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.
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.
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.
Apologies at the outset if this seems a slightly patronising question (which it is) but it is one that a number of people do ask, and is generally around the so called issue of the God question in AA.
The history of AA largely revolves around the experience of people’s understanding and interpretation of God, and at the same time the freedom to experience this in anyway they do.
Part of this experience has always been a thread of underlying pressure for people to at some point come round to a belief in God in some way, shape or form.
People who would consider themselves atheists often feel they are being sort of being tolerated, with an expectation that at some point they will come round to the God view.
Right to Believe
Society as a whole has in many ways had the same problem for decades and centuries, reinforced by the institutional nature of organised religion.
Whilst AA doesn’t have any organised religious involvement, it does have a degree of being institutionalised, which can manifest itself in a degree of rigidity, both structurally and individually.
This often leads to people being referred to either as believers or non-believers, or believers or atheists.
It is almost a bit too obvious, but it does need saying, that labels of all sorts carry an inherent risk. They run the risk of putting people in a box, and categorising them from the outside in.
People sometimes like labels because it gives them a sense of external identity, something to hang onto, something to belong to, a sort of tribalism.
Understandable though this is, it also means that labels in effect carry very little meaning. Describing someone as a believer or an atheist in reality means very little if anything.
There are so many different arguments that people seem to want to go with about whether or not God exists as to drown out the real issue.
Most of the arguments seem to centre around a theoretical idea, and people’s ability to prove it or not. This is certainly the case with a lot of organised religion, and one of the reasons it is so divisive in its nature,
Theoretical beliefs are in effect a form of ideology, and wherever they have come from, they tend to become very tribal in nature, and normally end up being a rallying point for most types of fundamentalism.
Religion has probably been saved, not by its ideology, but by the fact that there are numerous people who have had some type of spiritual experience that manifests itself in Christianity and other religions.
Going back to labels, and why they are potentially very dangerous. People may come to a label, whether it is that of believer or atheist, because it seems to give them cover for where they are coming from.
This quickly can become something of a trap, as changing your ideas or beliefs then removes you from that label, and the sense of safety that may go with it.
On the whole, labels should really be avoided, and in effect replaced by the individual’s sense of self, and their ability to trust in their own experience.
AA as a Body of Experience
People sometimes forget that the book Alcoholics Anonymous was written to preserve the body of experience of the early members of AA, and to share that experience with anyone who wanted to read the book.
At the time the book was written, AA had two groups, one in Akron and one in New York.
Part of the purpose of the book was to share this experience with the whole world, and allow anyone who wanted to, to use the experience in the book to get sober and stay sober.
This principle was quickly established as the root of AA. That AA was essentially a body of experience, that anyone could use in any way they wanted to in order to get sober and stay sober.
This dual thread of AA was and is still core to its very existence. The structure of AA has continually reaffirmed the literature of AA as being deemed to be the experience of AA from its start to the present day, worldwide.
This experience is open to anyone who wants to use it. This gives people a freedom to interpret the experience of AA in any way they choose. Period.
Experience and Belief Systems
It is likely that now always been to be people who belief systems about God, whether for or against believing. What AA can offer is a way through this.
AA gives people the benefit of its experience, and at the same time freedom to use that experience, or any part of it as they see fit.
Whilst in theory this is the best of both worlds, in reality this freedom is often hugely abused. People often see other people’s freedom as a threat to their own identity or belief system.
This sense of a threat often leads people to try and curtail other people’s freedom, either through some type of bullying, or through the well practised fear factor.
AA, and the 12 step movement generally, should have nothing to do with either. Bullying and fear factors have no place in the world of recovery.
Happy Joyous and Free
This phrase of happy joyous and free from the book Alcoholics Anonymous is often one of the most quoted. It is often used as a sort of symbolic embrace of the AA 12 step program, and what it can offer.
The bit that is perhaps most important is the word free. In large part this because this freedom, the sense of being free is a precondition of the other two.
The reality is that many people in AA do not experience this freedom, not because they cannot, but because it is often curtailed by other people, intentionally or not.
This curtailment of freedom can take many forms, but is perhaps most common around the issue of the God question.
The issue is not really that belief or unbelief, God or atheist, but around people’s ultimate freedom to be themselves, and the right to have their own experience whatever that may be.
This right is paramount and absolute.
Depriving people of this right may ultimately deprive them of the freedom to attend AA or use its literature, which ultimately is about that right to recover from alcoholism, and potentially about their right to life itself.
