Getting Sober / Staying Sober

12 Step

What is a 12 Step Program?

A 12 step program normally refers to the recovery process outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, that has been subsequently adopted by a number of other organisations that help people with various addictions and problems.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous was written by the early members of AA, and was intended to be a record of their experience of how they got sober.

Up until the time the book was written, the members who were sober had used a number of different principles in their recovery, most of which were shared by word of mouth.

Part of the intent in the book was to codify these principles into a more formal set of specific ideas and actions that people could take, which was generally agreed to form the basis of most people’s sobriety.

The Value of Experience

As AA grew in size and more people got sober, people who had other addictions and problems began to realise that they were able to use the same principles that were used in Alcoholics Anonymous as a way of freeing themselves from whatever it was they were trying to deal with.

In effect, all they had to do was to swap the word alcohol with something else, such as drugs, gambling, food etc.

New fellowships  grew up such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. All these organisations used the basic principles of the AA 12 step program, but adapted it to their own needs.

12-Step Principles

There are a number of basic principles behind  all 12 step programs, that form the basis of most people’s recovery.

These in essence include the acceptance of being powerless over the addiction, a moral inventory, becoming willing to make restitution for harm done and developing a sense of God in their life, however they may come to understand that.

Powerless Not Helpless

Some people criticise 12-step programs because they see the idea of powerlessness almost as a form of weakness.

This actually misses the point that people who admit they are powerless to the addiction do so because they actually are, not out of any issue related to their self-esteem or identity.

Acknowledging powerlessness over something is simply an acknowledgement of reality. If someone is not powerless over alcohol or drugs or anything else then they are not powerless over  it, period.

If they are powerless over alcohol or anything else than they are powerless over it, period

In fact acknowledging that one is powerless over something is a source of strength not weakness.

It means that one can focus one’s energies on things that you do have control over, rather than focusing them on things that you do not have control over, and draining your whole sense of spirit as a result.

A Moral Inventory

Whilst this is a somewhat awkward phrase, it is really about developing a sense of self awareness, and being willing to look at oneself through the eyes of various emotional drives, such as resentment or anger, fear, anxiety etc.

This can sometimes seem a bit negative, and people often talk about developing both positive and negative traits in terms of inventory.

In fact thinking about both positive and negative aspects of emotions tend to blur the reality of anyone’s emotional life.

Emotions are of themselves neutral in that sense, seeing them as either positive or negative is in fact a judgement.

Any type of moral inventory, or developing of self-awareness can only be really effective when there is no judgement itself, which can take a significant amount of time for most of us, but does fit to the cycle of an inventory being a process.

As with any process, like learning to ride a bike or drive a car, we learn by doing, and in doing we develop a degree of inner stability that we quickly build on each time we repeat the process.

Developing self awareness can be done in many different ways, but the emphasis on it in 12 step programs tends to suggest that it is both a historical and current need. This is why it can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming to people, as it seems to suggest an almost relentless focus on oneself.

Whilst there is some truth in this, it is also true to say that without self-awareness it is almost impossible to really move forward, and the real sense of freedom that 12 step programs bring is inherently linked to an internal sense of being at peace with yourself, which is to a large part conditional on self acceptance and self-awareness.

Making Restitution

For many people this is often the most difficult part of any 12-step program. It often means going back to people who you would rather forget, and would often rather forget you as well !

This is also an unconditional acceptance of one’s own reality, and can certainly seem fairly daunting.

The key to making restitution for harms done, is in many ways to keep the focus on harm.

This process is not meant to be a way by which someone auto corrects their whole life as if it hadn’t happened, or had happened in a different way.

It is about trying to make right harm you have done to other people. Focusing on the harm actually makes the whole process possible, although it can obviously take time for this to materialise.

Once it does, there is a quite natural and obvious sense of need to try and put it right, however daunting this may seem.

There comes a sense of naturalness about wanting to make peace both internally and externally, and a realisation that trying to put right whatever harm was done is an integral part of that process.

The God Question

Perhaps more than any other, the God Question has been at the heart of AA since it started, and is often seen as both the solution and the problem as to why people struggle with sobriety, and the 12-step program as a whole.

