Why the 12 Steps Work – A Therapeutic Explanation
I am often asked why I believe the 12 Steps work: There are two ways to arrive at a belief. The first is through dogma, “I’ve been instructed, therefore I believe.” The second is through doubt, “I question it and still, after doing them, I get good results.” For me it was the later. I got clean and sober because I started a residential therapeutic community for drug addicts while I still was in grad school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. At that time AA’s line was that if you were a druggie, you didn’t belong there, so I never went.
When I was 8 years sober, in Los Angeles and working with street kids, one of them was a pure alcoholic and in desperation, because my best stuff wasn’t working, I suggested AA. He said OK. I realized I didn’t even know where the men’s room was in AA, so I went to a meeting to scope it out. To my relief, most people were calling themselves addicts and alcoholics, so I felt at home. When I looked up on the wall, there were the 12 Steps. I realized that I had been doing them already but I didn’t know they had an order. It seems that the model for program I started in Ithaca was originally developed by guys who left AA when they felt not welcomed as addicts and started Synonon in Venice, CA. Obviously they took the 12 Steps with them and incorporated them into what they developed, though uncredited.
The kid, for whom I scoped out AA, took another 6 months to get there, but I stayed because I thought it was a good support group for me. To make sure I got it down well, even with 8 years sober, I went to 365 meetings in as many days got a sponsor and worked through the Steps. 30 years later, I guess that was a good investment.
As a therapist, abet an unconventional one, I can explain why the Steps are useful for good mental health:
Step 1: Without coming to the realization that “my best thinking does little more than produce lousy results” one isn’t ready to even try new ideas. Only after accepting the reality of an inability to conjure up a workable solution to a problem, will one become teachable.
Step 2: It is a useful visualization to have a 3rd party, a force, that somehow is karmicly providing strength and cover when needed. This is one that usually starts out with doubtful acceptance and, with experience, becomes an accepted belief.
Step 3: I view this step as a two part one, I do the footwork in front of me, and I turn over all responsibility for the results of my footwork to the Universe (God, or whatever, as long as it isn’t me). This is basically a recognition of reality. Once I have done all the footwork I can do, it is a waste of energy to continue, kvetching, worrying and speculating about the results. When I get the results (aka, feedback) I then and only then, know what my next footwork ought to be. Until then, it is none of my business so I go on to other footwork I need to do. Since I have accepted this concept, I have lived a 98% anxiety-free life, since anxiety is just fear of future results.
Steps 4 through 9: The inner mind (sometimes called the unconscious mind) does not know pasts and futures. It only knows and operates in the present. It does know complete from incomplete. These steps allow the inner mind to view the past as completed action, so emotions from the past stop clouding the creative process. When this happens, new and useful thought and action have a chance of taking root. Only then can the mind produce constructive and life-fulfilling action.
Step 10: This is a tool to make sure that steps 3 through 9 are continually practiced which will keep the emotional gut from accumulating new crap.
Step 11: Meditation, in whatever its form has been scientifically shown to be highly beneficial when practiced daily. I did Thai Chi for many years. There is a book, “Positive Addiction” by William Glasser, MD where the author surveyed many successful people and found that the one thing they all had in common was they all did some mindless activity (jogging without music or conversation, chanting, Thai Chi, yoga, swimming, etc.) for at least a half an hour. He speculated that this was useful in that it gave the inner mind a time when it didn’t need to watch out for and control the body and could just free-associate and be creative.
Step 12: One of the most effective ways of keeping a practice is to pass it on to and teach it to others. My Thai Chi teacher, after I had been doing the art for over 10 years suggested that I start teaching. I didn’t and eventually I stopped remembering the forms and stopped doing it. When I am teaching the Steps to newcomers, there is a little voice that sits by my right ear that occasionally whispers to me, “That was nice what you just told him, are you doing that in your life?”
©2016, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC
[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the "About the Author and the copyright information are included.] *About The Author* Jason Wittman, M.P.S. (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) has been in private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor ( CAADE #155970-IV ) a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LR01700815) and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-980-2929