Article 116

Magazine and Newspaper Articles

Recovery as Process - Utne Reader, November/December 1988

Recovery as Process

Anne Wilson Schaef

Before I actually tried the Twelve-Step Program, I had many criticisms of it. I initially thought these criticisms were quite unique and creative, yet they turn out to be the ones I often hear from others. Here are a few.

Aren’t the Twelve Steps just a substitute addiction? People seem to have to go to meetings all the time and use them like a drug.

Certainly people in early recovery go to a lot of meetings and they may even substitute the Twelve Steps addictively. That is not the program. That is the addict, the program works.

I have seen people go to Twelve-Step meetings and not get better. How do you explain that?

I have seen people go to therapy, hospitals, and to all kinds of places and not get better. “Getting better” is up to the person. The program is not magic. It is a way. We have to do it ourselves. We do not have to do it alone.

Also, while some people get somewhat better by attending meetings, there is a great deal of difference between attending meetings and working a program. I have never seen someone actually working a program who did not get more sober.

Recovery is hard and sobriety is fragile. Recovery does not happen all at once, nor is it linear. It is a process, not a happening. Addiction is more “normal” for our society. The disease is always there lurking to invite us back in. Fortunately our healthy being-our sober self, our spirituality-is always there too. We have but to do our footwork. It is only when we accept and work with the broader picture that we can effectively work with addictions.

The meetings do not seem very clear to me. How can I recover there?

Of course they seem unclear at times-they are meetings of addicts, for heaven’s sake! The issue is to take from the meeting what there is for you and leave the rest. What one takes home is often more of an indication to one’s willingness and openness rather than what is or is not happening at the meeting. Judgmentalism is a characteristic of the disease.

People who attend Twelve-Step meetings leave their families and their old friends and make the program and program people the center of their lives. There must be something wrong with that.

This is often true. Early in recovery, one needs the support of other recovering people and the wisdom and modeling of those who have a good sobriety and long years of recovery. After recovery is better established, recovering people are not willing to be around those who choose to stay with addiction, and would rather be around recovering people willing to do Twelve-Step work. This choice is not out of disease: It is made out of health and recovery.

These are some sample criticisms. I find that they are usually made by persons who have not really tried the program or worked the steps. The steps have to be worked everyday and repeated endlessly. Yet the levels on which one is working them change and the perspective changes constantly as recovery proceeds.

Recovery is a miracle. When we think about the grip our addiction had on us, how we were trained into them, and how much they are all around us as the norm for society, it is truly a miracle that anyone recovers-and yet millions do.

Twelve-Step programs are the most effective way to recover from addictions. Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More, writes, “I unabashedly love Twelve-Step programs.” They are “not merely self-help groups that help people with compulsive disorders stop doing whatever it is they feel compelled to do (drinking, helping the drinker, etc.). The programs teach people how to live-peacefully, happily, successfully. They bring peace. They promote healing. They give life to their members-frequently a richer, healthier life than those people knew before they developed whatever problem they developed. The Twelve Steps are a way of life.”

Excerpted from an essay based on material from Escape from Intimacy, forthcoming from Harper & Row (Spring 1989).

(Source: Utne Reader, Nov.-Dec. 1988)


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