Intermediate Recovery: My Beef With the 12-Step Program

It has been a while since I’ve written a post about just me, mostly I’ve been writing a little bit about me and a lot about the great things I learn in my Monday 12-step meeting.  There are a couple of reasons for that:

1.  I’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into figuring out some of my food-related issues, which amounts to more blathering about diet and exercise.  I worry that I have used up my fair share of complaining about discussing this topic, and so I’m hesitant to write the “here’s what’s going on with me” post, since the main topic will be… well, I’m not going to say it again.

2.  In general, life is really and truly great!  And while that’s a blessing, it does not provide a lot of fodder for blog posts.

3.  Most important, I have a great respect for the readers coming to this blog thinking about getting sober, in the earliest stages of sobriety, or trying and failing to get sober.  It is those readers who keep me faithfully coming back every Monday to write that post, because I want to show the miracle that is recovery from addiction.   Where that respect trips me up is that some of the things going on in what is now my fourth year of recovery will not be helping the newly sober one bit, and so I think I should not write about it.  Most certainly I am over thinking, but there you have it.

So here’s how I’m going to solve the last little dilemma:  from now on, when I write about something that is a problem that is more specific to my recovery now, as opposed to something that is universal or one that is applicable to early recovery, I will label it as I have above.  If you are in the newly sober bear in mind that the issue at hand probably did not effect me in any way, shape or form in my earliest stages of sobriety.  So read on or pass the post by, it’s your choice!

Enough preface statements…

When I first got sober, I attended a 12-step meeting every day for the entire first year of my recovery.  Clearly, then, my solutions to getting sober are almost exclusively based upon the teaching and wisdom of that fellowship.  It served me very, very well so far, and I believe it will continue to serve me well, for the rest of my life if I so choose.  I choose not to think of the rest of my life per the teachings of this program; instead I choose to think that it serves me well today.

Can you hear the but coming?  Because there is one.  But…

I am coming around to discovering a serious flaw in the program as it was taught to me.  Those last words are italicized for a reason:  I learn the 12 steps from someone who’s been taught the 12 steps from someone who’s been taught the 12 steps… you get the picture.  So the way I learn it, the lesson that are highlighted for me, are dependent upon my teacher.  Someone else will claim their seat in the rooms of the fellowship, but have a very different slant on how things work.

One of the critical lessons I learned early on, and in fact served me very well the first year of my sobriety is this:

It doesn’t matter why you are an alcoholic, why you choose to chemically alter yourself, it just matters that you realize you do make this choice, and that you need to make a different one TODAY.

Here’s what that meant to me early on, and why I think I was able to stay sober in the earliest days:  stop agonizing over how this could happen to you, or why it happened to you, or if it’s really true, and get your focus where it needs to be:  figuring out how to stay sober.  I can remember actually feeling lighter, lifting this load of angst off my back, and I believe in lifting it I was able to do what it took to get and stay sober.

Here’s the problem:  I do not think this is effective for long-term recovery.  Let me reword that to be more clear:  I no longer think this is an effective strategy for my long-term recovery.  I think I do need to get down to the question of why, because if I don’t the problem will continue to resurface.

If we accept the premise that addicts use their substance of choice for escape, whether it be alcohol, drugs, food, or even social media, then the why’s are two-fold:

1.  Why do you want to escape?

2.  From what are you escaping?

Some recovered people are reading, nodding their heads and saying, “Yes, that’s true, and here’s what I was escaping and why.”  The answer comes very easily to them.

For me, not so much.  Which is why the pattern of addiction has followed me, in lesser and greater forms, for as long as I can remember.

So while I am still a card-carrying member of my 12-step program, and I will still highly recommend it as the best chance at recovery the newly sober person’s got, I am questioning this particular bit of the wisdom I’ve learned “in the rooms.”   I shall not be throwing the baby out with the bath water by abandoning what is working for me; instead, I am going to explore this need to understand and see where it takes me.

Today’s Miracle:

While rainy, the temperature in my part of the world is predicted to reach SEVENTY DEGREES.  I will take the rain, scratch that, I will celebrate the rain if it brings this balmy temperature!

