Misconceptions Surrounding The Twelve-Step Approach
When most people embark on an episode of treatment for addiction related issues, they often have no idea about the decision they are making. Initially people want to simply eradicate the addiction from their lives and be able to get on with stuff.
The truth is that when most people arrive in treatment their life has boiled down to an inability to control their drug use despite having very solid intentions of doing so. This can be described as using against ones own will which inevitably leads to feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness and is often described as hitting a rock bottom.
It is at this point that many people enter treatment, and this place of desperation is extremely healthy as it opens one up to receive a possible solution.
If you are lucky enough to attend a twelve-step rehab environment, you will be introduced to many different concepts in relation to your condition. For example, you may learn that your addiction is in fact an illness, not a moral failing and you may be told that you will need to find a higher power if you are to remain abstinent. You will be given literature to study from a range of twelve step fellowships and often this is when resistance can make its presence felt.
The most common misconception surrounding the twelve-step approach is that it is a religious programme. At first glance some of the language used within the literature seems to back this up.
The dreaded God word is present alongside statements such as spiritual awakening, prayer and meditation, higher power, and moral inventory.
Inevitable questions then follow:
Do I need to be religious to do the steps?
Do I need to pray on bended knee to have a better life?
Do I have to believe in a religious God to address my drug problem?
Have I joined a cult?
Am I about to be brainwashed?
The simple and honest answer to all the above questions is a resounding NO.
Unification For Those Seeking Help
Whilst some people take issue with some of the words used in the twelve-step approach there is one thing that tends to unify those seeking help. A life of addiction is a progressively messy and counterproductive past time and overcoming this condition in isolation is virtually impossible. So, the practice of getting well within a group setting where identification is possible brings massive relief and positive results.
One thing twelve step treatment does more than any other is address the whole issue rather than tinkering around the edges. Treatment for addiction requires a through stock take and this involves unpacking our bags. We lay all our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours both past and present out on the floor and examine closely. With the help of others, we identify what is working and what is not. We begin to understand why we do certain things or hold certain beliefs and get a handle on who we are and more importantly who we want to be.
We begin to realise that we have a somewhat distorted or one-sided world view that is intrinsically linked to our addiction. Some discover that they used substances to cope with a perceived hostile world or that they needed a confidence boost to do the things most people seem to find easy. Some have a sense of entitlement that allows them to use substances with impunity, whilst other simply take drugs to cover up feelings of inadequacy or trauma and pain. The list of reasons that people use substances addictively are endless but there is one resounding truth. No one can use substances addictively for an extended period and not have it effect their belief system. After all everyone that suffers with the addictive condition must justify his or her behaviour in order to maintain continued use and this is where denial, justification and blaming come into play.
This can cause a kind of spiritual bankruptcy around beliefs and values.
For this reason, there is a lot of emphasis placed on spiritual principles in recovery circles. This is where many people flounder believing that this is a matter of religion. Certainly, this word does get used within different religions, but the dictionary definition is as follows:
Spirituality – the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
So why would this be beneficial for those addressing an issue of addiction? Addiction can be seen as quite a selfish past time. As addicts we can often fall foul of self-obsession and do not consider how our behaviour affects others. Alongside this we are experts at self-neglect, so it makes sense that once abstinence has been attained, we need to look at who we are and what we want to be. (Back to the stock take).
So, if spiritual principles are not to do with religion, what are they?
Spiritual principles can be described as human beliefs or values and can include the following:
Honesty, Hope, Courage, Humility, Love, Forgiveness, Compassion, Equality, Acceptance, Loyalty, Faith, Willingness.
Clearly all of the above beliefs if deployed would assist any human being with or without a drug problem.
But for those that have been addicted to substances the stakes are high and often the end game of negative feelings is relapse. It is said that those who have found recovery do not have the luxury of indulging in negative thoughts and behaviours because it eats away at the soul.
There for perhaps the antidote to negative beliefs are in fact spiritual principles.
For example, if we feel lonely then it may be a good idea to access some hope or faith that things will change. If we feel anger or even rage towards a person then it might be useful to find some forgiveness or acceptance. If we are getting ahead of ourselves and slipping into arrogance it may be helpful to embrace some humility.
Clearly, we are not able to immunise ourselves against life events and the way others behave but we can adjust and modify our own thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
If we are able to embrace and deploy spiritual principles our lives will be nourished and we will inevitably have more rewarding relationships with others and most importantly ourselves.
Successful and lasting recovery has always been about action and change. No matter how hard one tries it is impossible to think yourself into a better place. Recovery takes work, commitment, and a willingness to try new things.
All humans have a spirit, and our behaviours and beliefs will impact it either negatively or positively depending on the nature of those behaviours and beliefs.
If we neglect the spiritual side of the illness of addiction, we will be taking a huge risk.
Therefore, it is clear that the spiritual aspect of the twelve-step programme has nothing to do with religion but rather if addressed it is the biggest insurance policy that can be taken out against relapse.
If you are concerned about your relationship with drugs or alcohol, or someone else’s, and want to know what the options are for stopping and staying stopped then call us now on 0208 191 8920 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us
Help Me Stop’s intensive non-residential outpatient Dayhab drug and alcohol treatment programme is an effective psychological solution that also offers 3 months of free accessible aftercare and family support options. Treatment is delivered face to face either in the mornings or afternoons over 6 weeks.
For those adults who can’t access our centre in West London we offer a 6-week morning or evening online outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programme, run by the same therapists that provide the face-to-face programme.
Sammy Manzaroli is Help Me Stop’s Therapy Services Manager, specialist addiction therapist and is a huge advocate of 12 step recovery and has experience of utilising this process in his own day to day life for well over twenty years.