I didn’t really start coming “out” about my life of recovery until the last year or so (which was at almost seven years sober). It’s not that I was purposely trying to hide anything, but I guess I wanted to get some time under my belt and allow people to make their mind up about me before knowing my past. I think that now that I have established the type of person that I am, I have a lot more confidence in telling people that I am in recovery. In fact, it has now become a blog, an Instagram, and a Twitter…who would have ever thought?
While I didn’t really know what to expect when I started on my “recover out loud” journey, one thing for sure has been a HUGE surprise; there are a ton of people out there that are very much against Twelve Step programs. Some simply say that they don’t align with it and some will openly express their pure disdain for it. Call me naive, or maybe I was just living in a bubble, but I really didn’t know that this was happening prior to my entry into the recovery blogging and social media world.
To give some background on my story, I got sober in Jackson, Mississippi. I was deep in the South and in what many of you like to refer to as “the Bible Belt.” Where I got sober, Twelve Step programs were really the only sober support group around – at least that I had ever heard of. While I hadn’t tried any other support groups, by the time I made my way back to the rooms I had tried pretty much everything else. Moderation, medication, geographical changes, yoga, religion, and psychiatry were just some of the things I had hoped would lead me to the path of abstinence. But none of that worked. Each attempt would result in me falling even flatter on my face and leaving me more confused. By the time I made my way back, I was desperate. I pretty much came in, white flag in hand and said, “just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” It was like I had been in a room with a hundred doors for all those years and made the point to open every single one except for the Twelve Step door. I just didn’t wanna. Luckily, I ran out of doors.
All that being said, I have never walked around saying that the Twelve Steps are the only way to achieve sobriety. I completely believe that people have gotten sober in other ways. It doesn’t really bother me so much when people say that Twelve Step programs didn’t work for them. I mean to each their own and if it wasn’t a good fit for you and you found another way, more power to you. There have been some statements, however, that not only express a distaste for the programs but are providing inaccurate information. I wish to dispel those, so I am going to quote some of the things I have read on various platforms and respond with what is written in Twelve Step literature. Before that though, let’s all go into a little history lesson…
The Twelve Step philosophy has migrated into a number of support groups all over the world. While they started in the infamous Alcoholics Anonymous, we can now find NA (Narcotics Anon.), CA (Cocaine Anon.), OA (Overeaters Anon.), GA (Gamblers Anon.), etc., etc. It’s basically been adopted as a means of recovery for all types of addictions. So not only have the Twelve Steps made their way into just about every addiction you can think of but they have survived a lot of time and a lot of change. AA began in 1935 with two men and was slow to grow. It took about four years to obtain 500 members but after a series of trial and error, the development of literature and traditions, and a mission to help others recover, the program continued to grow and expand all over the country, and eventually, the world. There were over 60,000 attendees at the most recent AA International Convention in 2015. Anyway, those are just the basics. If you want to learn more history, AA.org has a lot of great resources. My point I guess is that for the steps to survive this long and have traveled into so many different groups, areas of the world, and acquire so many members, they must be doing something right.
Getting back to some misconceptions, here are some of the things I have read over the last few months that are inaccurate. I am quoting them as I have read them.
1)”The Twelve Steps teach you that you’re doomed to a life of powerlessness and will always want to drink or use drugs.”
Um, no. Thank GOD, no. Twelve Step programs suggest that the first step in our recovery is admitting that we are powerless over (fill in the blank) and our lives have become unmanageable. We are powerless over our addiction, which in the twelve-step philosophy, is a physical, mental and spiritual disease. The physical aspect starts as soon as we put the drink or drug into our body. Once we start, we cannot stop. The mental aspect is an obsession of the mind that tells us that we want to drink/use, even though we know that it’s destroying us and our lives. The spiritual part of the disease encompasses many things, but the main root is in self-centeredness. Until the spiritual aspect has been addressed, the mental and physical parts of the disease will remain a problem. However, the program also teaches us that “when the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” There’s an article written by Mike L. that does a great job of going into more depth with this.
What the program promises is that after we have worked the steps, and come to believe in a “power greater than ourselves,” the obsession to drink or use drugs will be removed. In other words, we will no longer think about wanting to get loaded anymore. Sound hokey? Yeah, I thought the same thing in the beginning. But I have not thought about drinking or taking any pills in a long time – and I firmly believe that something much bigger than me got me there.