The God question tends to attract fundamentalists on both sides, and any fundamentalism turns to distort the reality of any issue.

This is certainly true both in the reality of  AA meetings, and the level of defensiveness that tends to come up in individuals whenever this issue is raised.

This is really sad in many ways, largely because it eats away at the real freedom people can experience, which is the freedom to be themselves, and to interpret the whole God question in whatever way they feel most appropriate to their lives.

The essence of AA, and the reason the book was written, was  and is about experience. The book was intended as a body of experience that people could use in anyway that they found helpful or not.

This is inherently true of all 12 step programs, whatever the problem or addiction. 12 step programs have never been about ideologies or belief systems, although individuals and groups will sometimes make them so.

Whilst there are many sides to the discussion about 12 step programs, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the ultimate goal is freedom, both internal and external, and anything that leads to that should be encouraged, and anything that takes away from that should be discouraged.


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What Is So Scary About Step Four?

Step Four is often thought of as the bogeyman and is portrayed as a turning point for people once they have initially got sober.

It is sometimes seen as almost a litmus test as to whether people are really willing to begin the process of facing themselves and their demons.

In reality, there are really several different things going on behind all these issues that are probably worth looking at and unpicking.

The phrase, a moral inventory, is used in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, specifically in step four of the AA 12 step program.

Many people find this phrase a bit baffling or a bit scary, and people in recovery often find the whole idea of doing a step four one of the biggest blocks or obstacles they face in staying sober.

Some of the confusion around  the word inventory is because it is normally used in a business or commercial sense, and refers to a stocktaking or assessment of assets and liabilities in a company.

Fear in Recovery

Many people are pretty terrified when they get sober, normally for a number of different reasons.

Often it is about a fear of what it means to be sober, often it is a fear about losing alcohol even when it has stopped working, and often a fear about the possibility of change and what it might mean.

All these fears can combine and at times be quite debilitating, but it is worth unpacking them all and dealing with each as a separate issue in order to fully understand what someone is saying to themselves.

This can be true about a number of issues in recovery. It is often the overall effect of a number of  fears or issues that can be quite traumatic, and it is really important to break them down into specifics.

These specifics can normally be isolated and looked at, and whilst they may be daunting in their own right, they are at least focused and tangible and In some measure can be dealt with.

When fears or issues come together as one, they not only can produce a chilling effect, but can also be seen unsolvable because of the emotional fog they generate, almost as one big glob of terror.

Fear of Step Four

There can be many reasons people have a fear of doing a step four, but there are probably two or three main ones.

Firstly is the fear of specific things they have done in the past, and the possibility of having to own that reality and share it with someone else can be very daunting.

Secondly is a more general fear about the fact that doing a step four is moving in a different direction to where they have previously been travelling, and the prospect of change, or the unsettling nature of change can be fairly daunting.

The other fear can be simply what if it does not work. This is a fear that can be quite common in the context of seeing the steps as an event, rather a process, seeing them in a very black and white context.

This is normally part of a broader thought process, where everything is seen in very stark terms.

Whilst this hopefully changes in long-term recovery, part of the nature of change is going through the steps as a process, which does become a bit of a catch 24 problem.

Whilst any fear can be powerful in its own right, often in recovery it is a bigger fear that can move a person through it.

Sometimes the bigger fear around an inventory is either fear of going back drinking, or the fear of what it means to live effectively as a dry drunk.

Fear can often push people to do things that they don’t want to do.

Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes not a good thing. Perhaps the important thing to add in terms of recovery is that this fear should generate itself from within people, and not from other people trying to bully them.

A Moral Inventory

In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a moral inventory initially is used to describe the process of a person looking at three areas of their life, those of resentments, fears and their sex conduct.

Other literature broadens this process to an extent, but the main focus is still on an individual looking at a number of areas of their life, and trying to gain some level of self-awareness about who they are and how they function in the world.

Other 12-step fellowships use the idea of a moral inventory in slightly different ways, each of which will have a somewhat unique take on what it means to begin the process of becoming self-aware. However the principle of self-awareness and ownership of one’s own emotional well-being is the same throughout.

