The Myth of 12-Step or Bust

For starters, I am a product of the 12-step model—it’s brilliant. But it’s not for everyone. We can stop making people feel bad because they don’t prefer it or aren’t doing it the way we think they should do it.

Fact: People do recover and stay in recovery without going to meetings. The 12-step model is one path, not The Path, but rather a path for continued recovery.

I am not bashing 12-step. I am simply stating that 12-step philosophy is simply that, a philosophy. Addicts are a diverse group. Our recovery can reflect this diversity. I’ve heard it said in meetings “You can’t stay sober without meetings. No one comes back and says it’s great out there.” But why would they? Why would I go into a meeting and say “Hey, I took off four years from 12-step meetings and I’m doing great. Thanks, bye.” What happens is that they no longer come back because they don’t feel the need or desire to come back.

It is no more complicated than this. I am living proof—as are many.

We don’t need to narrow it down to 12-step or no 12-step. Contrary to popular belief, many of us do continue recovering in the absence of meetings because we have learned to live life in accordance with our newfound wisdom. Our recovery is not in jeopardy, we are not dry drunks or angry ex-drunks, and we aren’t in denial. We have simply found a way to live at peace with who we are without drinking and we have built a spiritual foundation that sustains us—daily. By the way, this aligns perfectly with 12-step philosophy as we have “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” (BBoAA, Page 85)

Again, the 12-step model is brilliant. What people have done with it and the power some individuals perceive they wield with extended recovery is what I am addressing here. Just because we have sober/clean time does not make us better or in charge of someone else’s life. The Big Book is clear, “We place principles before personalities.” (Page 564) But when you are newly sober, this can be hard to do—lean on principles! So most people lean on personalities and sometimes these personalities are just too over the top. They scare people from 12-step rather than welcome them. We have now become a program of conformity rather than a program of attraction. (BBoAA, Page 567)

Some members of 12-step have lost the essence of what 12-step is about: One person helping another. It is not one-person counseling, coaching, designing, or decision-making for another. It’s about support and unconditional love as we help a newcomer through the 12-steps of the program. It’s about support for one another no matter where we are in our life journey.

Hopefully, we can stay in a program (12-step or otherwise) long enough to experience some changes to the way we think. Because the freedom we seek is at the other end of new thinking and new thinking takes time.

After 14 years in recovery, I have reprogrammed some of my limited thinking. And yes, there is still plenty of room for more. Recovery is about growth. It’s about rewiring our brains to grasp the value of change. It’s within the context of this rewiring that we experience meaning, purpose, reflection, and personal evolution.

I identify as being in recovery or in 12-step when identifying serves a greater purpose. Otherwise, I keep my mouth shut.

A Course In Miracles teaches: To speak a thing because it holds value and meaning and to cease speaking when words are meaningless. (ACIM, Lessons, Page 323)

Sometimes I am a woman in long-term recovery, sometimes an addict in recovery, and sometimes I am just Lisa. I have been in 12-step and I have been out of 12-step. I have never relapsed or felt my “recovery” was jeopardized because I did not attend meetings.

What recovery has taught me is that I am far more wonderful (as are you) than I ever imagined. If I relinquish thoughts of fear for thoughts of love my life will change.

A Course in Miracles tells me I have one job today—only one—and this is to Love.

I love you whether you are in 12-step, out of 12-step, in recovery, out of recovery, or somewhere else entirely. Life is challenging, and if nothing else, everyone can benefit from is self-love and love of humanity.

Find your self-love and you’ll stay in the game of recovery today.

If you are in Southern California join us this Friday night for my lecture on recovery and A Course In Miracles.




13 Responses to “The Myth of 12-Step or Bust

  • Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for your post. I sometimes get this at my blog where people (or should I say ‘men’?) react to my writing with the comments like ‘you will never get there if you do not do 12 steps’. I dislike that. I have an issue with guys telling me what to do and how to behave. I went to a meeting twice and very much disliked the platitudes, the smart remarks given by the incrowd in order to impress and dismiss somebodies (addictive personality driven) feelings rather than help. And on the other side the glorifying of drinking which goes unchecked. I had a personal AA coach and I never gotten more vibes of addiction from anybody in my life than I got from him. 🙁 I know I should visit more meetings. And I actually think I will. But it takes me a few years to pick up my interest and courage again after such encounters. Do you know actually: if somebody at a meeting glorifies drinking, are there meetings which will step in and comment on it?
    What I did find in my 3,5 years of sobriety is that I realise that ALL the steps of the 12 steps are neccessary to get to a point of what I call ‘being un-addicted’. And that the 12 steps are put in a logical, natural order of ‘appearance’ in life. I find that really cool. As it is cool in an unsettling but also uplifting way that the book ‘The addictive personality’ by Craig Nakken was written at the time before I drank my first beer and when I read the book I am thinking: this is about me. This is me. This is what happened. Every sentence is appropriate and quote worthy. This proved to me that I was not ‘the only one’.
    I am happy you found your way. 🙂
    xx, Feeling

