10 Rebuttals to 12-Step Naysayers
So here we are, mid-January. For those of us who made resolutions, this is right about the time the wheels fall off the wagon. If your resolution was to stop drinking, and you have made it this far, you are surely having some of the following thoughts:
“Well, I made it two weeks, so I’m sure it will be okay to just have one now and again.”
“I made it two weeks, so clearly I am not an alcoholic.”
“I made it two weeks, and there is no way in hell I’m doing this for the rest of my life!”
If you are going it alone, the journey can be quite a bit tougher than for those who choose a fellowship of some sort. If you have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a regular participant in a 12-step program, and that is has helped me tremendously, not only in helping me to get and stay sober, but also in improving most areas of my life. However, I am aware of many who are against meeting attendance, and the reasons are varied. Today I am going to tackle some of the most common ones I’ve heard or read, and give my perspective on each:
1. I cannot attend meetings because I don’t believe in God
At no point in the 12-step program is a belief in God a requirement. However, in the long-term, if you wish to work the steps of the 12-step program, a belief in a power greater than yourself is required. For many people, that power is the power of the Fellowship, but there are endless variations on what people choose to call their Higher Power.
Having said all of that, the idea in the beginning is to get connected with a group of people who are trying, or have gotten, sober. There are no requirements at all for this, except for you to find a meeting, drive to it, sit down and listen.
2. I won’t participate in a group whose doctrine forces me to admit powerlessness
I can relate to this one somewhat, it was hard for me to understand the concept of being powerless over alcohol. I would argue, “Alcohol is an inanimate object, how I can I be powerless over an inanimate object?” Powerlessness was then explained to me like this, which better resonated with me: powerless over the effect alcohol has on me once I take that first drink.
The bottom line for me with this debate, and, frankly, quite a few of the others, is that arguing over semantics is a waste of time. If I’ve considered the idea of attending a recovery meeting at all, then I am clearly dissatisfied, on some level, with my relationship with alcohol. Until I’ve given it a real shot, I won’t really know if it can work for me. I only know that what I have done so far to address the problem is not working.
3. I experience too much anxiety to sit in a room full of strangers
Anxiety is a real issue; I’ve experienced my fair share of it (large crowds, not meetings, but I get it). Of course, if you worry about experiencing anxiety in a meeting, surely you’ve experienced it elsewhere. How have you dealt with it then? Can you apply those same solutions here? Can you sit in the very back of the room? Can you negotiate with yourself that you will walk in and try it for 5 minutes? There are probably loads more solutions to explore, but the idea is that you acknowledge what’s holding you back, and attempt to find a solution.
4. I do want to stop drinking, but I don’t really think I’m like those people, so there’s nothing for me to gain by attending
Well, obviously I don’t know you, so I don’t know how our addiction stories compare. But let’s leave the addiction story out of it for a minute. I am a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom of 2 reasonably well-adjusted children. I am 15 years married to my husband, and I am also a member of a large, close-knit, Irish Catholic family. I hold a Master’s degree, and I have the same circle of friends that I did in college. I run a weekly 12-step meeting, whose regular attendees include men and women, some retired, some white-collar, some blue-collar, some stay-at-home like myself. There is a priest, there is a professor of english, there is a music instructor, there is a yoga instructor, there is an auto mechanic. Some are married, some are divorced, some are widowed, and some are gay. I would know none of them if I were not a 12-step meeting attendee, but I count each of them among my friends. The group I just described is a small one; others that I attend with 50 or more people have still more occupations, and cultural backgrounds, and personalities. Still think there is no one like you in a recovery meeting?
5. AA is a cult
This one is tough for me to refute, as someone who believes this also believes that I’ve already “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I will debate using Google’s definition:
- a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
- a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister
So, by definition, AA (or any 12-step program) is not religious, there is certainly no leader (or any governing body whatsoever), it is by no means a small group, and I can’t think of one practice that would be considered strange or sinister. Pretty much everything you hear, every piece of instruction or advice you receive at a 12-step meeting, is a suggestion.