An inventory is normally used in a business or commercial context. The fact that it is used in 12 step recovery should in fact be an asset not a liability.

People often get very bogged down in judgements about how they feel, and whether or not their feelings are okay, whether or not their feelings are good or bad, whether or not they should feel grateful or angry etc.

Pretty much the only way to really get a true and real assessment of yourself is to be able to look at yourself without judgement, to look at yourself in the context of unconditional love.

Whilst for many people this can take a long time to get to, it is a crucial element in any roadmap of recovery. Judgement of self kills any ability to be objective, and any ability to free yourself of judging other people as well.

The term inventory is very non-judgement of itself, whether or not that was the original intent when it was used in the forming of the 12 step program.

When any store owner or business is doing an inventory of their business, they will tend to do it in a fairly objective manner.

They simply want to know what are their assets and liabilities. They normally do not get bogged down in any type of emotional baggage around what they are doing.

This normally frees them to look at things objectively.

This should absolutely be the endgame and objective of a moral inventory in the context of 12 step recovery,  the ability to analyse oneself without judgement.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous refers to an inventory as a fact-finding process. Facts are of themselves not normally that emotional, it is normally their interpretation that is.

Emotional Sobriety

It is really both a strength and a weakness of the approach to a personal inventory that it is meant to be a fact-finding process, not an in-depth emotional rebirth.

What this means is that the initial inventory should be fairly objective and analytical.

For a lot of people in early recovery this is all they can deal with.

It does also mean that the really powerful emotional drives behind a lot of this understanding do come later on in people’s recovery, either through other inventories, therapy or inner child work.

This process is probably what most people would mean by emotional sobriety.


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12 STEPS TREATMENT

The 12 steps treatment program of Alcoholics Anonymous has become widely regarded as a yardstick for recovery from alcoholism, whether it be practised within the organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous, or in a rehab or treatment center.

The phrase 12 steps has become widely used, and often misinterpreted in terms of what they really mean.

This is important, because many rehabs and treatment centres often promote themselves as being 12-step based, which can mean a variety of different things.

Equally there are a number of rehabs and treatment centers that specifically promote themselves as being non-12-step based, and this has implications in terms of what they do offer as addiction treatment programs, and to what extent they are clinically-based or proven.

The original 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous can be found in its entirety in the book of the same name, and is widely available anyone to buy, borrow from their local library, or read online for free.

It should always be remembered that the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous should be taken in context of its writing.

This means that it was written along with a number of descriptive chapters as a record of experience, of what the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous found worked for them.

12 STEPS TREATMENT

People are a perfect liberty to use any or all of  the 12 step program in anyway that they find helpful or not.

A number of treatment centers and rehabs use a variation of the  12 step program, but do tend to promote it as if they were offering the benefits of the program as practised within Alcoholics Anonymous.

This can be slightly misleading, and can also be  seen as taking advantage of people who are quite  vulnerable and do not fully appreciate the difference between the two approaches.

In addition, a number of  rehabs and treatment centers will be very supportive of 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and will actively encourage or insist there resident clients attend meetings of these organisations.

In this way a number of rehabs will align themselves with a 12 step recovery program.

 

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ALCOHOLISM 12 STEP

Alcoholism as an illness is a relatively recent medical understanding, and is linked inexorably to the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous which both began the process of real long-term relief from the illness, and in the process, through its 12-step program, effectively defined alcoholism as an illness pretty much for the first time.

There are still people who dispute alcoholism as an illness, there are other people and organisations which refer to alcoholism as a disease, and there are people who will see alcoholism as a collective term for a whole range of different types of  illnesses under the alcoholism umbrella.

Whilst all the above point of view can be valid in their own right, there is a danger of over egging the issue, which is really about simply how do you help people who have got it problem to stop drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous is sometimes criticised by people who don’t fully understand the concept behind it for its emphasis on powerlessness over alcohol.

The criticism tends to imply that it is a mistake to tell people they are powerless as in some way it either deadens the person themselves, or drains of a power that they actually do have.

It is hugely important to recognise that the literature and organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous is based on one thing and one thing only, that is the experience of its membership, especially its early membership who formed the organisation.

