I recently read an article written by Dr. Marc Lewis. Don’t worry I did a thorough check on his credentials and if there were any complaints against him. Dr. Lewis is a Developmental Neuroscientist who did research at the University of Toronto from 1989 to 2010. He was also a Professor of Developmental Psychology there. He’s now at Radboud University in the Netherlands. He’s had 50 journal publications in Psychology and Neuroscience. His book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain garnered high praise from top experts in the Mental Health and Addiction community including Gabar Mate.
Dr. Lewis also knows firsthand what the struggle of addiction feels like. Addicted to opiates in his youth, it cost him his family, trouble with the police and almost his life. At 30 he was finally able to stay off drugs for good and reentered grad school where he received his Ph.D.
12 Step Programs appear to put a freeze on emotional development (active drinking/drug abuse does also). Groups are known for convincing members that even if they’ve been clean for awhile their addiction is like a bogeyman you thought was under your bed as a child. Keeping you in one place no matter how much you had to pee or how thirsty you were, you were frozen. This bogeyman is patient and will wait forever for that one slip up, 1 drink, 1 pill, that will lead to a full relapse. So to avoid this you need to “Keep coming back” and define yourself as an alcoholic/addict for life.
The way you live your life and your self image is frozen in place. If you change anything, don’t follow the steps, you’re warned that you’ll be back to where you started and out of control.
Many or most 12 step groups intentionally reinforce the terror of relapse. They keep the anxiety alive in order to embed traumatic memories of addiction by telling and retelling anecdotes about how bad it was when they were at their worst or the repercussions of their last relapse.
12 step practice is the opposite of trauma treatment. To plug yourself into a static state of PTSD where you’re with people who intentionally try to get you to relive emotions that have already done damage, it’s no surprise why so many leave the program or never enter one at all. The other issue is defining yourself as a lifetime addict/alcoholic because it sounds like a self fulfilling prophecy.
MY EXPERIENCE AND PERSONAL OPINION
I tortured myself recently by listening to a Dr. Drew podcast where he said there has never been an addict/alcoholic who has successfully maintained sobriety without a 12 step program. Of course this made me a little upset. This is a person who isn’t a licensed Psychiatrist/Psychologist or Neurologist, he’s a licensed Internist. Your everyday General Practitioner who thinks he knows about PTSD, Mental Illness and Addiction. He doesn’t. What he also doesn’t realize is the damage he’s doing by promoting these false beliefs.
I had been in AA for 2 years. They were the worst 2 years of my life. I had not been diagnosed yet but a Doctor had me on Prozac and Buspar (an anxiety medication that has to be in your system for 3-4 weeks before it starts to work, the level has to be maintained). The State I live in is an odd one. The group I went to had many old timers and a few younger people. They would go to different meetings around the state to speak to large groups. When they did this members were picked to tell their stories in front of up to 100 people. If you were picked you didn’t have a choice, you had to do it. When I was chosen it was a nightmare come true. All I remember is the sound of blood rushing in my ears. I have no idea what I said but I remember a guy my age taking my hand and helping me off the stage.
This didn’t go well with the group I was part of. I was told that I would never make it, I would be a drunk again if I didn’t get on my knees and ask God for guidance.
When people found out I was on medication it was suggested I go off it because it was a “crutch” and the same as alcohol.
I am not religious and didn’t appreciate being forced to say the Lord’s prayer after every meeting. If I refused comments were made and I was told that I would fail and be in the gutter drinking again. When I missed a meeting because I had Bronchitis someone told me I better “get on my knees and ask God to forgive me” or I would never make it. Me failing was a reoccurring theme. I went to meetings all around the state and they were all the same. I heard the same stories over and over. But if you tried to be too honest someone would stop you and say “Save that for your sponsor” because they thought it was too personal. I wanted to hear it! I wanted to hear that someone had done something as bad as I did but they stopped him.
There isn’t anyone in these programs equipped to deal with those of us who have a mental illness and began drinking to self medicate. The 12 steps are life saving for some people, a replacement for alcohol/drugs for a few and damaging for others.
My Dad has been sober over 36 years without a program. My mom was sober was 29 years at the time of her death without a program. I have been sober over 9 years without a program the longest I’ve ever been able to maintain sobriety.
12 step programs are not for everyone and they are not the only option. Depending on your location your experience can differ, some areas do rely on the older version which mentions God more often. There are some that don’t. Just remember it’s your choice and there are more options now than ever so do your research and choose wisely.