Twelve Step programs have helped many people escape the depths of addiction. These programs are so successful because they go beyond the addiction itself and help us examine ourselves and our relationships. In the fellowship of peers who have been through the same predicament we’re in, we rebuild our social network. And by learning to trust a higher power we heal the aching soul within us and gain the strength to take on life’s challenges without relying on addiction.
From its beginnings in Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Step programs now offer support to people with all kinds of addictions, including narcotics, overeating, sex, gambling and a host of other conditions in which we feel out of control, and are unable to overcome our cravings. Twelve Step programs also help those of us who care for addicts, encouraging us how to love without letting love destroy our lives.
As we descend into our addiction we burn bridges behind us, cutting ourselves off from the ones we loved. Our craving narrows our vision down to a pill, a bottle or some other fix, and bursts apart the bonds of trust that tie us to family and friends. We sabotage our connections with people, believing our addiction would fulfill us. However lonely we felt before we started, now we have hurt and betrayed anyone who might have been able to offer us a helping hand.
The road to recovery is long, and traveling it alone is hell. The Twelve Step programs show us how to reconnect with a social network, and then accompanies us along the way.
We enter the Twelve Step family first by acknowledging our helplessness. By recognizing we are no longer in control, we put ourselves in the care of the Twelve Step community. At first we feel useless and pathetic. Later we realize that our cries for help have given others the opportunity to reach out and care for us. We are giving them one of the greatest gifts on earth, the opportunity to get in touch with their own compassion and take responsibility for another human being.
Compassion from and for our fellow addicts may be the only feeling strong enough to pull us out of our addiction. By allowing others to help us, we enter a community based on compassion. As we gradually rebuild ourselves we begin to care about others who are less able than ourselves, and we take responsibility for them as they pass through the same searing fires of helplessness as we did. Our sense of responsibility towards others draws us in to the human drama.
Not everyone embraces the Twelve Step programs. Many feel exposed and vulnerable opening up to a group, and many are turned off by the appeal to a higher power. By rejecting a group and a higher power, we are fortifying the prison walls that trap us in our addiction. Isolation starves the soul, and forces us to keep our pain and loneliness for ourselves. Without the solace and healing of human compassion we turn towards pills, drink or other self-involved relief. When we insist on holding on to our aloneness, we cling to the very thing that is making us miserable in the first place. While opening up may seem impossible we should carefully consider this critical step towards recovery.
Many of us find it exquisitely difficult to believe in a higher power, even if we want to. Perhaps we reject a higher power because we have been burned out with religion, or are angry with God for the terrible things that have happened in our lives. As we reflect on our difficulty with relying on a higher power, we may discover that we are afraid to give up the sense that we are “in control.” Many addicts are fascinated, even obsessed, with control. We are out of control, looking for control, running away from control. Perhaps we grew up in a chaotic family and formed a magical belief that our willful control is the only thing that prevented the family from falling into chaos. As we grew up, this belief became an invisible force in our mind, causing us to operate each minute with the same childlike desperation to hold the world together. No wonder we’re so confused and burned out about our responsibility. We need to let go of this terrible burden. Because so many of us are weighed down by an overwhelming belief in their own responsibility, Twelve Steps offer the serenity prayer to help us “let go and let God.” “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Letting go gives us courage to grow.
When we are able to let go and open up to a group and a higher power we find great strength and powerful healing resources. Breaking out of our prison of self-reliance may be the most important step in our lives.
Together with other recovering addicts who have walked this same road, we see how our addiction cut us off from our loved ones. We learn that by honoring our responsibilities we can begin to mend these broken bonds and generate new ones. We openly face our dishonesty and the people we betrayed when addiction took center stage. When we’re ready, we ask these people for forgiveness, so we can begin regenerating the power and urgency of community in our lives.
As we learn to give up control to a higher power, we are freer to focus more energy on the things we can change in our lives. We examine our own behavior and motivation, and review the terrible mistakes our addiction has caused. By taking heart-felt responsibility for those around us, our prison walls crumble, and we start to hook up to the healing power of our social network.
Most addictions begin as an early exploration to cope with life. A beer or a joint or some other substance or behavior substitutes for inner strength, and covers up our discomfort with ourselves and the world. The Twelve Steps encourage us to go back to basics and rediscover the soulful person inside us. By reviewing our character in the company of peers, we learn to understand who we are, how we have behaved and how we fit into the world. The Twelve Step programs encourage us to review where we’re coming from so we can understand how to get where we’re going.
See also: Addiction, Alcoholism, Child within, Drugs, Higher power, Prayer
Waking up just in time by Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as “The Big Book”)
Codependent no more by Melodie Beattie
Twelve steps to self parenting for adult children of alcoholics by Philip Oliver-Diaz and Patricia A. O’Gorman