggling and who is looking for some outside assistance. Any program that has a set path intended to get you from point A to point B, without regard to your individual and unique gifts (and faults) will lose some people. There is no “one size fits all” with regards to recovery, nor should there be. And yet, when an addict suggests that perhaps 12-step recovery isn’t for him, the pervading assumption is that he has relapsed, is planning to relapse, or that he will relapse in the near future, despite yearning to stay clean.
The founders of AA never claimed the program was (or would be, in the future) free from disagreement among its membership. I would go so far as to suggest that they deemed the presence of argument to be a crucial factor in recovery. Argument arises when new ideas are voiced, and the opposing sides need to think as they debate. New ideas and perspectives, and the controversy they provoke, all encourage introspection and growth. The ultimate result is change. Without change an addict will die.
Of course, it is change that 12-step tries to invoke in its members, but it is change under the strict guides of a structured program. Change directed by “accepted” literature and led by people who have followed those who preceded them. Do as you’re told, read the books, attend the meetings, “stick with the winners” , get active in service, come early to meetings and stay late, take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth...it all becomes a little like you’re being seduced by a cult. If you question any of it, it is assumed you are shying away from the hard work that must be done in order to affect successful change in your life. Aversion to structure and authority are a natural trait inherent to many addicts, so there is much time and energy devoted to dissuading them from succumbing to the desire to leave the program before they can see the results - “before the miracle happens” .
Again, let me assert that I love AA and the 12-step program. I can’t tell you exactly what my life would look like now, had I made different decisions in my past, but substance abuse was killing me. And AA helped me recover. But 12-step simply is not for everybody. The prevailing axiom that “12-step is not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.” This is true, but that is not to say that those who do not follow a 12-step program will never attain lasting sobriety. The implication made by many who say say the axiom is “12-step is for those who are willing to do exactly as they are told (exactly as I have done), and the rest are doomed to suffer their addictions until they die” . This is NOT true.
Addiction, in its many manifestations, holds no prejudices as to who it will infect. 12-step is, for the most part, as open in its acceptance of those who would join one of its programs. Perhaps the members could be as open to those who choose NOT to join their ranks, in favor of alternative pursuits to sobriety.
Here at ArcoftheSpirit, and our corresponding programs that we run at Love&Addicts, we are always looking for new ways for the individual to get and stay sober. Our main message is one of love. Love of Self, of Man, of God, and of the Universe. We believe all of this is inextricably connected. We believe Man has lost sight of the importance of living in love in all aspects of his Being. Addicts in recovery are especially susceptible to losing sight of the omnipresence of love. It’s everywhere, but we have let it get lost among bad ideas, misdirected journeys, escape from the Self, and guilt over our pasts.
12-step programs are a wonderful way to break from active addiction and begin recovering. The brightest gifts they offer (besides sobriety!) is the introduction of the idea that the addict does not suffer alone, nor does he need ever suffer from active addiction again. But those in recovery who are interested in more than just being clean, those who yearn to live with inner peace, inner purpose, and INNER JOY will benefit from pursuing additional and alternative means to recovery.
Take the long, difficult, and rewarding journey within yourself. Take time for silence and meditation. Find and develop the love for who you are and why you’re here. You are not here to go to meetings and give rides to meetings for those who have no car. You’re not here to make coffee or to list every wrongdoing you committed in active addiction. You are here for a higher purpose that is yours to discover and share, thereby lifting your fellow man just a little higher than he was before you showed up on earth.
Addiction drew you down as far as it could. 12-step can help (or has already helped) you curtail your descent. To truly soar, you need only look within. 1