12-Step Program Basics
12-Step Program Basics
Daniel Gatlin (Director, Renaissance Malibu) gives expert video advice on: What is a 12 step program?; How does a 12 step program work?; Would you recommend a 12 step organization to someone who doesn't believe in God? and more...
What is a 12 step program?
12-step programs are really the ones that use the model that was invented and developed in the 1930's by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. And that is the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous. Since that time, it has been used as a foundation for a number of recovery groups which are about changing your perception, changing your behaviors, identifying what is important and basically how to get your life back in balance again. Those 12 steps are specific internal and external behaviors and activities that you will do in order to get your life back in balance. And the first one is that I have to do is admit that I have a problem. Because as long as I stay in denial I'm never going to get any kind of help. And that is the basis for any kind of change. I have to realize that there is a problem and that I want to change before anything is going to happen. The rest of the 12 steps are a structure about how to stop being so ego-centered and self-centered, how to be able to make amends for problems that you've recreated. How to reconnect with your life and how to get out of yourself and become an agent of service and goodwill in the world.
How does a 12 step program work?
If you never have had any kind of exposure to a 12-step group, what I would want people to know is, it is a self-sustaining fellowship where no one has to give their name, no one has to sign any papers, no one has to give up any kind of personal information. All they really need to have is a sincere desire to make a change. If that change has to do with alcohol, they'd go to Alcoholics Anonymous, if it has to do with sexual addiction, they'd go to any of the number of sexual addiction groups. And they would go to meetings. These meetings happen every day at all different hours, and they listen to other people's experiences at the same time that they apply these 12 steps to their own life as a way to bring about change and as a way to create a different foundation in their life. The groups not only provide a mirror because of the stories of other people, but they also provide support which is always very important when a person is going through making a major change in their life. And this is a major change. We're talking about the addictive behavior that becomes your primary relationship, and you are willing to forsake all other relationships in order to have that time either with your behavior or with your drug of choice. And that's a very significant thing to give up, and you need a lot of support in the process.
What is expected of me when I go to a 12 step meeting?
There are people that go to meetings and may listen to the meetings and may never share and participate, and they will participate more as a spectator. I would say to get the most benefit out of meetings though, you need to participate. An important component of that is being willing to be honest about yourself and your situation, your condition and to be willing to share that because as long as you hide, the shame that builds up from that hiding is never going to be exercised or is never going to change. Once you start to share what you have been holding the most shame and the most fear about, you realize that there are other people there that are not going to judge you, that in fact what you're dealing with is an addiction and it's not any indication of you being a bad person or an inferior person, and it's a way to get this direct experience of hope and a structure that you can follow in order to transform your life.
Will I be assigned a sponsor when I go to a 12 step meeting?
A Sponsor is a relationship that is developed mutually between a Sponsored and a Sponsor. Sometime people will go to meetings and raise their hand and say I need a Sponsor. Sometimes someone will say I know someone who could work as your Sponsor; but it has to be a mutually agreeable situation. The Sponsor acts as a guide to using the 12-step program to understanding sort of the culture of the program; and also helping to keep you in line through their experience, strength and hope, and in sharing that, to help you to be successful in applying the 12-step program to your own life.
Will I be with my 12 step sponsor for the rest of my life?
I know people that have had sponsors for years and years and years, and some people have changed their sponsor when the relationship no longer seems beneficial. They move away, or the sponsor decides he or she doesn't want to do it anymore. There are a number of scenarios. I would say the critical thing is that it is an open and honest relationship, where you can both give and hear open and honest feedback.
What are the principles of a 12 step organization?
