This is a first draft of my rewritten Twelve Steps to continued abstinence from alcohol or drugs. I have tried to make the Steps as benign as possible concerning religion yet have not ruled out religious support, as it is a valid peer-support network The only difference is that religion is not advocated as a remedial measure, the focus here is on identity and restoring it to work towards fulfilment and self-esteem. It is all good drawing strength from religion but one needs to be secure enough in their identity to make the faith work in terms of abstinence and moderating thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
The traditional Steps are written in bold and the italics are my suggested edits.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/drugs – that our lives had become unmanageable.
We recognised that our identities have become overpowered by addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable without alcohol/drugs.
I have a slight problem with Step One, vital as it is in terms of summarising and introspectively assessing one’s misdeeds in insobriety. The practicality of Step One is a written chronological summary of one’s life, encompassing childhood and maturity, right up to the trigger-point for attempting abstinence. By writing and reading out the summary in a closed group environment, one takes ownership of the addiction and recognises how it has affected life. However, the Step One indicates that the addict is powerless over their addiction and I disagree. To even attend therapy is an exercise in power over addiction. If the addict were truly powerless then they would refuse every time, no matter what the consequence. As it stands, even getting as far as admitting a problem is a display of exerted power over the addiction and the addict should be recognised and encouraged for this.
We are not powerless over addiction; the addiction has become our purpose, a fundamental part of our identity, a badge that identifies us among groups-an alcoholic, a ‘druggie’, a ‘smack-head’. It has become our primary motivator and we acquiesce with demands to reduce negative emotion and physical pain by indulging our addiction. Yet we are almost always in a position of power, we just lack the confidence and knowledge to fight back against the demands of the addiction. We have become dependent on the substance to live but even this analogy is false; we just don’t know how to live without substances.
The fact is, there was a point in our lives when we were not dependent on substances such as alcohol and drugs, when we had a clean living in terms of physiology. Our ambitions and desires were different, our implicit biases were different. Our identities are created in our childhood, are constantly evolving through daily exposure to stimuli, through emotional responses and the process is interrupted by addiction. Our lives become unmanageable and our health is at risk, both physical and mental.
Step One should be the recognition that the core identity has been hijacked and changed to suit the demands of the addiction and that life has become unmanageable as a result of this identity schism. Step One should be the awareness that the addiction has controlled the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of the addict and resulted in unwanted stress and trauma to the self and others, that it continues to do so. It should also not reference the lack of power exhibited by the addict. It is important right from the start to empower the addict in recovery with a sense of self-control. Peer-sharing is very important at this stage as shared experiences highlight the singularity of addiction, irrespective of class, gender, age or religion, etc.
Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Came to believe that the help of others could restore our sense of identity.
I cannot stress this enough; recovery works infinitely better in a closed and trusted group environment. Trying to recover alone is an arduous and miserable task fraught with relapse and loss of self-esteem. I’ve been there and it can precipitate suicidal thoughts as the failure compounds the self-hatred and depression. The addict becomes resigned to their fate and the outcome is rarely favourable.
Step Two is a great Step but I have a problem with addicts being labelled as insane. In my experience, an addiction is a purposeful and driven thing, far from insane. It has structure and persistence and requires many interpersonal skills to make it work successfully. Addicts such as myself that have been active for nearly two decades relied heavily on deceit and pretentiousness, stealing and dishonesty to thrive and at no point before my abstinence did anybody accuse me of being either an ‘alcoholic’ or ‘insane’, merely ‘someone who likes a drink’. I held down a career and integrated into society, albeit very loudly and disruptively. I won awards at work for competence whilst drunk as a lord and despite my string of failed relationships, criminal tendencies and my self-destructive attitude, insanity never came into it.
Many addicts I have met held positions of responsibility and power yet they were hopelessly addicted to alcohol and drugs, convinced that the substances increased their skill and judgement at work. I was no different, I firmly believed that I was a more engaging and clear-thinking person whilst high on drink or drugs. This is delusion but not insanity.
Step Two also references ‘a Power’ and the capitalisation is important because this implies an entity and sets us up for Step Three, the religious curve-ball.
