I have long been weary of 12-step programs. Despite them playing a part in a fair number of positive results, there has always been this background thought that something about them is not quite right.
To their credit, most 12-step programs create a supportive network for their participants, operate in a framework based on personal contact and openness rather than an emphasis on medication, and according to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, do all of this work without any sort of financial compensation. I have tremendous respect for these very positive principles.
On the other hand, the twelve steps that these programs are named for greatly ignore personal responsibility. This crucial notion is a key element to any human behaviour, especially when someone is taking steps to change or rid themselves of the habit they are “anonymously” attending meetings for.
For starters, 12-step programs’ first 3 steps, the first contact between participants and the structure they are about to rely on, read like this:
Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Provided that this statement is actually made in the past tense, it is factual, and a good start. But then…
Step 2 – We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
…the belittling talk begins. You can’t restore yourself to sanity, only a “Power greater than ourselves” can. So, as you are faced with conquering your addiction, this program is quick to remind you that you won’t succeed without this capital-P “power”. I don’t like this.
Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Ohhhh! The “Power” is God. Wonderful. Are atheists allowed into these programs? Who will restore their sanity? At least the “as we understood Him” part allows for the possibility of some other conceptualization of “God”. Thinly veiled reference.
In total, 6 of the 12 steps reference “God” or a “Power greater than ourselves”. This, too, is a pattern that discourages participants from taking personal responsibility.
Ironically, some Christians believe that the 12 steps are not Christian enough! Instead of “God as we understood Him”, some make this affirmation specifically Christian by saying “God through Jesus Christ”.
Let’s solve this problem by taking “God”, however people understand him, her, it, or not at all, completely out of the equation and putting the power back in the hands of the individual. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, empower the person to help themselves!
Then, the anonymous part. I understand that society is very judgemental. I am being judgemental here. But if someone really wants to change their lives, I believe that they must acknowledge who they have been up to that point, and openly; not only to people who are in the same boat as they are. If there are consequences, then take them. Pay whatever price is charged for your past decisions. Then, when you succeed in your transformation, you can enjoy the success as full and complete. Being “anonymous” in these programs is just one more way to hide or not take full responsibility for their actions.
The ends only partially justify the means. I would love to see these programs continue their missions but exchange the emphasis on outside help and personal helplessness to one of inner confidence and personal responsibility. If these programs can achieve positive results by telling people that they are incapable of solving their issues without “god’s” intervention, imagine what results are possible if it all began with “You can change your life. We can help.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “addiction” as : “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance”. Specifically, the “addiction” is in the needing of this substance or action after having consumed or done it before. Had someone never consumed drugs or alcohol or gambled, as a way of dealing with some thought or life situation, they would not be in the predicament they are faced with.
I don’t believe in any inherent addictive power. Someone who claims they are “addicted” to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, for example, are using the notion of “addiction” as a way to blame “addiction” for their problems rather than take responsibility for them. Any “addict” can cure themselves by staying away from the substance they claim to be “addicted” to.
I get that this “cold turkey” method will likely involve the person feeling a tremendous need for the substance being withheld, but such discomfort comes with the territory. A person who takes real responsibility for their actions also takes real responsibility for the impacts of their actions and of the outcomes that they are faced with. Consider that the short-term pain of cold turkey withdrawal, however tough it might be to deal with, is far less significant than the long-term good that can come of such drastic but necessary action.
I think we have all heard stories about people who have been helped by their participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and though I don’t agree with all of their methods, I support the overall good intentions.
However, I think we can all benefit from some awareness (and possibly a few laughs) at some of the more absurd “anonymous” programs that exist out there these days. Are these really problems that require “God’s” intervention?
- Overexercisers Anonymous, Exercise Addicts Anonymous
- Clutterers Anonymous
- Workaholics Anonymous
- Online Gamers Anonymous (this might actually be a good thing, since these folks might never have shared personal space with another human.)
- Neurotics Anonymous, (aren’t they worried someone will find out?)
- Smokers Anonymous (they smoke outside all the time – people know who they are!)
- Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (4 names for the same “problem”? Really? Just keep it in your pants.)
- Debtors Anonymous (Okay, here I can understand why people wouldn’t want their identities to be known)
- Underearners Anonymous (these are people who, supposedly, compulsively resist opportunities to earn more money)
- Vulgarity Anonymous (Shit, are you fucking serious?)
- Procrastinators Anonymous (I’ll go to the meeting later…) or (organizers never get around to schedule the meetings)
- Stock Traders Anonymous (wow. If people are embarrassed to be stock traders, “Prostitutes Anonymous” shouldn’t be far off.)
It’s a wonder there’s no Bloggers Anonymous. Even if the organization existed, I wouldn’t join. It’s ridiculous to say or do anything and deny responsibility for what you said or did.