Everyone’s journey from active alcoholism into sobriety is both unique and complex.
One thing that is fairly common however, is that when people do sober up, they have to start living with themselves without alcohol.
This means beginning to live with the reality of what they were trying to escape from when drinking, both internally and externally.
For many people, this can be a pretty daunting process, can take a long time and is a lot of work to really heal. It is probably fair to describe this process as emotional sobriety.
The phrase emotional sobriety was first used by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in an article he wrote for the AA Grapevine in January 1958.
The article was entitled The Next Frontier : Emotional Sobriety.
In the article, Bill Wilson outlined his thoughts on the emotional struggles he had had, largely during the time of his depression, and how he had come through them with a much stronger sense of his inner world and what it meant to him.
Many people seek to interpret this phrase, and how Bill Wilson wrote about it, in a number of different ways.
The reality is, as with everything that he wrote, and all AA literature, that people have an absolute freedom to interpret in anyway they find helpful or not.
Trying to interpret his writings in ways that mean people have to fit their own experience into the context of what he was saying, is in many ways an emotional death wish, and something he most likely would never have intended or wanted.
It is clear from pretty much all of his writings that he intended to share his experience, both at a personal and an AA level, in the hope that it could be helpful to people, and that they could use his experience as part of the process of rebuilding their own life once they got sober.
It is probably a fair assumption to say that the emotional drives that fuel people’s alcoholism are for most people fairly deep-rooted, and quite often go back to childhood.
When someone gets sober, they start to live with the legacy of these emotional drives as they affect them on a day-to-day basis. The depth of this emotional trauma can often seem too overwhelming to go near for many people.
Most people soon begin to realise that their emotional lives are out of control at some level, and that in some way this either contributed to their drinking, or was the cause of the dread/terror inside them that alcohol seemed to be the solution to.
People’s understanding of their own alcoholism comes in time, and this sense that alcohol was the solution, not the problem, is pretty common and pretty core to this understanding.
It is also completely at odds with the understanding that someone who is not an alcoholic is likely to have of alcoholism generally.
There is a saying in AA, that when you get sober you begin to realise why you drank.
This is not normally intended to be taken literally, as in finding the reasons people drink alcoholically.
It is meant to refer to the fact that when people get sober, they begin to live with themselves without alcohol, and as such soon begin to realise at some level this emotional turmoil that fuelled their drinking.
At some point in their recovery, people are likely to realise that they need to in some way process this emotional turmoil or they are likely to start drinking again.
This is normally around the fact that most alcoholics see / saw alcohol as the solution to their problems, not the problem itself.
Once sober, the alcohol is gone, and people have to start living with themselves without it.
This can be a fairly tough thing to accept, and people’s ways of dealing with it differ significantly.
It is very likely however that it will take a significant degree of emotional pain before people become willing to really own and address their underlying emotional issues, although there are obviously many different reasons for this.
The phrase emotional sobriety really covers this entire process, pretty much from day one through till whenever it stops !
It is probably a mistake to think that the phrase only deals with issues of later recovery, or with issues of depression.
The nature of staying sober for many people is around finding ways of healing the internal emotional turmoil that alcohol helped to give some relief from, and this is normally a lifelong process.
Although anecdotal, it is fairly clear that a significant number of alcoholics in recovery grew up in what are normally referred to as alcoholic homes.
This normally refers to homes where either one or both parents were active alcoholics, or where there was a significant number of alcoholics in the extended family.
The effects of growing up in an alcoholic home can be varied, but there are a number of common traits.
The most common one is an absence of safety.
This can either be an emotional absence, or an actual absence or both.
People growing up in alcoholic homes describe a total lack of stability or safety, the lack of feeling anyone is in control, and the need to take responsibility for their own lives at an early age.
Growing up in an alcoholic home has a significant impact on someone’s development and sense of self.
It can distort ancestry damage how someone relates to themselves and other people.
Someone who is also an alcoholic themselves and grows up in an alcoholic home will find that the emotional chaos of their childhood is likely to have played a significant part in their own emotional development, and how they tried to force their life to work in some way.
Emotional sobriety is about finding ways of healing this emotional turmoil, and getting a real sense of peace and stability internally that can enable someone to really live at peace with themselves, possibly for the first time ever.
Anyone entering a rehab for a problem with alcohol, commonly referred to as alcoholism or alcohol addiction would be well advised to be aware of the potential effects of alcohol withdrawal, sometimes referred to as a detox, historically referred to as the DT’s.
