I am not an alcoholic. In fact, I rarely drink. I don’t take drugs (not even marijuana, which is perfectly legal where I live). I have never had a substance abuse problem, unless you count a former addiction to nicotine (I quit smoking 25 years ago) and a lifelong addiction to caffeine (do NOT get between me and my morning coffee).
I am also an atheist.
So forgive me, but I don’t understand the 12 steps.
I am not disrespecting any friends of Bill W. Really, I’m not. I am saying that, at least from my perspective, taking the 12 steps for recovery from alcoholism or other addictive substances or behaviors and using them as a panacea for all emotional problems makes no sense. The whole idea of co-dependency (unless you’re talking about an enabler, in which case we should just call them enablers) makes no sense to me, but that’s a subject for another post.
The John Bradshaw Center where I received treatment in the early 1990s was not an alcohol or drug rehab facility. Yet the program there revolved around the 12 steps of recovery. We were required to attend 12-step meetings — Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), etc. — every night and we were expected to “work the steps.”
I spent untold hours in meetings and educational sessions under the direction of the Bradshaw therapists trying to make sense of how this program could help me. The 12 steps are based on the concept of first admitting powerlessness. In the Codependency context, this is written:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.
OK, maybe my life had become unmanageable, or rather, maybe I could be managing it better. I wasn’t sure about the rest of the wording in Step 1, and I didn’t know who these “others” were supposed to be.
But Steps 5, 8, and 9 really threw me for a loop:
Step 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
I’m not saying I am perfect (ha!), and goodness knows I have made my mistakes, but I don’t really have a list of transgressions to confess. I rarely lie (see? I said rarely because I’m being totally real here), never steal, don’t cheat, and can’t recall purposefully harming anyone pretty much ever.
The other steps, about turning things over to God, I just tried to accept as metaphor. As an atheist, though, the G word always kind of jars me since it has so much power (politically and otherwise) in our western culture. And I’m not sure the whole “turning over thing” (Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God.) comports with my worldview.*
For those of you in recovery, do you see a problem with using these steps in the codependent/Al-Anon/ACOA context?
If anyone has had experiences—either good or bad—with 12-step recovery, I’d also love to hear about them.
*excerpts from the 12 Steps of CoDA, Copyright © 2010 Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc.
It is my intention to be respectful of all paths to recovery. If you wish, you are welcome to post comments here anonymously.