The wording of the 12 step program, and step one in particular where it talks about being powerless over alcohol, is a statement of experience, not in any way admonition or statement to other people about what they should  or should not do.

ALCOHOLISM 12 STEP

Alcoholics Anonymous works on a principle that its literature records the experience of  its membership, and such literature is published and given to people in order that people can read the literature, understand at some level what that experience is, and then use that experience in any way that they find helpful or not.

There is a world of difference between presenting a body of experience and saying to someone use it in any way that you find helpful or not, and presenting a point of view or a theory about alcoholism or drinking, and trying to convince people that they need to do or not do something in a particular way.

The strength of Alcoholics Anonymous and its understanding of alcoholism lies in the fact that it is a body of experience  and nothing else. This reality is often lost both in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the general discussion of alcoholism and recovery generally, but is a truth that has held the organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous together for all its existence.

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REHAB – 12 STEP

When someone is looking for a rehab that is 12-step orientated, what they are normally looking for is a rehab that bases part of its treatment recovery program on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Many rehabs that effectively advertise themselves as being 12 step rehabs do not actually follow the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, but do use a certain number of the steps, although the way they are interpreted by the rehab is normally quite different to the way they are interpreted by the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

A rehab is likely to either offer what it refers to as the first five steps in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, or possibly the first three steps in this program.

There are some rehabs that describe themselves as step one rehabs, and these rehabs effectively use the concept of step one in the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program as the focus for their addiction treatment work, which is likely to focus on the basics of the AA recovery approach.

There are also a significant number of people who look to a rehab that is not  12-step based. The approach that many rehabs will take is to offer a number of principles that they consider helpful, which may include different types of therapy, group and individual, as well as a number of what are referred to as alternative therapies.

These types of alternative therapies can include areas such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, art therapy, horse therapy etc.

REHAB – 12 STEP

These rehabs can certainly help people, the problem tends to be around proving the clinical effectiveness of the work they offer, which is harder to do than those rehabs that are 12-step focused, which also tend to include inclusion of current medical thinking and practice concerning addiction.

Rehab that are 12 step focused will also include a heavy commitment that clients or participants in the treatment center program attend meetings of torso fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

There is normally a requirement that people tend a minimum number of meetings a week.

This is viewed as an important part of their recovery process whilst in treatment, and a hope that it will encourage people to attend meetings and become part of  alcoholics anonymous once they leave rehab, as a major part of their after-care program.

Some rehabs also offer their own after-care program, offering ongoing support online, and with often an annual get-together at the rehab for any previous participants who are interested in attending.

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12 step program

Many people are familiar with the term 12 step program, but its implications and it applications have risen considerably over the last few years in the context of people using a 12 step program to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction.

In its most basic sense a 12 step program refers to the program of recovery outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which details the experience of the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous with regard to the various elements of the process they took that help them get sober and stay sober.

The 12 step program of recovery outlines 12 basic elements of this process, and the book presents clear and detailed instructions as to how to do this.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step program of recovery outlined in it became a template for other 12 step fellowships that developed on the back of it, and use the essence of the program as a basis for their own program of recovery.

12 step program

The 12 step program initiated by Alcoholics Anonymous has in effect allowed any other individual or organisation to come to terms with and get a better from any type of addiction or problem that they themselves are unable to deal with.

The first step of the program refers to alcohol in the context of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and any other organisations or individuals can use the same principles and merely substitute whatever their problem is the word alcohol in the first step.

The actual 12-step program itself is copyrighted to Alcoholics Anonymous, but any individual can use the principles of the wording of the principles for their own benefit they so wish.

The 12 step program has also been widely adapted by a large sum of rehabs and treatment centers, and often forms a basis of their own addiction treatment programs.

Many rehabs use the first five steps of the program to help people in recovery for the first 28 days or so whilst they are in rehab. It is worth pointing out that the actual work done within the context of the 12 step program is normally quite different in a rehab to the experience outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

Where it is similar and also confusing is that a rehab ortreatment center often use the term step one, step two etc and also the actual wording of the step. The work done to understand and implement the step in an individual’s life will normally be different in a rehab to the process outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

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