The effects of withdrawal from alcohol addiction or alcoholism can be severe in some people, and it is a good idea to make sure that anyone entering a rehab is clinically assessed, by experienced clinical staff to monitor the effects of withdrawal from alcohol.
One important aspect of alcoholism that is often not fully understood is that it is regarded commonly as what is termed a progressive illness.
There are sometimes a debate about whether alcoholism is a disease or an illness or a combination of nature or nurture, and people will have differing views on this question.
Too many people who have got sober using Alcoholics Anonymous, they are very aware that her own alcoholism is a progressive illness, and for many it is the progressive element that is really important.
ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL ADDICTION
The progression of alcoholism in many people is not simply a issue of tolerance for alcohol, it is a description of both how their drinking has progressed over a period of time, how that emotional state has changed during that time, and how alcohol has become at the end of the drinking the only thing of real value, the only thing that needs to be protected and kept safe.
One of the reasons this is so important, is in terms of understanding the nature of alcoholism, and in truth the only people who probably really do understand it either active alcoholics themselves, or people who have got sober and would consider themselves to be alcoholics in recovery.
The nature of alcoholism as an illness can be quite varied and widespread, the progression of it is an element that people who are alcoholics will at some level be able to identify with, either in terms of the tolerance or lack of tolerance of their drinking, or a more general felt sense of their inner and outer world closing in on them, and alcohol remaining the only thing that is holding them together.
‘When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year signed into law a comprehensive bill targeting opioid addiction, many touted it as one of the toughest in the nation, often pointing to the seven-day cap on opioid prescriptions and new prescription monitoring requirements as reasons why.
But a lesser known aspect of the law is one that fosters a new relationship between primary care providers and licensed alcohol and drug counselors, or LADCs.
In essence, the law encourages primary care providers to keep an eye out for signs their patients may be becoming dependent on opioids.
An example, according to Connecticut Association for Addiction Professionals President Susan Campion, is a patient who, not long after coming in with one injury, quickly returns with another.
If the provider suspects an addiction is developing, he or she can refer the patient to an LADC, who will follow steps outlined in Section 6 of the law by gleaning information about the person’s family and personal history of addiction and determining how likely he or she is to abuse drugs prescribed for pain.’
‘Soberlink, the leader in mobile breath alcohol detection technology, announced today its inclusion in an expert panel consensus paper about the use of remote monitoring in the clinical treatment of alcohol use disorder.
The consensus paper – written by a panel of nine alcohol use disorder treatment and research experts – was recently published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
The paper examines the Soberlink System as a method of BAC collection and monitoring in various recovery situations.
The experts concluded that remote monitoring could play a vital role in successful recovery as a method of deterrent, and a means of early detection and intervention.’
‘According to statistics, almost one in six women like me have alcohol five or more times a week – and more than half (including me) exceed their safe daily limit on at least one occasion. I’ve been observing not only my own drinking habits as well as that of my friends for many years now.
Sometimes (often) we drink alone and sometimes (often) we don’t eat much with it because we are, after all, middle class, professional women who know the caloric value of every thimble.
Truth be told many of us were borderline or closet anorexics or bulimics in our youth and this is our “transdiagnosis” in full throw. In other words, as perfectionistic, anxious striving teenagers, we didn’t eat at all or we ate too much and purged.’
‘On January 18, 2017, representatives of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup, Knight and A.A. World Services Inc. and the General Services Board of Alcoholic Anonymous Inc. met to formally resolve Knight’s human rights claim.
Lawrence Knight is ecstatic. “This is huge. There can be no doubts for A.A. chapters around the world – a desire to be sober really is the only requirement.”
Knight and GTA Intergroup agree that it is not A.A.’s practice to exclude anyone, including A.A. groups, based on creed: “All groups, regardless of their belief system form part of the A.A fellowship.
The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking and any two or more people who come together for the purpose of being sober may call themselves an A.A. group, as long as they have a desire to be sober, and provided they have no outside affiliation”. ‘
‘Saratoga Springs — Staff at Saratoga Stadium in Saratoga Springs expect huge crowds at the sports bar for Super Bowl Sunday.
“There’s a lot more food ordering a lot more beer and alcohol,” said Saratoga Stadium Manager Lisa Vigliotti. “So just making sure we’re ready stocked and ready to go,” she said.
Alcohol at a Super Bowl event or party can be a problem for recovering alcoholics.
Brian Farr, who is the chairperson of Recovery Advocacy in Saratoga, or RAIS, has a solution.