There are lots of ways to get clean and sober nowadays. We know a great deal more about addiction than we did in the last century, when treatment for alcoholism and other forms of addiction got their start, and we are learning more every day. Treatment protocols continue their changes to match the new information.
Nonetheless, the 12-Step-based programs are still the most common. Although some people have problems with their supposed “cult” status (they meet virtually none of the criteria) and presumed insistence on a belief in God (also inaccurate), they are still the model that the general public recognizes, and a refuge for people who cannot afford treatment.
I got sober with the 12 steps in 1989, and I’ve been fortunate not to have needed to do any more chemical research. There were fewer alternatives available then, and I was fortunate to find one that worked — and continues to work — for me.
Recovery is a process, not an event. It’s learning to look at and live life from a different perspective. All recovery programs, if they are to be useful, must provide five things: acceptance of and support by others; recognition of the specific problems that we need to resolve; the tools that we need to get the job done; information and guidance in using the tools; and ways to remain clean and sober. The need to be flexible and continue examination of our thinking and ways of meeting life’s challenges is always with us, and the 12-step programs have provided my guidance in that regard.
To begin with, I had a real problem with the “God thing.” I had been unable to find what I needed in the religion of my youth, and had set it aside in favor of pretty much doing as I pleased. However, I also had a big problem. My drinking and drugging had reached a point where I knew it would kill me unless I did something drastic. So when the opportunity to go to treatment was offered me, I determined to pay attention. In doing so, I found that a “higher power” could be anything I chose it to be, as long as it wasn’t me. I chose my treatment center, then my aftercare group, and finally a 12-step group as my higher powers. They knew more about getting and staying sober than I did, and that was enough.
The steps provided a template for recovery. Just as a word processing template allows me to fill in the blanks and not worry about the form, so did they. The first six helped break through my denial and make me honest with myself and others. I picked up some humility along the way, as well. The next three provided guidance in cleaning up some of the messes I’d created, and the last three continue to guide me in my daily life, encouraging me to look at how I’ve lived my day, clean up any messes before they get worse, look into myself and contemplate more skillful ways to live my life, and finally to help others, as I was helped.
AA, NA and the other “A’s” are not the only answers to recovery, but they’ve been around for 75 years because some of us need them. They may not be right for everyone, but they are a viable solution for some. They’re still working for me.
In addition to spending time with his recovery buddy (to whom he has been married for going on 35 years), he enjoys photography, reading, bird watching, hanging out with his two daughters, their husbands and two children, playing with Charlie Longtail and Freddie Razortoes, his two black cats, and killing time with his smartphone. If he makes it to 90, he will have been sober half his life.