Posted on March 26, 2015, in Intermediate Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. I haven’t been a part of a 12 step program, but I can – as someone who is just over a year – see that there are definitely different stages in recovery. And in the early part (up to 3-6 months) I think we need to keep our thinking focussed very in the present, not worry about the past and why this happened, or about the future and how we will manage next week, next month, at Christmas, etc. We need to listen to others in recovery and believe that it is for the best even when it doesn’t feel like it, believe that it will get better even when it feels as though it never will. Because it does, and then our own experiences, our own recovery momentum carries us along.
    But then I also agree with your analysis that at some point, we do need to address these other questions – why do I escape, what from, how I can live, think, feel differently? I don’t even think it’s necessarily about digging up the past – often it’s more about deeply held beliefs about ourselves and how we relate to the world around us, our thought patterns and deeply ingrained behaviours. You posted recently on self acceptance – and I think that is a huge part of this. I have a very on-off relationship with self acceptance at the moment! (And it’s also very food related.)
    Ooh, that was a very longwinded comment to say, yes, I agree with this post!
    Hope you’re enjoying your warm rain 😉 xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really am enjoying the warm rain, almost as much as I enjoyed reading this comment! It’s such an incredible feeling, to write out something complicated, and have someone respond in an understanding way. Which I’m sure you get, as a fellow blogger! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, it is more appreciated than I can say 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Looking forward to following you on this journey. I’m sure your insights and discoveries will be enlightening to both those in recovery and those just taking life one day at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are dead on with this point. I have found the WHY, it was in my fourth step. It doesn’t keep me from still wanting to numb those feelings when the come. It helps me recognize the behavior that got me here to begin with.
    When the times come when I want a drink, or a narcotic, I verbalize it, recognize what is going on, let it sit, then let it go. I have to, or I will be drinking again in no time. The stickier life gets, the more I have triggers.I should see them coming yet they somehow, always take me by surprise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is such a wonderful thing to hear, that you learned the “why’s” in your 4th step, and perhaps this is a sign I need to complete another one. I did a thorough one (at least I thought it was thorough), and, while I spotted plenty of unhealthy patterns, none really pointed to the why’s I am currently searching.

      Your comment is inspirational, and exactly what I am looking to do right now… recognize the urge (which for me is to eat, but was once to drink or take a narcotic), let it sit and let it go. Thanks so much for this feedback, it is much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have found a couple of paths to the why. In doing my fourth and fifth steps I learned a lot about myself and at 15 months of sobriety I find myself working on food issues and other things, too. I also have been practicing yoga for 2 years and it has helped me move beyond the need to understand why, but rather to choose who I wish to be now and focus on that. Tommy Rosen’s book, Recovery 2.0, is really about how he found a way to move farther than the 12 steps took him. He does an online conference a couple of times a year. There are speakers to listen to. I’ve loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely agree. I got sober dec 1, 2013, so I am near you. Recovery 2.0 and all those speakers, is enlightening!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jill, this is great stuff! Like you, I learned a lot about myself with the 4th and 5th, but not the “why’s.” And you know, I have heard so much about both yoga and Recovery 2.0; in fact, I have that book on my reader right now, but never bothered to actually READ it. I guess that might help me benefit by it 😉

      I love the idea that yoga would help me choose who I wish to be now; that is really the ultimate goal, isn’t it? I have hesitated to try yoga because of my lack of self-acceptance (“I’ll try it when I get in better shape, when I won’t make a fool out of myself, yadda, yadda, yadda”), but perhaps I need to reframe it, and have the courage to try yoga so that I may gain some self-acceptance.

      Thank you so much for this comment, Jill, I am “opening” that book tonight!



    Dear TMIATC,
    I am just past my 6 month mark. I am unearthing some deeper issues around self-care. I still focus on just today. It keeps me still.
    I am so happy I am not drinking today. It beings me peace to know that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wendy, did you start a blog? Every time I read one of your comments, I hover over your name (which used to be untipsy teacher), but was disappointed to find I couldn’t click over to a blog. Now I still can’t click over, but when I’m done commenting I assume I can use your new name to find the blog, or at least I hope so anyway!

      Congrats on 6 months! I remember 6 months very clearly, I just met the sponsor who took me through the steps, and I was just starting to feel comfortable with sobriety. Taking things one day at a time is ALWAYS a good way to take things, and I’m so happy to hear that you are consciously feeling gratitude for sobriety. It’s such a great thing!

