Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 12-Step Gauntlet

I'd like to share more from Martin Nicolaus' book, "Empowering Your Sober Self." book is helping me articulate and understand my own experience and I believe that will help me move forward in my recovery.

The 12-Step Gauntlet of Negativew Emotions

Research shows that stress and other negative emotions are important risk factors in producing relapse in the newly sober. Negative emotional states are by far the leading cause of relapse. In this regard, the clinical wisdom of exposing people who are newly sober to the experience of the 12-step program is open to question.

The 12-step program, as others have pointed out, is a gauntlet of negative emotional encounters.

In step 1, as we have seen, there is the stress of feeling powerless.
In step 2, there is the stress of being labeled insane.
In step 3, people are asked to surrender themselves, again raising the feeling of powerlessness.
In step 4, people are told to take a "moral inventory" implying that they are morally deficient and setting the stage for feelings of guilt and shame.
In step 5, people are supposed to focus on all their "wrongs."
Step 6 centers on the person's "defects of character."
Step 7 has to do with "shortcomings."
In step 8, people are asked to look at all the harm they have caused to other people, underlining what Bad Persons they are.
In steps 9 and 10, this is repeated and deepened.
Step 11 implies that people are too clueless to figure out what to do with their life.
Step 12 calls on people to recruit other alcoholics to undergo this same series of exposures.

In my experience, the program of AA was a house of cards that toppled when my addiction became reactivated. After six years of working the 12 steps, I felt so bad about myself inside that I didn't feel I deserved sobriety, or much of anything good in my life. Intuitively, I knew that not only was it not helping me, it was making me worse. But every person I spoke with (almost), every professional, every recovering person (almost) still said AA was the way to go. And because I really do try to be a very good girl, I went back over and over for 15 years, not consciously realizing that every time I walked through the doors it reinforced the negative feelings about myself. You can't keep feeding yourself the poison and expect to get well. In my opinion that goes for alcohol and AA.


julesgp187 said...

This is a great list. A friend of mine had a very similar experience with OA.

thailandchani said...

Anything based on fear can never work for long. The whole underpinning of AA's program is all about fear.

Recently, I discovered that hidden element at Weight Watchers. The leader was making a pronouncement that "anyone who doesn't come to meetings gains all their weight back."

It turned me off completely. I thought "the hell YOU say" and walked away.


vicariousrising said...

One of my biggest issues with AA is the fear factor. The idea that if you don't attend meetings then you are doomed to use again seems alarmist to me. And designed to evoke dependency on the group and/or sponsor.

I also hate all the head nodding that goes on when someone stops going to meetings and the group as a whole jumps to the conclusion that the person has become a destitute drunkard just because no one has heard from the person. *Hullo* here I am. Still sober for almost 4 years! But, again, it's a good scare tactic.

I do think that the 12 steps can be applied in a positive manner (check out the Women's Way through the 12 steps, which puts a nicer spin on the process). I think it is the group that takes hold of something that could be positive and twist it into a set of rules and punishments that are simpler to follow (because who doesn't love finger-wagging?) because dealing with ambiguity is frightening to many people. The harder road is determining for yourself what recovery means and going about achieving it. AA really is very much like an organized religion in this regard.

Olivia said...

I appreciate what you wrote, Angela, and all the comments. I don't have anything to add, as they said it all (from my point of view) but just wanted you to know that I'm glad to see you here. xo, O

Angela said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

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Pam said...

I'm so sorry you had such a negative experience. Addiction is so very hard. Please remember that the BB only uses the word "powerless" time, and that is in the formation of the first step. The steps were formulated so that we would never have to feel powerless again.
Some people "I think" really aren't alcoholics and addicts and they are not going to be helped to recovery from something they don't have.
I wish for you to find the road that leads you to inside peace and happiness, that lifts you out of whatever despair that fills your heart.
It is what I found in the 12 steps, but not everyone does.
I come from a group that does not buy into the new age "meeting makers make it" and all that nonsense, where a sponsor would never foster dependence from a sponsee, but simply takes them thru the steps and encourages their dependence on God.
Personally I have never felt "fear" in the program.
I have recovered. The people I hang with have recovered.
I wish you well.