What Step Two should seek to do is make the addict aware of their vulnerability as a single unit in recovery, that a support network can help to restore the core identity. The need for a support network is paramount and the group environment provides this safety net. The addict must become accepting of the fact that support from peers and organisations is essential for their recovery and for their progress towards understanding themselves better.
Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Made a decision to take charge of our identity with the help of peer-support and worked to moderate the negative aspects.
What can I say about Step Three? It’s as black-and-white as it can be; made a conscious decision to turn all of our will over to God and submit to his guidance. The part that says ‘as we understand Him’ leaves the door open to any faith to intervene, not just Christianity. In order to complete the Twelve Steps, one must embrace religion.
I am not happy with that. God didn’t make me an addict nor did he make me take the first step towards abstinence by attending therapy. The threat of losing my children did that to me and it worked. For others, it may be poor health or financial ruin. It is usually a monumental loss that precipitates the recovery phase or the very real threat of it; rarely does an addict suddenly ‘wake up’ and commit to abstinence. Despite this, some continue to abuse themselves and inevitably they suffer. It takes a conscious choice to enter recovery, a display of power over addiction and many addicts attempt this lots of times before eventual success with the help of peer-support.
God has no business in the early stages of recovery. The goal of Step Three ought to be the conscious decision to take charge of one’s usurped identity, exploring the other facets that give us joy such as the expansion of creativity through art, music or literature; the acts of humanism and support that sometimes make us feel empowered about ourselves as givers of advice and mediators of dispute. Exploration of childhood dreams and hobbies can be very helpful, picking up where one might have left off before addiction took hold and such things as a future became a day-by-day endeavour. Identification of the negative aspects of the identity gives the addict a schedule to work with and further therapy at anger management or PTSD groups may be suggested, for example.
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Made a truthful and introspective catalogue of our failures and successes, of our strengths and weaknesses.
I like Step Four and didn’t really need to change it too much. I thought it was a bit vague so I clarified it with my own interpretation of just what a ‘fearless and searching moral inventory’ might be.
If you’ve ever heard of the business term ‘SWOT analysis’ then you will recognise this model for Step Four. It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the addict’s identity and the opportunities and threats presented by both continued addiction and abstinence.
Going back to the earliest memories, the addict should be encouraged to recognise positive attributes and successes in life, high points, moments of elation and satisfaction, of accomplishment. Learning a new skill, helping somebody, offering an opinion, even NOT acting in a certain way (restraint) can be a personal success. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours that yielded positive results should be highlighted along with those traits that might have caused disruption or tension in life. Opportunities both exploited and missed should be recalled as well as threats and their effect on the the addict, their responses in times of emotional crisis. Peer support might help to identify core traits of the addict, overlooked in addiction and it might be discussed how both opportunities and threats might persist through sobriety and how the recovering addict might apply their personalities in these situations, as well as how they may or shoukld have reacted in the past situations.
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Admitted to ourselves and our support network the exact nature of our troubles and discontentment.
If we just remove God from Step Five and refine it more to ‘support network’ then religion is not ruled out. In the old Step Five, admittance to God is mandatory but I feel it should be a choice. A support network can be anything from an agency to an individual to a religion but the choice is open.
If we have to give confession to God then we must already be believers, or so the Steps will assume. This means that the following two Steps are directly connected with God and overlook any personal identity and choice whatsoever.
Confession is apparently good for the soul but I couldn’t possibly comment. I do know that articulating emotions, especially stressful ones can be therapeutic especially in a two-way environment of question and answer. It helps to identify how and why we felt a certain way and did a certain thing. We can use our own narrative to gather insight into ourselves and apply our sober mind to the past situation, seeing where we might have done things differently. I find writing helpful in these respects, writing a detailed history of certain events. The more I write, the more details come back to me and before long, I’m back in the moment and able to express roughly how I felt at the time and maybe find out the triggers.
Sharing these memories in a trusted peer-support environment is very helpful, I found. Not only does empathy and understanding help but the encouragement of others is a self-esteem raising tool that I cannot praise enough. Within the therapy group, the addict can have a safe place to share sensitive memories and accept debate about the thoughts and feelings behind the behaviours from others who may have endured the same.
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Were committed to ourselves to restore our identities to that which we and others can accept.
