One of CCAR’s foundational principles is “There are many paths to recovery“. To support this principle, CCAR hosted 4 conferences focused on multiple pathways of recovery. Recently, I attended a Wellbriety All Addictions Conference in Santa Fe. This event focused on the 12 Steps. I have spent a great deal of time since thinking how 12-Step recovery fits into a larger paradigm. I have concluded that, generally, people respond from four different world views.
- 12-Step recovery for all. Real recovery is 12-Step recovery because no other way succeeds.
- 12-Step recovery did not work for me.
- 12-Step recovery hurts people (a cult filled with brainwashed people).
- 12-Step recovery is one way out of many.
Before I dive into these, and for the sake of full disclosure, I’ll describe my personal recovery pathway. When I finally summoned the courage to cross the threshold into a 12-Step meeting a few decades ago, I sat down quickly in a seat near the door. Some people had the gall to say hello. I sheepishly offered a “hi” back. My anxiety throttled up; my senses on full-alert mode. I scanned faces and watched people interact until my eyes abruptly settled on a large poster hung on the wall titled appropriately enough The 12 Steps. As I read them, a peace settled over me and I calmed down. For the first time, I encountered a solution to my problem. It became apparent, step by step, that God could relieve me of my malady. Although not fully convinced, my mind opened to possibility. Hope flickered.
The 12-Step fellowship soon became my lifeline. I learned to live without substances. I developed relationships with people who claimed happiness, joy and freedom. I found purpose. I built a wonderful, meaningful life on a 12-Step foundation. I attended meetings regularly. As my family grew and other responsibilities emerged, my meeting attendance declined. My sponsor consistently warned me that I trod in dangerous territory; without a consistent regimen of meetings, my sobriety lingered in jeopardy.
Now 32 years in recovery, I go to meetings when I can. I thoroughly enjoy them and love to go. I also take care of my recovery in other ways – prayer, meditation, reading of spiritual material, church, fellowship with other people in recovery and time in nature. The 12-Step foundation still serves me well. I live by the slogans and the principles… so I’m OK, just for today.
Let’s explore some world views I’ve met along the way…
1. 12-Step Recovery for all.
For the first 10 years of my recovery I believed that 12-Step recovery was the only way to achieve long-term, stable, meaningful recovery. The proof resided in the pudding; 12-Step recovery worked for me. I heard several times from people (other than my sponsor) who stated with fervent conviction that if someone stops going to 12-Step meetings, that relapse with severe consequences (jails, institutions or death) loomed ahead. I believed it too. When my career with CCAR launched, I developed relationships with many people in recovery from “outside the rooms”. Their eyes flashed from the fire in their hearts; their recovery genuine. My personal paradigm shifted.
It took me 10 years to recognize that another pathway of recovery did not threaten my personal recovery. Another way of illustrating this point; it took me 10 years to develop confidence in the foundation holding me up.
2. 12-Step recovery did not work for me.
I believe many people try 12-Step recovery, but do not continue with the program. A few of these folks work at CCAR. They do not call themselves members of a 12-Step fellowship. They are not opposed either. I don’t think anyone knows how many people fall into this category. I discuss a personal watershed moment in the blog You’re In Recovery If You Say You Are.
3. Anything but 12-Step.
30 years ago, a young, angry woman stood up in a 12-Step meeting and ranted about how this fellowship sucked, that we were a bunch of freaks, brainwashed into submission to a God that didn’t exist. My mouth hung open wide, incredulous. Until an old-timer shouted back at her.
“If you don’t like it then get the f*%$ out!”
She defiantly flipped us the bird as she stomped out. I gasped. A palpable, awkward silence settled over the room. Someone finally spoke up and the meeting continued, but I felt something shift deep within. I couldn’t identify the shift then, not sure I can now, just to say I think there could have been a better way to handle the situation. Right then, I realized some people harbored passionate, negative feelings toward 12-Step programs. Prior to this incident, I had no idea.
Social media now provides a platform for those opposed to 12-Step recovery. Reasons for disliking/discrediting 12-Step programs abound; insistence on abstinence, lack of tolerance for people on medication, sexual exploitation, reliance on a Higher Power/God and white, Christian male orientation. I do not discount anyone’s experience. I simply point out that some people have a strong adverse reaction; therefore 12-Step programs did not effectively help them achieve long-term recovery.
4. Multiple Pathways.
Simple. In the words of Bill White,
“There are multiple pathways of recovery and all are a cause for celebration.”
I envision many pathways up the same mountain. I think the 12-Steps pathway is the carriage trail, the widest and most traveled to the peak. And I also believe there are other trails.
In summary, the recovery community, in general, is a passionate lot, harboring deep convictions. Post something on social media about 12-Step recovery, abstinence, harm reduction and/or medication assisted recovery and you have a high chance of fanning and fueling a firestorm. Contentious, hurtful debates abound. Personally, I have reactions to several of these debates, but I do not respond. For many reasons, I believe it’s important for me and other recovery coaches to maintain neutrality; emulate Switzerland.
As part of “discovering and managing our own stuff”, we must honestly assess our own personal bias when it comes to recovery pathways. Many recovery coaches with a stout 12-Step orientation find it difficult to support other pathways. And the reverse is true, coaches with an adverse experience to 12-Step recovery are uncomfortable referring recoverees to 12-Step meetings.
Where do you stand?
I’d love to hear from you.
In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly. It’s time to write them down.
Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87