      Please continue to focus on the here and now. Believe me, unearthing the past will find its way to you when the time is right. Which, I guess, for me is now, I’ll be keeping you updated…

      Thanks so much for the comment, Wendy, and I will be over to your blog in a moment!


    • Thanks Wendy, found it and followed 🙂


  6. I’m with Jill.
    Recovery 2.0 addressed exactly this. It’s one thing to stop your destructive addiction, and that’s fantastic and very helpful, but it is another to move forward into a life free of addictive behaviour.

    Tommy Rosens way mirrors mine quite well. I have used 12 step meeting as a support, but I have done serious work on self awareness and compassion in therapy, yoga and meditation.

    I think there is room and a need for many ways of recovery.

    Liked by 2 people

    • oops, just commented to your comment up above, didn’t realize you had one down here as well.

      I am so opening that book tonight. I think I might have read the first chapter or two, where he tells his story, but for some reason got distracted and did not get back to it. I am so anxious to do this, as it sounds like exactly what I need!

      Once I start reading this, I will be on the same path as you and Jill, in that I’ve got the 12-step support, I am participating in therapy, and I will be reading Recovery 2.0. Just one thing missing… yoga. I’ve got to get over my self-consciousness and just try this stuff! The next groupon I get I’m taking advantage of it, and I will let you know how it goes as soon as I do!

      Thanks, as always, for your feedback, Anne, you are such a help to my recovery!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My advice is find a yoga studio that you like the feel of.
        The one I go too is way too young and made up, but I have no options as I live in a smAll city.

        If you can find one with a supportive vibe there will be no self consciousness. Yoga is all about exploring your body and mind.

        I think you will love that addition.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Anne, you are not going to believe this: last night I was sitting at track practice, and thought, “Now’s a good time to get back to Recovery 2.0!” Opened it up, resumed where I had left off, and within two pages was the heading: Introduction to Yoga Practice”

        You can’t make this stuff up. I am under the weather today, and slammed all weekend with kid stuff, but I’ve found a yoga center near my house, it seems to practice svaroopa yoga, and I am calling today to set something up for next week.
        Thanks so much for your guidance with this, and YOU KNOW I’ll be writing about it as soon as I do it!


      • I can’t wait to hear!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am a mother and crusader for my son’s sobriety. He is an addict to opioids and currently heroin if that’s all he can find. We have yet to find success in twelve step programs, rehabs or halfway houses because all it seems to do is increase his connections with drugs. It’s a daily struggle and I am just not sure some days what to do with him…or me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • T, I appreciate your comment so much, and my heart breaks for you and your son. As someone in recovery from prescription pain med addiction, I understand all too well what your son is going through. I can tell you I tried and failed at both 12-step programs and rehab before I found recovery. For me, I had to change my perspective of the program and the people in the rooms before I could give it a real shot, but no one could do it for me, I needed to find the motivation within.

      I am praying for your son, and for you too, that you both find the peace you seek. Thanks for reaching out!


      • You are the reason I hold faith and keep my heart and arms open to him. He is in every aspect my whole heart and my savior. I feel as though I have failed him at times and it’s been a long road for us both to travel, however, I do not take anything from him as I know his road is much, much, much worse. My heart bleeds for him everyday and I try to stay as supportive as I can even when he stomps on our lives. I know his recovery lies in his hands and I am not able to force it…..I just pray to God everyday that today will be the day!!!!!!!! Thanks for your story

        Liked by 1 person

  8. ❤️ your post- I don’t know my why and I think deep down I am scared of my why. I am just going to start step 4 and a one year sober. I just needed to get sober and stay sober early on. It’s time to find the why- b/c I will and sometimes am just trading one addiction for another. I think I’m going to go get a cookie now……

    PS I am so looking forward to your journey even more-

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, MB, and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I can’t wait to see the pictures!

      It feels like the final leg in the journey, putting down the cookie, doesn’t it? For me, the difference now, in recovery, is the hope that I really can do it!