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      I smiled reading your words. Thank you for touching on this post. I love the principles and philosophy of 12-step. I’ve been to hundreds of meetings and am constantly reminded that my way is for me—no one else. There is so much beauty and knowledge to be gained in recovery. Being an alcoholic in recovery afforded me the opportunity to embark on a serious spiritual journey. I have embraced it whole-heartedly. I hope I never stop growing. I’m glad I found my way too. ♥

  • There are many path. The 12 steps is not the best or worst. It’s just another option.
    I think the best anyone can do is to be open minded and willing to try everything until something works.

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      Anne, I love your blog. You have remained faithful to honesty and integrity. It’s pleasing to watch new friends show up and blog the journey of recovery. It is inspiring to see a new generation of people who are so open and willing. I love the way you said it, “…try everything until something works.” Those are words to live by whenever I am moving toward a new objective. L. ♥

  • This – as a very newly sober person – is why I instinctively veer away from the organised recovery path. I am not a joiner, but I am a thinker and feeler and a reader, and I am thinking and feeling and reading my way through this. I have a gut feeling that if I need a group of (initially) strangers to keep me strong then I’m underselling my own strength – but that’s just me.
    Maybe I’ll go to a meeting one day to see what it’s like, maybe I won’t. But just as I don’t need an organised religion to make me behave well and appreciate the wonders of life, I don’t feel the need for any one set of rules to tell me how to say no to drinking.
    The 12 Steps, like the 10 Commandments, are a really clear and clever model for individual and collective human behaviour and as such they have a value to everyone. I love that you have so beautifully described the importance of personal agency in any set of rules, though. Thank you.

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      Bec, Thank you for reading and sharing. (I just started reading your blog, too) I find value in embracing change however it may appear. I have found much strength in embracing my Earthly responsibilities. I fail at many moments, but I know I can always “chose again” and seek peace rather than rightness or wrongness with a situation. L.♥

  • Paul_JFT
    6 years ago

    Hi Lisa,
    Lots of ways IMHO to overcome addiction and improve one’s life. I had a fairly long run in traditional 12 step programs 13-15 years depending on how you slice it. I have relocated from the west coast ~ thru the gulf coast and the mid atlantic . . . . back to the west coast in recovery “clean&sober since 7-2-89”. I have found a great deal of personal freedom in recovery over the last 10+ yrs! I come and go comfortably within several programs today. Not rejecting or swearing unconditional allegiance to any particular recovery brand lately ~ sharing and caring, taking what I need and happily leaving the rest. The relatively new folks in recovery that I’ve meet embrace an eclectic, more open diverse set of principles and operational definitions with regard to what their personal recovery programs look like! I heartily applaud blowing the doors off any limits or restrictions to recovery today. A young man the other day told me that 12 step programs kept him sober and the Refuge Recovery Program kept him sane. Diversity is our greatest strength! and LOVE as you say ~ is what this is all about! Thank you.

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      Paul, Thank you for your words. I instantaneously love anyone who journeyed ahead of me as you helped pave the path for a girl like me to find a place/haven to recover. I do think I fit into the eclectic crowd. I am often amazed that I enjoy learning (I rejected it as a kid). And yes, LOVE, for me, is both the question and the answer. Must be why I enjoy A Course in Miracles so much. There is always an opportunity to shift my perception from fear to love. L.

  • Thank you for this post. In order to improve everybody’s chances of recovery, we need to encourage people on non-traditional paths to speak out. At the same time, those of us who critique 12-step orthodoxy have to remember the tremendous good that the program has done and continues to do. Our collective understanding of addiction and recovery does not move forward when we assume we have all the answers and condemn those who take another path.

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      Sober Heretic, Thank you for posting a comment. I am intrigued by your URL and note you have a blog post on your chosen name. I shall be over shortly to read. In light of your comment, I couldn’t agree more. I do see abundant goodness and healing within the context of the 12-step program. I hope I do not come across as dishonoring it in any way. My hope is that people can find freedom in realizing that there is no “chosen” path. L.

  • Beautiful. You’re still my sober superhero, Lisa 😊

    • Lisa Neumann
      6 years ago

      BBB, You are my superhero, too! I love that you’re still here typing away when so many of us have fallen to the side (or off) the blogosphere after so many years. Your writing keeps getting bigger and better and you still inspire me. You always did. L. ♥

  • I agree. Each of us must do what supports living a fulfilling life.
    I often encourage people to try a meeting because so many bloggers struggle alone thinking they are somehow different or special.
    Learning I was just like everyone else was a huge relief for me. It meant I could be content and happy too.
    Stillness and peace

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