God cannot remove a defect. If He could, there would be significantly less suffering in the world. He cannot remove an addiction because it can never be removed, only subdued and locked behind glass. A recovering addict is a recovering addict for life; there is no interim or final period when they are ‘recovered’ as relapse could occur at any given moment. Only in death is an addict truly rehabilitated and free of addiction.
I believe addictive tendencies, an implicit bias towards certain substances are an epigenetic factor transmitted through genes. I have little evidence to support that, it’s just a hunch but it feels right. If that is the case then addiction is a bespoke part of the core identity, same as sexual preference or neurological disorders. I was always going to be an addict irrespective of environment and upbringing, that’s how I feel because my brain lacked something critical that could only be satisfied through alcohol (primarily) and drugs. As soon as I was exposed to alcohol and felt the effects, I was religiously smitten.
Although the obsessive part of my personality compelled me to become an alcoholic and drug addict it is not entirely without merit. When faced with a seemingly stubborn problem, I obsess about the problem until I have found a solution and in this respect, the trait is good (if somewhat tiring). I would not want it removed from my character and deemed ‘a defect’, I would want the positive attributes of the trait brought out and made clear to me so that I might see it as a string to a bow rather than a defect of character.
By disavowing the addiction, we are shrugging off the cloak that has been around us and trying to get back our real identity. It might be a wildly unstable thing, this freed identity but the purpose of recovery therapy is to help the addict understand all the implicit traits and biases of their character and take ownership of them, empowering them as a unit of control, moderation and pro-activeness.
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Focused on our identities and made efforts to draw out our strengths of character with support from those with our best intentions at heart.
I find Step Six and Seven are fairly similar I always got confused with the distinction between a ‘defect of character’ and a ‘shortcoming’. Either way, we are asking God to remove them completely, remembering our place and showing humility with our request.
Step Seven, to me should link on from Step Six, building on the restructuring of identity by focusing on strengths and weaknesses. The addict’s identity, already recognised as powerful enough to stand up to addiction with peer-support should be affirmed through cognitive behavioural exercises and trying out new (and old) hobbies and interests. The goal is to try and build the identity from the bottom-up, starting with the inherent traits that make us who we are, up to and including addiction. At no point do I believe the addict should be partitioned from the addiction as this may cause further schisms in identity. The addictive, dependent personality may be an integral part of the addict’s identity and we would not want to remove this or change it, merely focus and streamline it.
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Understood whom we had hurt and exactly why we behaved as we did and made a decision to apologise.
I think this Step might be a good thing as remorse for misdeeds is critical to rehabilitation. The whole ‘making amends’ concept may not be a reality, however as some of those affected by the addict’s behaviour may not wish to be contacted or made to remember past events. I think the critical word is ‘willing’ to make amends in that the recovering addict makes a conscious choice to apologise and try to make right a past mistake. Some people might not want to be friends again after previous mistreatment but the notion of wanting to make good on past mistakes is the key thing, the acceptance that one has erred and how this must have felt for the other parties concerned.
Additionally, it might not be possible to make amends, especially if some people are dead or so far removed that contact is impossible. In these circumstances, maybe a public gesture would be more appropriate, something others can see like a notice of apology in a local newspaper or on a website.
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Made direct amends to such people where required and asked for understanding but not forgiveness.
Again, amends may not be the desirable outcome for emotionally injured parties and may not be welcomed by some. At the very least, the addict has made the injured parties aware of the reasons for misbehaviour and asked that this be taken into consideration when assessing the addict’s worth. Forgiveness is something that might not be forthcoming and should never be begged. If it is due then it will come, in time as the addict demonstrates his or her commitment through progressive therapy and continued abstinence. Amends where required by the situation, i.e. accepted by the injured party is a good idea but it should not be forced upon someone. In these circumstances, a charitable donation on their behalf might be a worthwhile consideration.
I wouldn’t know how to make amends to the dead aside from speaking to a relative and passing on details of the misdeeds, maybe visiting the final resting place and leaving a token gesture of remembrance and apology. Righting an old wrong or making a charitable gesture might be worth considering if it something agreed upon by the relatives. In the case of no living relatives, I would personally make a charitable donation.
Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Continued to explore and develop the freed identity and embraced humility, willing to take responsibility for our actions and accept constructive criticism.
