12 Steps – A Program of Recovery

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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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12 Steps – A Program of Recovery

To continue this dialogue on 12 step programs – it seems only natural to describe the 12 steps. Distortions abound. Some clarity about this process might be useful to students of health care, people in the Ministry, medical professionals, and especially to those suffering from a hopeless state of mind and body.

From page 59 of Alcoholics Anonymous, that basic text of AA:

“…here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God, as we understood him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Became entirely willing to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Mad a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the step, we carry the message to other alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.”

The medical, mental health and church communities have dissected and analyzed this process for seventy years – trying to understand the underlying effectiveness. I am going to write on each of these steps – and I will do so in the context of character development. This is but one way of thinking about the 12 Steps.

Here are twelve character traits that correspond to the Steps. These are not unique. These are not original – I have seen them around. These are not exclusive – other terms may be better employed. These terms do serve as a basis for debate, discussion, and understanding.

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Responsibility
  9. Justice
  10. Perseverance
  11. Spiritual Awakening
  12. Service

Several things strike me about this process.

First – it is spiritually based. My understanding of spirituality is rather simple. Anything that brings one closer to love and acceptance by family and friends is spiritual. Anything that separates one from the love of family or friends is not spiritual. This simplicity is not without merit. Addiction steals love, steals family, steals friends, steals careers, steals everything. The restoration of love, the restoration of tolerance, the restoration of self, is the restoration of spirituality.

Second – The strength of character necessary to turn away from the extreme power of addiction is a foundation of recovery – and a hope for a better life. As I have stated before – addiction is not a personality disorder.

I will follow this post with a series on each of these 12 Steps.

See Also: On Addiction


There Are 5 Responses So Far. »

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  2. So, here’s my question, how does this apply, if at all, to an atheist? That may sound like a smartass thing to say, but in all seriousness, if you don’t believe in God, this whole thing looks like some religious mumbo jumbo.

    I personally find it kind of horrifying that the program basically encourages you to put so much of the onus on an imaginary being rather than taking full responsibility for it yourself. And it really squicks me out that so many of the AA programs are recruiting tools for Christian churches.

  3. Ashley – You are a blessing to humanity. Many 12 Step ‘groups’ are decidedly Christian – and however much they say “…God, as we understood him” there is an expectation of a Christian God. Those groups are misdirected.

    My view of ‘spirituality’ is defined in the context of love for self and others. That which brings a person to harmony with others is spiritual – that which divides is counter-spiritual. (I just made that up, but it sounded good).

    The idea of God, as a tool in addiction recovery, divided the 100 or so founders of AA. “…God as we understood him” was the compromise. There were many in the original 100 that agreed with you. God was not necessarily an external being, or a being at all, but rather something within self.

    The idea of something greater than self was an attempt at humility, an attempt to remove self from the center of life focus.

    Ashley, I retired from 30 years in information technology. After a few years I entered a counselor-in-training program at a local Community Mental Health Center. I became a Substance Abuse Counselor. Like yourself – I was astounded at what I thought was a misguided spiritual mentality of the recovery community. Most treatment centers have about a 10% success rate. AA, when approached directly by a suffering addict, has only a 20% success rate. My personal feeling is the recovery rate would improve if the 12 Step Programs held true to the original idea of allowing God, as each individual chooses to believe.

    I am presently retired again – just messing around on the internet.

  4. I guess to me, and I’m sure most people have some sort of personal experience with someone with an addiction, it’s really difficult to see someone apparently trade one addiction for another. You lose them to drugs then you lose them to a cult. Almost all born agains that I know were targeted by the church when they were in a low period, either struggling with depression or addiction. It’s why their faith is so unshakeable, because they think it saved their life.

    I think the reason AA is so successful is because it has such a huge network of people who’ve been through the same thing. Which is an incredibly worthwhile thing, of course, and it’s a shame that there are people who can’t do it because it’s exclusionary.

  5. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are analogous to the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church. Like these churches each group takes on it’s own personality. You could go in a Baptist Church and be readily accepted and the following go into a Baptist Church where acceptance is dependent on you bringing donuts for the congregation every Sunday for six weeks.

    The personalities of 12 Step Groups and Church congregations is dependent on the people. Some are accepting and some are exclusionary.

    You are correct about the huge framework of AA. But people who travel (like truck drivers) note the difference between groups in the South (as you might imagine) and groups in the Northeast.

    Someone with an addiction can benefit from AA and NA – but only if they feel accepted for who they are. If they go to a group that does not feel comfortable they should try a different group.

    AA and NA become cult-like when there is a dominant personality running the show. You are correct that people walk through those doors at low points in their lives and they are extremely vulnerable. Some groups have policies around same sex sponsorship as a means of protecting newcomers.

    As with predator Catholic Priests – there are people in AA and NA with less than honorable intentions.

    And finally – AA and NA have success rates that would not be accepted in any medical institution. For instance, if heart transplants had a 20% success rate the AMA would not allow the practice. AA and NA blame the newcomer – rather than look at themselves and ask what they might do better.

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