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Twelve-Step Programs DO Work

answered 04:23 PM EST, Sat June 14, 2014
anonymous anonymous
Does anyone else have a problem with the 12 steps forcing you to constantly look back at all the shit you did that just makes you feel terrible today now that you are trying to move on? I know I am supposed to learn from it and make amends but the whole process picks away at my selfworth? Are you experts absolutely sure that AA is a helpful program? I feel like I can do this but it is like AA is telling me that I cannot. I feel like even if I can stay sober I will just feel like useless garbage.

Dr. Mark Abrahams Says...

Dr.  Mark Abrahams . Abrahams

Bill Wilson created the A.A. (and subsequently, N.A.) after undergoing four years of LSD psychotherapy. Initially, Bill W. wanted to use LSD as part of a step program, but the government was already restricting its use to limited research, and by 1966, it was made a Schedule 1 drug. So, unable to employ psychedelics themselves, what Bill did was to created a system that imitated the increasingly healthy development that he experienced through his psychedelic psychotherapy. The A.A. steps are  very much like classic 8-Limbed Yoga, which seeks to remove the cruder physical obstacles in one's life first, then with increasing subtlety, one eliminates social, then psychological obstacles, eventually arriving at a more-or-less spiritual mode of being-in-the-world. 

However, 12-Step programs are intended to be conducted by laypeople, not psychotherapists, so it is up the the recovering person to supplement their recovery with psychotherapy. Your self worth, or self-esteem may well be a core issue underlying your addiction. The very first three steps requires an attitude of humility with which:

  1. 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. 2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  In each of these steps, one is requires to dethrone the egoic mind that one has identified with in order to save one's life. The egoic mind is the ordinary mind, which in the case of addicts, has become filed with all kinds of negative self-talk, some of which was caused from poor parenting, some from messed-up things one has done as an adult. A higher center of identity needs to be acknowledged - one that transcends the egoic mind. This higher center, or "higher power" is usually called "God."    A lifetime of believing, along with negative emotions, that one is worthless has in many case led to acting in very inappropriate ways, especially under the influence of a drug that numbs one's conscience. The result is shame and guilt for actual behaviors one has committed. These feelings must be confronted, but only after one acknowledges that the "higher power" is characterized by compassion and forgiveness. One may not be forgiven by those whom one has harmed, but one must still forgive oneself for all the selfish acts. This is taking responsibility for one's actions instead of the usual ploys of the addict - Denial and Blaming. Humility is the hallmark of a psychologically and spiritually healthy human being, not ego-inflation, pride, callousness, and selfishness. Humility is contriteness, not self-deprecation. It is about remorse, apologizing, and making good on past harm (steps 8. and 9.), not merely wallowing in self-deprecating feelings of being "useless garbage." In steps, 1., 5., and 10., one admits one's errors in judgement, corrects them, and moves on. If you wallow in negative emotions, you are simply being masochistic, you are not moving on.       Even more importantly, you are trapped in the egoic mind which either despairs of the past, or is anxious of the future, but fails to live in the present, which, spiritually speaking is in the Presence, of your "higher power." The best book I can think of which has the uncanny ability to draw one into the present (or Presence) is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It's the only book I've ever read four times, and listened to on audio. It sits prominently on our living room coffee table - alone. If you wish to accept the advice of this psychotherapist, then read this book as an assignment in bibliotherapy. It will teach you what the egoic mind is and how to extricate your true self from it.
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Page last updated Jun 14, 2014

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