Admitting you have a problem - having something greater than yourself that is going to become more important to you than that ego need of instinct gratification. Then, starting to work through the process of doing an inventory where you look at your life and you really make a decision not only to be totally honest with yourself, but to share that with someone else. That's what they call the fourth and fifth step. And as you share, you're stepping out of shame. You're also embracing what has brought you to this point in your life, and you're saying, “I am making a commitment to move in a different direction.” So, after you've identified all of these problems, because it's about looking at you - it's not about changing the rest of the world. Addicts always want to change the outside, but it's about looking at the inside. Realizing what's not working for your life, and then being willing to make the changes that will allow you to sustain that. One of those is being willing to identify the people that you've harmed, and being willing to make amends, and then to actually go and make those amends, as long as it wouldn't harm the other person. After that, it's going to be the things that will help you to maintain this kind of lifestyle. That is to have some kind of spiritual connection or spiritual discipline, and it doesn't need to be religion. It needs to be something that's going to keep you connected to these higher values. Another part is to be willing, everyday, to recommit to this process. The other part is to get out of yourself, to be of service, to share with others, to be of help. Whether that's in the 12-step program or whether that's in your life with people that happened to cross your path.
What do 12 step organizations mean by a 'higher power'?
A higher power is something that is defined by each individual. When most people read that, they would probably think their concept of God. In fact in a twelve steps it refers to God as you understand him, or the God of your understanding. Now that may sound very broad to some people but if someone was an atheist or someone had a negative response to even the term God or the gender him. Would they still be able to utilize the twelve steps? I would say "Yes" especially if you look at the principles underline the twelve steps process and don't get sidetracked by the specific wording. The same way if a fundamentalist is going to interpret the Bible, it's going to be very a direct and very a literal and where as other people could read the same book and come up with the very different understanding. You will find these kinds of approaches in alcoholics anonymous. Some people are very fundamentalist in their interpretation and other people let's say no, it's the principles that are important.
Would you recommend a 12 step organization to someone who doesn't believe in God?
I would want them to see what the underlying principles are and how sound those are and how they can be a great benefit in anyone going through this process of recovery in trying to change their life. And I think that is the case.I think these are very humanistic and in some way universal activities in which humans can engage in to help them create a better lifestyle. But at the same time, I think that the actual wording can sometimes prevent them from giving the 12 steps an honest shot of actually trying to apply them to their life. I guess it is like any kind of technology whether that is a spiritual technology or a psychological technology.If you do not apply it and honestly try to use it, you are not going to get the benefits.And if you have so much resistance towards it because of the language and yet at the same time you know that this is a tool that people have used over the years that has been successful for a lot of them I think you would be working at odds against yourself if you would not at least give it a try. And at least try to see how could this possibly work for me.One of the main reasons I would encourage someone to do that is because there are 12 step meetings everywhere.And you can find that kind of support all around the country and all around the world. And when you are trying to deal with recovery from an addiction, that kind of support is very important.
What is the role of spirituality in the 12 step process of recovering from an addiction?
When most people hear the term "spirituality", they will confuse it with religion. If a person has had a very negative experience with religion, they're not going to want any part of this. From my point of view, spirituality is something that every human comes face-to-face with when they understand that they are in the midst of a mystery. And the mystery is that I am born, and I am going to die. In between, I am going to have all of these activities. Do I know what it all means or doesn't mean? No. But I am going to have to move through my life with a certain amount of faith and with a certain amount of hope that there is some meaning and purpose beyond all this. And even a person that is very secular is still going to realize, I have a limited amount of time on this earth. Whether I believe in an afterlife or I don't believe in an afterlife, the truth is I don't really know. It's almost like living becomes an act of faith. Realizing what those big questions are that every human has to answer for themselves, that is the realm of spirituality for where I'm coming from. There's no way that we can avoid them. Even if we avoid them up to the point of our deathbed, at some point we're going to have to wrestle with them.
Can the 12 step higher power be a non-religious entity?
The important thing about having a higher power is that it's not you. When you're an addict, your higher power is my immediate gratification of my internal needs. When you have a higher power, it's no longer the center of my life - my ego and my egoic needs. The center of my life could be my desire to be sober, my family, my ability to think clearly, my creative endeavors. It could be anything. It just can't be your ego. And I think it can work.