In the last chapter, I talked about my experience during my relapse and how I ended up in a 12 steps program. I also suggested through my writing that the 12 steps approach might be beneficial for you.
But at the same time I want you to be very careful with 12 steps programs. There are a lot of misconceptions and straight out lies floating around this program.
That is why I ask you to always remember to: Take What Works for You, and Leave the Rest Behind
Let me first point out just some of the things that I think are wrong with AA.
What’s Wrong with 12 Step Program
1. The 12 steps approach did not work that well (in my opinion) for Bill W.
My biggest problem with Bill W. is that he was (in my opinion) a sex addict. Here is a quote from an interview conducted by F. Hartigan with Tom Powers, the man who helped Bill write his 2nd book, taken out of Bill W., A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Co-Founder Bill Wilson, Francis Hartigan, 2000, pages 171-172.
“All the while we were working on the ‘Twelve and Twelve,'” Tom said, “I would argue with him, ‘you’re killing yourself. And think about what you’re doing to Lois!”
Other people I spoke with insisted that Lois never knew about Bill’s affairs, Tom insisted that “Lois knew everything and she didn’t have to guess about it, either. A lot of people tried to protect her, but there were others who would run to Stepping Stones to tell Lois all about it whenever they saw Bill with another woman.”
I asked Tom how Bill reacted when Tom would insist that Bill’s guilt over his infidelities was responsible for his depressions.
“I think that was the worst part of it,” he said. “Bill would always agree with me. ‘I know,’ he’d say. ‘You’re right.’ Then, just when I would think we were finally getting somewhere, he would say, ‘But I can’t give it up.’
“When I would press him as to why the hell not, he would start rationalizing. What would really kill me is when he’d say, ‘Well, you know, Lois has always been more like a mother to me.’ Which somehow was supposed to make it all right for him to cheat on her.”
Tom himself had also been sexually compulsive even after he quit drinking, and he found it very hard to change his behavior.
Tom said that it took him five years after he quit drinking to change his behavior in this area, and for five years after that, he tried to get Bill to change, too. “Besides what he was doing to the women he was chasing and to Lois, his behavior was a huge source of controversy in AA,” Tom said. “He could be very blatant about it, and there were times when it seemed like the reaction to a particularly flagrant episode would end up destroying everything he had worked for. But then people would scurry around and smooth things over, or cover it all up.”
According to Tom, Bill’s behavior caused some of his most ardent admirers to break with him. Eventually, Tom broke with Bill, too.
“I told him that I still considered him to be my sponsor, but that I didn’t want to work with him anymore. I said that I hoped we could be friends, but I didn’t want to have anything more to do with him publicly. I just couldn’t go on feeling as though I was in any way supporting what he was doing to Lois – and to himself.
“Bill said, ‘Fine. I feel the same way about you, too,’ and we shook on it. As though it were some mutually agreed upon parting of the way, with fault on both sides. Which was a real switcheroo, you know. I think he knew that I saw right through it, but I guess it made him feel better not to have to take responsibility for destroying what had been a very enjoyable and productive working relationship.”
2. People are stuck in the past and accept everything Bill W said blindly.
If you go to a 12 steps meeting, you will find that a lot of people are religiously reading 12 steps literature (just 2 books really), turning to it as “THE SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE”.
I like those books too. They have a lot of good points in them. They helped me to get sober. But they are far from perfect. And I think it is important to look at them in a historical perspective, considering the authors who wrote them. Additionally, I think that there many other good books out there that are worth reading and studying as well.
This point is also bad because people are ignoring all of the scientific and spiritual discoveries that were done by other people in the past and in the present.
Last but not least, it forces people to persistently repeat some of the beliefs that are possibly wrong, which can have a very scary effect when viewed in terms of the A-B-C-D model.
3. Its scares people who are seeking help away.
Simply put, 12 steps meetings are a little strange. They look like a cult, and it scares people away, forcing them to suffer on their own, until they get really desperate for help. A lot of times, people will not come back for help until after they lost their marriage, jobs, or freedom (got arrested).
There are, however, many things that I think are right with 12 steps programs.
What’s Right with 12 Step Program
1. It is a social support group.
You are surrounded by people who are going through exactly the same experience that you are going through.
It is not uncommon for addicts to be socially isolated. For many, including myself, 12 steps groups become a safe place, to learn to connect to others and make friends.
2. Safe Group Therapy
There is a saying in 12 steps, you are only as sick as your worst secrets. Yet you cannot share some of your secrets with anybody. 12 steps groups provide me with a safe place to share exactly what is going on in my life. I know that I can be completely honest and that nobody will judge me, and that most of the people will be able to relate to my experience.
3. Moral Encouragement
Sometimes our addiction can be very devastating, so it is very encouraging to see others who were able to stay sober for an extended period of time.
Additionally, 12 steps groups provide a framework for you to monitor your own progress. By giving you an opportunity to announce the amount of time you were sober, and celebrate your achievement.
4. Free Advice and Experience of Others
While I criticized 12 steps for only reading out of 2-3 books, I want to praise them for another tradition. Usually after the reading is over, members get to share. This part is extremely beneficial, because you get to learn from other people’s experience, and see what has worked or did not work for them.
After the meeting, you get a chance to interact with other members, which gives you an opportunity to receive some feedback on your personal struggles.
Additionally, most 12 steps members ask a more experienced member to be their sponsor, and through that they gain access to somebody who has “been there, done that”.
5. The Infrastructure is Already in Place
12 Steps Groups are huge organizations; they have thousands of in-person, phone, and online meetings all over the world. All of these meetings are organized through mostly volunteer work and donations.
In other words, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There is already a support group of like-minded individuals put in place that anybody can go to in order to get help.
6. Provides a Structured Program of Action
Twelve steps meeting are called 12 steps for a reason. There is a structured program of recovery that is put in place that many members are advised to take.
Historically, Bill W. took 6 steps of the Oxford Group and transformed these with the help of his group members into the 12 steps of AA.
Through the 50-plus years of AA and other 12 steps groups’ existence, these steps have been interpreted and re-interpreted thousands of times by thousands of people. This allowed them to develop a series of very helpful exercises.
So while in my opinion 12 steps groups are far from perfect, they are definitely good enough and provide a great tool that we can use, in addition to everything else, to help us maintain our recovery.
Next, I am going to walk you through the basic structure of 12 steps meetings, so that if you decide to visit one in the future, you will know exactly what to expect.
Have a wonderful and sober day!