Twelve Step Programs and Your Personal Recovery

Twelve Step Programs and Your Personal Recovery


“How can I use a twelve step program to help me in my own personal recovery?”

I am a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. I used and drank heavily–every day–for about ten years straight. After going to 3 different treatment centers over the years, I have finally found meaningful sobriety. I have been clean and sober for over six years now, and I continue to work a personal program of recovery.

Take what I say here with a grain of salt. I have used twelve step programs in my personal recovery, but only to the extent that they were useful for me. They have a saying “Take what you need and leave the rest.” That is exactly what I did with the AA program, and listed here is essentially what worked for me and what didn’t. Or rather, listed below are certain truths that I came to realize after living in recovery over the last six years. What works for me might not work for everyone. Here is what I have come to know:

1. Meetings are not necessarily the answer – Many people who go to daily meetings continue to relapse, over and over again. People develop such a strong adherence and blind faith to AA meetings that it is almost ridiculous. There is a type of faulty logic that goes into the AA meeting myth: People who come back from a relapse inevitably will tell of how they quit going to meetings before they eventually screwed up. But this self-selecting group of returning relapses doesn’t tell the other side of the story: people who drift away from meetings and find meaningful sobriety outside of the twelve step fellowship. Heavy meeting attendance is great in early recovery for the immense amount of support it offers to the newly recovering addict, but the blind adherence to strict meeting attendance as a lifelong policy of recovery needs to be re-thought. People can and do grow outside of the meeting halls, and there are plenty of people who—while they continue to make meetings every day—continue to relapse over and over again.

2. Twelve Step Programs are not necessarily the answer – The use of alcohol goes back several thousand years, but twelve step programs are less than a hundred years old. Alcoholics have found meaningful sobriety before AA existed. Because of our relatively short life spans compared to the history of alcohol, we tend to see the widespread and dominate AA program as being an absolute and only solution for recovery. This is a very narrow and short sighted view of things, considering that alcohol has been used and abused for several thousand years, and twelve step programs are only a few hundred years old. Despite what you might hear in AA meetings, no program has a monopoly on recovery.


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3. Support is critical – No man is an island. We exist in a world of relationships. If you can’t recover by yourself, then you need other people to help you. More specifically, targeted support is especially helpful. This is why twelve step programs are so useful in early recovery—they offer a concentration of other recovering addicts and alcoholics.

4. Removal from your old environment – This can be extremely helpful in reducing triggers and urges caused by old places or old using buddies. Twice as important for the younger crowd. In fact, the younger you are, the more likely it is that you need long term treatment. Twelve step fellowships offer an alternative environment for newly recovering addicts and alcoholics to spend their time in.

5. Personal Conviction to quit drinking/using – the most important thing of all. Not to be confused with the much more common ‘expressed’ conviction, which is heard thousands of times a day in meetings and treatment centers across the globe. As in, newly recovering folks trying desperately to convince everyone (and themselves) that they really want to quit. Unfortunately, these people who are expressing a sincere desire to quit drinking/using often believe their own lies. “You have to want recovery”….we’ve all heard this a million times.

No. Really. You do have to want it.

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