2) “Twelve Step groups want you to remain anonymous. You’re not allowed to tell anyone that you’re in recovery.”
False, false, false. This is one that I hear all the time, and it’s just not true. The programs of AA/NA do not care if you run into an auditorium of 5,000 people that is being televised and scream, “I’m sober!” Feel free to tell the world that you’re a recovered drunk and that you love a life of sobriety – they only ask that you don’t run into that same auditorium screaming, “I’m in AA, I’m in AA!” See the difference? While the tradition of anonymity did start out of fear and to keep the early members a secret, the basis of it now has much more to do with protecting the organization as opposed to its members. For example, if I had run around telling everyone that I was going to twelve-step meetings on one of my first and several, half-assed sobriety attempts, each relapse that I had wouldn’t have given anyone the idea that the program I was attending worked. Also, remember – just because we get sober doesn’t mean that we stop being human. There’s a famous golfer who used to run around and tell everyone publicly that he was a member of AA. Any match that he didn’t do well with ended up with him cursing and throwing his club all over the place. Not a great representation of a “spiritual” program. The anonymity is for the greater good. However, it really only applies to press, radio, television, film, and social media. So you’re welcome to tell people in a general setting that you’re a member of your respective program if you want to. But please – can we let this whole “you’re not allowed to tell anyone that you’re in recovery” thing die already. It’s just not true.
3) “Having a sponsor is stupid. I don’t want to depend on a person for my sobriety. What if they get drunk?”
First of all, the program does not teach us to depend on any human power for our sobriety. Secondly, if your sponsor relapses, then your sponsor relapses. What does that have to do with you? Will it sting? Yes. Will it piss you off? Probably. But that has nothing to do with your recovery and shouldn’t have anything to do with what motivated you to get sober in the first place. The sponsor’s role is to help guide you through the steps. Period. They’re not your mom, your dad, your priest, and not your boss. Thirdly, my experience has been that when picking someone to sponsor you, you find someone who has something that you want. For me, that was peace. I wanted someone who seemed like she had her crap together and like she enjoyed sobriety. I have rarely ever seen anyone who gets a sponsor with some time and good quality sobriety, only to watch them relapse.
4) “The Twelve Steps don’t work. They have the lowest success rate of any current method of recovery.”
Honestly, I don’t really care about the statistics but I do know that there really isn’t any solid way to achieve a number on who stays sober on twelve step programs. It’s anonymous, remember? Some say that the percentage is around 5-10% and others say much higher. The most recent survey that I could find conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous was in 2007. According to that survey, 33 percent of the 8,000 North American members had remained sober for over 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for 5 to 10 years; 24 percent were sober 1 to 5 years, and 31 percent were sober for less than a year. Honestly though, nobody really knows. This is especially hard to measure with so many different twelve-step groups that are now around different addictions. I will say it again though – the last International Convention of AA had over 60,000 attendees from all over the world. Something is working…
5) “Twelve-Step programs are religious and push Christianity on you.”
No. And if you’re going to a meeting where people are doing that, go to a different meeting. The program makes a point to not align itself with any religion. It does stress the spiritual importance of the program and suggests that you find a power greater than yourself to stay sober. For many of us, that is God. However, a lot of people use the group itself as their Higher Power. While the steps do have a Christian background, the groups are not Christian themselves. I live in a large Jewish community and many of them attend twelve-step groups. I have also met Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists in the program.
If Twelve-Step philosophies aren’t for you, that is absolutely 100% fine. One thing to remember is that these programs do not tell us to do anything. They are labeled only as suggestions. Honestly, if there is anything that members are telling you, and it’s not in the literature, you should just disregard it as an opinion of the program as a whole. Remember that it’s a simple program filled with complicated people. In the same way that Twelve-Steppers shouldn’t run around telling everyone that any other way is wrong, I would request that people not involved in the Twelve-Step method of recovery to do the same. Please express your opinions and likes/dislikes – but it would be best if we make sure to have all the facts about something before we aim to criticize. The most important components of any recovery, for me, are this: get sober, work on yourself, aim to grow, and help someone else.