6. 12-step people think EVERYBODY is an alcoholic; I don’t want to turn into that kind of extremist
In the spirit of honesty, I will acknowledge that sure, I have run into some right-leaning personality types within the Fellowship (or would it be left-leaning? I’m not sure, but you get the idea). But for every one extremist, I have found literally a dozen or more quality, salt-of-the-earth people who are just looking to stay sober and increase the peace and serenity in their lives. When I do run into that stray extremist, I simply walk away, or I attend a different meeting. The absolute beauty of the 12-step Fellowship is the quantity and variety of meetings available. There are gay meetings, there are atheist meetings, there are young people’s meetings, there are women’s meeting, men’s meetings, and probably a bunch more that I’m not seen myself.
7. I don’t think I’m bad enough to qualify
This again goes back to the comparison of each other’s drinking stories. I had very similar thoughts after I attended my first meeting. The people there were talking about these crazy extreme things that happened to them as a result of their alcoholism, and nothing even close to that had happened to me. Then, as my disease progressed, I came back, and now I had the same issue in reverse: these people don’t understand me, they don’t have the specific issues I’m having, so these meetings can’t possibly help me.
Both trains of thought kept me in active addiction. Here’s the bottom line: deep down, are you concerned/uncomfortable/fearful of your relationship with alcohol, and do you desire that relationship to end? Then you possess the sole requirement of attending a 12-step meeting. The specifics of the individual stories are irrelevant, how we feel about alcohol is the only thing that matters.
8. I don’t want people telling me what to do, telling me how I’m wrong, insisting I change my life around
Again, to keep things real here, there are certainly going to be individuals who, though well-intentioned, come off with a dictator-like attitude. I remember my very first week, maybe my 4th meeting, this woman giving me a laundry list of things I “needed to do.” I could barely get myself to the meeting, and now here’s this stranger giving me an impossible to-do list 4 days into recovery! She meant well, as probably most do, but I was in no way ready for the things she was throwing at me. I have since learned the phrase, “take what you want, and leave the rest” really applies. If the idea of sponsorship scares you, again, we are only talking about giving recovery meetings a shot, and seeking out some group support. Things like sponsors, and practicing the steps, all come at your own pace.
9. I am an introvert, and I am terrified that people will hound me the second I’m in the door
I see introverts all the time, and I recognize them, because I was one in the early days. I would say the majority of newcomers are shy; after all, the idea of sitting down with a group of strangers and admitting something that feels shameful would make almost anyone feel a bit nervous! The truth is that every one of us has been there, in the seat of the newcomer, and every one of us empathizes. You will in all likelihood have people come up to you and say hello, but if you make it clear (either verbally or non-verbally) that you wish to keep to yourself, it is my experience that the group will leave you alone to sit, listen and absorb. If you choose to reach out and ask questions, more power to you, but if you want to simply observe, you are welcome to do so.
10. But then I’ll have to stop drinking… forever
This may sound like a ridiculous statement for someone considering a 12-step meeting, but for those of us who struggled with the idea of “forever,” it makes perfect sense. Attending meetings only means you are exploring the idea of sobriety. There are no Breathalyzers, no contracts to sign, and you can change your mind about sobriety anytime you want (and we will cheerfully refund your misery is how that AA-ism ends!). Technically speaking, you can be drinking and still attend meetings; as I mentioned earlier, “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” so there’s nothing stopping you from leaving the meeting and hitting the closest bar (though I surely hope no one decides to do that if you’re attempting to get sober!).
What arguments have I missed? What are the other stumbling blocks to checking out the group support of a recovery meeting?
Writing posts like this one, and reminding myself of where I’ve been mentally, and the progress I’ve made, is a miracle that I hope all who are struggling get to experience for themselves!
Posted on January 15, 2015, in Recovery and tagged 12 step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, Meeting, Recovery, Self-Help, Substance Abuse, Support Groups, Twelve-step meeting, Twelve-Step Program. Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.