Is it possible to work the 12 steps of AA or NA without a sponsor?
Some people in modern day AA would caution you to never attempt to work through the recovery program without a sponsor. They would say that this is a recipe for disaster, and that the newcomer almost certainly needs someone more experienced to guide them.
I would say that if you are going to be in AA or NA then it probably is advisable to get yourself a sponsor, if at all possible. I can understand why you might be leery of the idea, but ultimately I believe that finding someone to guide you will be more helpful than hurtful.
That said, many people in AA have worked the 12 steps without a sponsor. In fact, there are many examples in the world of alcoholics who used only the big book of AA and never went to a single meeting, but who was still able to use the concepts in the book to overcome alcoholism.
There is this idea in modern day AA, I think, that the program of recovery as laid out by the 12 steps is A) Divinely inspired, and B) The only possible path to sobriety.
If you listen to some people talk in AA or NA meetings, you would think that the 12 step program is the only possible way that any human could ever find sobriety, ever in history. No other paths to recovery are possible, and anyone who thinks that they might be able to get sober outside of AA is going to relapse and die instantly as a result of their foolishness.
If you listen carefully at enough 12 step meetings you will hear that mentality from several people. Notice that is a fear-based attitude towards recovery programs. The fear is that “if someone else has found another way to remain sober, then maybe that means my way here in AA is not perfect.”
I think you can find much the same attitude among the major religions of the world being critical of anything other than their own beliefs. It is the same sort of fear based thinking that produces this mindset and this attitude.
The problem is that this is not true, and there are other recovery programs out there, and there are people who are successful while working programs outside of AA or NA. These alternatives may not be widespread and public and have lots of meetings in the same way that AA does, but that doesn’t make them false. These alternative paths to recovery still exist and there are plenty of people out there who find these alternative paths.
If you want to work the 12 steps of AA without a sponsor, I say go for it. But why stop there? Why believe that there is any special magic in the 12 steps, when you could just come up with your own recovery program? If you are going to forgo the sponsor entirely, then you may as well come up with your own recovery program as well.
I am not being sarcastic. I am serious. Anyone can come up with their own guidelines for recovery. Let’s do so now as a simple experiment.
Step one: I will not use alcohol or addictive drugs today no matter what.
That’s a strong start. If you follow just that step every day then you would be doing well, right? But we need some support beyond this. It is not about just white knuckle abstinence, but it’s about finding a better life for ourselves.
Step two: I will face my problems every day rather than run or hide from them using distractions.
Everyone has a smartphone these days. And if your face is glued to it constantly while tapping on various apps, you may be avoiding reality rather than confronting your problems. Addiction comes in many forms, and anything becomes a potential distraction: Fiction, television, Netflix, smartphone games, even exercise.
In order to do well in recovery you need to face your problems as the pop up. And they are going to keep popping up in life, because that is just the nature of the beast.
Everyone has problems, your goal in recovery is to trade in an old set of problems for a better set of problems in the future. You get to pick your level of problems. If you want to stay stuck in the past then you can worry about where your next drink or drug is coming from, and whether or not you should kill yourself because your life is so miserable in addiction. But in recovery you can trade in those old problems for a new set of problems: How do I convince the boss to take on this new project this week?
But in order to shift your problems you have to face them, over and over again, every single day. Face reality and recover. This is also known as “taking responsibility.” You must show up, face your problems, and find solutions each and every day.
Step three: Take better and better care of yourself each and every day. This is holistic health, meaning that you must take care of yourself physically, but also mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. So you need to get rid of your destructive friends and hang around with the “winners” in recovery. You need to exercise and sleep well and eat decent. You need to find some emotional balance. And you need to take care of yourself mentally by practicing gratitude and seeking solutions every day.
Your overall health is the primary currency of your life. If you don’t have your health then you don’t have much. And one way to improve your self esteem and your chances for remaining sober is to take better care of yourself in all of these different areas of your life.
So don’t beat yourself up for thinking that you want to buck the trend and work through the steps of AA without a sponsor just because you are stubborn or different. Instead, realize that the power to remain clean and sober is well within your reach, but that you are going to have to push yourself really hard in terms of personal growth. There is no magic in the 12 steps, but there is no help in just sitting on your couch and wishing that recovery would drop into your lap, either.
So you have to do something. You have to take action. You have to make your recovery happen actively, you must get out there and pursue it, and you must take care of yourself in a holistic sense. If you want to avoid working the steps with a sponsor then you need to push yourself every day to improve your own life in recovery.