  9. Why not have a page for this topic? I think you’re right, early days are not the best time to analyze yourself. That needs to be done after you’re a little stronger. There’s a time for every purpose under heaven.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I am a bit confused about the dillemma you propose, but I can see where you are going. I think the commenters so far have a good idea of what you’re saying. So I will follow suit!
    I think it’s fair to say that our recovery shifts and changes. Yes, there is the foundation of my recovery, which is God and step work. But from there it changes. It changes for us all. Some get back into organized religion. Others seek further enlightenment in yoga, meditation, retreats, etc. Some seek something perhaps more cerebral – getting into addiction work or social work. For the most part, we all have our recipe for recovery. Sure I am a 12-step recovery dude, but that’s not the be-all-end-all for me. Even the 12&12 tells us to seek out experts and others who can lead us to further spiritual change / development.

    12-step doesn’t solve all my problems. It’s helps to tackle ego for sure. But part of the spirit of the program (in my opinion) is that I can see help with other things. I am contemplating going back to therapy, for example. I think at this point it will be helpful for me to uncover more stuff. When it comes down to it, when I am shaken up or uncentered, a drink will pop to mind, but I know it’s not the drink I seek, it’s the relief and comfort that the drink used to give me. So I am seeking something.

    In terms of your blog – hey, it’s your blog! I think it’s great to spread your wings on different topics. I know people want to connect with the early recovery stuff, but it’s nice to show how things are now after a few years – that is what I was doing over in my now-defunct corner of the world. Your blog is fantastic, Josie, and I am excited to see where you take it 🙂


    Liked by 3 people

    • You’re confused about the dilemma? Join the club 😉

      Just kidding, and what fun to get a comment from you, Paul, I miss your blog already!

      Also funny: I was coming home from therapy this afternoon and reviewing some of the statements I said that I believed to be true about myself. In the review, I thought, “the theme running through all of that is ego” and then I immediately thought of you. Now I’m reading a comment from you, and it says “tackling the ego.” That’s just fun!

      All side notes aside, and sorry for the confusion you experienced, I think what it comes down to is this: AA taught me early one that I didn’t need to worry about why I picked up a drink, and now I think I really do need to worry about it. Well, not worry so much as figure out the why so I can stop trading one coping mechanism for another. While some people seem to stop drinking and just move on, I have a pattern of putting down one thing and picking up another. So the goal at this stage is to figure out why I keep repeating this pattern. There is true progress here, in that I recognize the pattern; back in the day I would have scoffed at this notion. But now, through therapy, I am going to make an earnest effort to figure this shit out! Excuse the profanity.

      That’s the essence of the post, and I apologize again for the lack of clarity. I do worry about “muddying the waters” of the newly sober with this “sophomore year” stuff, but at the end of the day you are right: it is my blog, and I use this blog as a tool to help me figure things out. And it seems from the comments so far that no one has run screaming for the hills 🙂

      Alright, now my reply comment is running longer than the post. It’s so great communicating, Paul, and I hope you are doing well!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Running From the Booze

    While I’m not a 12 stepper I do respect the program and the people in it. I guess you could look at the 12 steps as a good place to start your process of sobriety without confining your growth.

    Maybe it wasn’t a good time for you to explore the whys of your drinking when you first gave it up and now the time has come to do that foot work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are exactly right, Running… the time wasn’t right then, and it is now. I do sincerely believe things happen for a reason, and through writing this post, and reading all of these wonderful comments, I am seeing that is exactly what is happening.

      Thanks so much for the feedback, it is much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I have been banging around on this recovery business for over 30 years now and I still ask myself a lot of why questions. I have come to believe this is a process that we never fully get. Perhaps on our deathbed there is the final aha, but I think likely not.

    I too found that after the honeymoon of just not waking up hungover, having to explain my behavior, lie my way out of other mess became old news, the time came around for dealing with the wherefores and the whys. To me it is like peeling the layers off of the perpetual onion where I never get to the final core.

    I can continue to beat myself up over these unanswered questions – and food is somewhere near the top of the mysteries that remain for me. But then I look at the other side of the coin too. I can see, and importantly as well, others see and comment on my ability to function in a very positive way in much that I do. It really is a day and night transformation for me.

    But I enjoy that I remain challenged – of seeking greater understandings. One of the reasons I remain driven is that recovery, which also for me started with a meeting a day for a long, long period of time, showed that the process worked. I have never done anything whether writing, therapy, AA meetings, or whatever – that if I were sincere and as rigorously honest as I could be at any point in time, that I did not learn some new insight to allow me function better, to understand more. So, I have that knowing in me that process does work – so long as I am moving in a recovery direction. And I know today, that if I choose to take the bull by the horns as it were on any such issue, I will grow from the process. I have a bunch of year of “testing” that support the “hypothesis” of recovery.