I rewrote this entire Step because it just seemed like a reproduction of Step Four but maybe it’s more of a reinforcement, an interim stock-take on emotions and identity to make sure everything is running according to schedule. Maybe Step Ten is like a quick peek around the door to make sure the staff are still working and not taking an early lunch-break.
I thought it needed a little more beefing-up, a more detailed Step because at this late stage, the addict should be ready to begin exposing their addiction-free identity to other groups aside from the peer-support network. Continued self-exploration through exposure to stimuli should be taking place all the time, not just in Step Ten. All the time, the addict should be self-analysing when events and emotions occur, assessing how they should react and implementing coping strategies to deal with stress. As always, peer-support is critical and a controlled environment or safety-system in place when meeting new situations or visiting other places outside the support environment.
Humility is not necessarily a negative view of one’s place in the world, a sense of insignificance. It is admitting that we are not strong enough to fight the addiction single-handledly, not at the moment and that we are grateful for both the support of others and the chance to redeem one’s identity and self-esteem. Humility, to me is an admittance of our fragility and a desire to take responsibility. It is knowing the value of ourselves as of equal importance to others and taking ownership of our identity.
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Learned to understand our identity through self-assessment and peer-support, recognising that our weaknesses are as integral to our character as our strengths and that our identities make us unique.
This far into the Twelve Steps, the addict will probably be actively religious and taking part in ritual and prayer. This Step suggests to the addict that they should pray only for the will of God, therefore negating their implicit biases and adopting the biases of the faith.
Remember, implicit biases are that which form our preferences and aversions. It is not necessarily just a summary of our likes and dislikes, our joys and fears it is deeper than that as in the instances of sexual preference and subliminal sensory arousal, that which ‘turns us on’ or ‘turns us off’ yet we have no basis for this feeling, it is just a feeling. Maybe love itself is an implicit bias, like my love for language or my love for my partner?
I don’t think these fundamental preferences and compulsions should be taken away from the identity and called ‘defects’, they should be streamlined and used positively, for there is a use for everybody in society and so long as they have a brain and the capacity to think, to innovate, to teach or maybe create then they have a valuable contribution to make. An addict may think they have nothing to offer but their experiences and their ultimate quest for change through abstinence is a valuable lesson to be shared with those who have yet to lose their livelihoods to addiction. Their commitment should be shared and celebrated.
Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Having a re-connection with the positive aspects of our identity, we recognised our intrinsic worth and set about promoting and practising our values in everyday life.
The final step and usually the moment the addict embraces the faith and converts or at least makes religion a permanent and dominant faction in their lives, participating in group ritual and prayer, etc but more importantly, living the ethics of the religious group. The message is then preached to others and will normally have a religious implication given the recently ‘spiritually awakened’ state of the recovering addict.
I like the idea of an ‘awakening’ but not in the religious sense. The awakening needs to be one of self-actualisation, almost as the jigsaw pieces click into place and the construct of a strong identity is forged, the base morals that define the person, their biases and traits that they will take into the wider world. Of course, the addict will be vulnerable and fragile in this state but hopefully empowered to trust in themselves, having got thus far into the recovery programme and build bonds with peers within the group environment. I like the idea of an addict seeing a sense of ‘purpose’ or a series of life-goals that might seem far away but can be achieved through stages of commitment. One of mine is to guide my children to become the best they can become, good people with a good heart and good ethics, focused on humanity and celebrating its diversity. I can only do that if I exemplify good morals through my own behaviours, set the right benchmark for them to exceed.
I do hope you enjoyed these revisions and remember, the purpose is not to undermine religion but to give those who might struggle to accept God for whatever reason another way to complete their recovery programme rather than being stuck on the Step Two, literally waiting for God.
I feel religion should be a choice and if it something the recovering addict wants to consider once they have found a sense of stability then this is an excellent idea providing they have done the necessary research and decided that this will not interfere with their recovery in a negative way.
It’s all good and well handing one’s affairs over to God but what of the individual? Sometimes, it’s difficult to resign things to God, difficult to accept faith for whatever reason and try as we might, sometimes it feels forced and not organic. I’d like the Twelve Steps to be more user-friendly and more accessible to everybody not just the atypical religious model. I am living proof that this can work without God’s involvement and right now, I’m refining these roughly hewed Steps and trying to practise them myself. I’ll let you know if I reach self-actualisation or not.