When it comes to tackling addiction, the most famous form of group therapy or recovery is the 12 Step program. The 12 Steps is decades old and operates on a foundation of social dependence and faith – you enter the group, give yourself to it, and help them reconstitute and recover after a harrowing experience with addiction.
Many have shared their experiences with 12 Step programs and have raved about their effectiveness, while cautioning others that it may not be their cup of tea. Others have written and reported about how the 12 Steps were useless to them. And yet others have made bold claims over the years, going so far as the declare the 12 Steps the only viable means of recovery in existence.
The truth is that the 12 Steps are one method among many – but the question is if they’re the right method for you.
Delving Into the 12 Steps
The 12 Step program has its origins in the early 30s, specifically with tenets outlined in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovery from Alcoholism. The idea behind the 12 Steps was to create a philosophical and referential backbone to the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded by two recovered alcoholics who helped themselves stay sober for years.
While it isn’t affiliated with any other groups or a specific religion, God or a higher power plays a vital role in some of these steps, and faith – faith in others, and faith in the divine – is part of the 12 Step journey. This has led the program to come under fire by some who consider it either pseudoscientific or lacking in peer-reviewed evidence.
The 12 Steps themselves can be found anywhere, and particularly outline the importance of community and unity, admitting powerlessness over addiction – which has drawn criticism for its depressive and shame-based wording – explaining that individual recovery is achieved precisely through that harmony between each one who struggles. The process begins as any other does, with the decision to enter recovery.
Rehab or residential treatment isn’t necessarily part of this experience, although some people join a 12 Step program straight out of rehab. For some, residential treatment is necessary due to the nature of withdrawal. In cases of addiction where physical dependence is an issue – a buildup of tolerance and the development of a painful withdrawal – having professional medical help to see you through the initial stage of recovery is essential, especially with cases of alcoholism where withdrawal can be fatal.
From there, the 12 Step program helps you address each part of your addiction as a separate problem – the spiritual, the physical, the emotional and the mental. Achieving a healthy body and a clear mind is essential for a good emotional balance and a steady spiritual understanding, and vice versa.
The Merits of Strategic Recovery
Regardless of whether you personally prefer the 12 Step program to other programs, or if something about it doesn’t work for you or appeal to you, there is a lot to be said towards approaching addiction recovery from a strategic angle, utilizing a specific set of rules and steps to achieve your goals, stay sober, and improve in recovery enough to overcome addiction.
Planning goals in recovery is vital, because you can’t simply stay sober for the sake of staying sober. You need a reason, and you need something to look forward to, replacing addiction with a different kind of stress ball. Scheduling your day tightly to avoid having too much free time is an effective way to ensure that you’re not tempted to relapse, while keeping you busy and maximizing your time effectively. Therefore, sober living homes are such great places to live, as they provide you with a simple environment among other recovering addicts living and fighting their vices through motivation and empowerment.
Sober living also helps you realize the power of giving – helping others to help yourself, while creating a sense of belonging by actively participating in group events, group meetings, and other mandatory appearances.
Rules are also important. Sober living homes have strict rules that help maintain sobriety for those living in them – including strict rules against late-night visitors, and regular drug testing to ensure that all residents stay clean and aren’t hiding a relapse. Self-imposed rules for those struggling with addiction might include working through chapters of CBT workbooks, utilizing at least one affirmation a day, and working either on some type or art, project or exercise.
Creating Your Own Steps
Aside from utilizing basic structure to help improve the chances of you making it through the first months of recovery and creating a solid foundation for sobriety through programs like sober living to prepare you for the struggles of the future, it might also be a clever idea to create your own ten or dozen steps to follow and stay loyal to, to give you a mantra by which to live in this arc of your life.
You may not need faith as a backbone to your recovery, instead relying on steps that relate to gratitude, mindfulness, and actively seeking to mend old broken relationships to seek closure and prove that you’re changing.
You could also use your steps to cement the importance of art, music or physical training and sports in your path to permanent sobriety. Make a promise to prepare and work on a weekly journal, or make a pledge to regularly attend group meetings to connect with others, and never forget that you’re not the only one to struggle and succeed.
Recovery Without Steps
Not everyone needs a written code to live by – and plenty of people have beaten their addiction without the 12 Step program, or any other steps. Instead, they might have relied on group therapy, or one-on-one therapy, self-help tools, or just the sheer accountability they feel towards their family and friends towards getting better and being an important part of the community.
The thing about recovery is that every path is unique. Just like addiction can strike anyone, anyone can recover – but we all must find our own specific path. With or without steps, it’s not up to anyone else to decide that – it’s your own choice, based on what you know about yourself.