    So I will keep banging away at it, one day at a time. By the way, I have found tremendous opportunities for growth in recovery through the 12-steps. I also find that I have not been to an AA meeting now if nearly six months – and that is good for me today too. I am certain in the future I will be back in regular meetings ( or maybe not) but the important thing for me is that every day, I reflect on the fact that I am an addict in recovery.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert,

      I’m not sure why, but that comment just brought tears to my eyes. Tears of, I think, relief and gratitude? I’m not that great at diagnosing my feelings. You remind me, through this comment, of the progress I think I tend to forget, or pooh-pooh as things I should have been doing in the first place.

      What a deep cleansing breath you just gave me, and such hope that this process of uncovering is actually going to bear some fruit!

      From the bottom of my heart, Robert, I thank you for taking the time to write this out. From one alcoholic to another, I sincerely thank you for your service.


  13. Hi Jossie! I feel like I haven’t been here forever! And as usual I love your post and I can totally relate. To me it sounds like you have a growth spurt coming on. I truly believe that recovery, just like life, changes over time, because we change over time and our lives change too. I think that we continually reinvent ourselves. For me at this point in my life I don’t necessarily wonder why I want to numb out. I think we all want to numb out at times, It’s just that I can’t numb out safely! Lol! That’s kinda funny. Anyway. I think that getting to know yourself is important. It was an eye opening. experience for me, especially getting through my 5, yes, 5 – 4th steps! I didn’t do it because I was so driven, ok maybe a bit, ha ha, but I actually had that much crap! Good news, my last 4th was only 3 pages instead of 20! Lol! Anyway. Sounds like you are moving into the next phase of your recovery journey. I think that’s pretty exciting! 🙂

    Sending many hugs. Ps the 70° day was fab, even with the rain!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Maggie, and it’s so great to see your smiling face! I thought of you often through this extremely annoying winter, so glad it’s finally behind us (unless I just jinxed it and now we get a spring snow!)

      Thanks to wonderful friends like you, I am coming to see this time as exactly as you are describing… the onset of a growth spurt. And when I look at it from that perspective, the restlessness and discomfort I’m feeling are more hopeful, less uncomfortable.

      I am so grateful to have people like you in my life, who have walked this path before me, and can help show me the way. Thanks so much Maggie for all you do for me and all of us in recovery!

      Now let’s get another one of those 70 degree days back, it is NOT that here today!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I hear ya! I might have to go write my own post about this because suddenly I can envision my comment running on to 1,000 words! Thank you for writing inspiration and good stuff to think on.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Obviously you’ve touched a lot of people with this post judging from the comments. You know how I feel about all of this. There is ALWAYS a root cause. The challenge is being brave enough to dig deep enough.

    TITGU my friend.


    Liked by 1 person

  16. Too late to comment? Hope not. This is a great post. I think there are some surface and obvious reasons for the escape, but there are more deeply seeded ones as well. In my opinion it’s the deeply seeded stuff that gets me. It’s as if I learned coping tools in a certain succession and I am unlearning them in the reverse.

    For me, I have become used to the fact that I am never going to know it all, nor do I need to. The only job I have today is to love myself and love whomever is in front of me. It all starts with not drinking. I must start there, because that is where it all ended. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t see myself trying to escape from something. The difference for me today is that when I observe this behavior I know what to do with it.

    I’m with you. I think 12-step is one of the best games in town. Three cheers.

    Sending lots of love my friend. Me

    Liked by 1 person

    • LISA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Do those exclamation points adequately convey how excellent it is to see your smiling face?

      It is never to late to comment, my friend! Truthfully, I’m not even sure I completely understood the surface ones all that well, but I’m starting to figure that out right now, so better late than never. The under the surface ones, well, I need patience and perseverance with figuring out those.

      I like what you say about getting used to the fact that I won’t know it all. You and Robert both said that, I respect your collective sobriety, so it must be true.

      I appreciate your comment more than I can say. I hope you are well!

      Liked by 1 person

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