28 years ago nearly to the day, I walked into the world of 12 Step meetings. I surely wasn’t immediately enamored with the slogan reciting, platitude-on-cue, regurgitating crew. I thought it to be some sort of cruel and unusual punishment for my transgressions and gotta admit, it took some doing for me to develop a taste for, “the rooms.”
Well, it’s a bit like the substances and behaviors we replaced, isn’t it? I mean who enjoys their first puff on a cigarette or first gulp of beer? Okay, maybe the beer…but you get my drift when I’m telling you that 12 Step meetings really do take some getting used to, or at least they did for this recovering skeptic. So now in retrospect, I look back and think, you know, if I’d walked into anything I was previously unfamiliar with like a Greek Orthodox mass or an IRS workshop for auditors, there’d be a learning curve and that, “welcome to change, buddy” feeling that’s always uncomfortable.
Clean and Sober
I’ll never forget my first 12 Step meeting. A traditional clean and sober, no-nonsense “closed” meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Closed” meaning A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and, “have a desire to stop drinking.” I qualified.
In 1986 smoking cigarettes was still okay at meetings, so the coffee scented, smoke filled room–it was. I remember sitting next to men in camouflage jackets and hats presumably from the Vietnam War era as I was thinking this whole scene is a good enough reason to quit my shenanigans–and never go back.
Go back–I did not–for three years as I practiced the white knuckled, cold turkey shuffle and getting my dopamine without the dope from the then, current addiction; exercise. Then, I discovered how love, sex and finally, opiates could do the trick and I was off and running–on empty.
Back to the Rooms
I found my way back to the rooms by necessity and frankly, it was the go-to addiction recovery “modality.” Still is, even though there are many others. In retrospect, I would have also perked up to the harm reduction, brain science informed approaches available these days–and maybe then too!…but I don’t remember hearing about them. One reason…the brain science hadn’t been scienced’ yet…
But as all things unfold as they should, I learned to find meetings that worked for me. I’m an early bird, so a 6:15am meeting with other early morning sunshine worshipers; perfect. I like deep discussions and topics so how ’bout a Noon meeting on the campus of Stanford University where erudite recovering drunks hang? I swear-ta-god, that room was like being in the presence of the Dalai Lama on any given day. In one hour I may have heard from the resident, savant schizophrenic man to a recovering physics or English professor tell a story with aplomb–JUST the story and message I needed to hear like those song lyrics on the car radio that speak to you–right on time.
All of the rhetoric and what first sounded like sing-song, cryptic communication settled into a regular practice, a ritual around which the day and the week centered. The lessons learned, the insights and wisdom from these formerly assessed freaks turned out to be some of the most informing, how-to-live-life stuff in my life–and cherished relationships and lifelong friendships to boot. To think, a bunch of humans agreeing to meet regularly to get out of their own ways and talk about right thinking and right living. Miraculous.
To 12 Step or Not to 12 Step
Alright, so now in the year 2014 we have many ways of recovering from addiction in addition to the 12 Step path. For example, Dr. Tom Horvath’s, Smart Recovery speaks to millions of people. From secular to religious to community based approaches, really…isn’t it all the same approach–to take a look at how you’re taking a look at your life while surrounding yourself with people who are on the same path? For me, deep empathy and BELONGING are the central-most implications.
Most of the addiction treatment centers remain 12 Step based because it works. After all, the 12 Step approach was not for me…until it was. But what we’re finding when wedding the brain science with such programs, is that recovering people need a more robust wellness model including all aspects of mind, body and spirit fitness. ‘N that great news? Not either/or, but both/and. 12 Step programs not the whole picture, but as an integral part of the whole and now what we’re finding to be, bigger picture.
12 Step Meetings | Think Integrate
In this day-and-age we’re hearing and reading a lot of friction around, “If AA is so hot, how come it only helps ___% of people?” And of course the answer is that its structure and language doesn’t speak to everyone and so like I had to do with finding different kinds of meetings, it seems to me the implication is to find a path that does work. 12 Step programs don’t care, really. What, are we all supposed to be Muslims or Catholics or atheists or short board surfers (certainly not the latter)? NO!!…but something tells me we’re all supposed to be on a path of our own choice to pursue right thinking and right living.
I see the day coming when addiction treatment paths will all be integrated and all include the various mutual support/aid groups in that integration. We’ll move away from “12 Step based or Non-12 Step based” to integrated, multidisciplinary approaches including suggestions for mutual support groups of one’s choice, because all of them–along with balanced lifestyle skills fostering wellness, work as an indispensable piece of the treatment puzzle.
What works for you?Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with me online too: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin