Friday, May 29, 2009

Alcoholics Anonymous- The Original 12 Step Program

Amy Winehouse made a hit out going to rehab and loads of celebrities and famous people have almost made it almost fashionable to do it.  In our society today there seems to be a twelve step program for everything, and some of them are pretty bizarre.  But before all of the current 12 step programs there was AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).

Why I Decided to Write This Post

My grandfather is the reason that I choose to write about AA.  He is the first person that I knew was an alcoholic and as his birthday is in May, I wanted to take the time to post this in May.  My grandfather died 12 years ago, but he did have quite an influence on many people (myself included).  Before he died he celebrated 36 years of sobriety and I was proud to have been there when he got his 36 year pin.

What Is AA Anyways?

Maybe you've managed to make it this far into life without hearing anything about AA and wonder what it is?  Their creed says it pretty nicely "Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their
experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their
common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only
requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no
dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own
contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics,
organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any
controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary
purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." (from the AA website)

What Are The Twelve Steps?
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
    understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
    of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
    amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do
    so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
    admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
    God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us
    and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
    carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our
The Twelve Steps are available in pdf format at the AA website.

Many People Are Never "Cured"

Not wishing to preach or pass judgment but I believe one of the failures of many of the rehab programs is that they don't take the view that whatever its clients are there for is  probably not something that they can be "cured" of.  It is not like those with whatever addiction can just "take" an aspirin and be cured of their "headache".  Many people might have a short term problem that can be "cured" by some sort of detox but for many people their problem goes much deeper than alcohol, drugs, gambling, or whatever their affliction is.  The stated affliction becomes a sort of escapism, a way of dealing with problems, so unless this is realized the clients will often not ever really be cured, maybe they then channel this escapism into something else that can be nearly as harmful as the "original problem". The fallacy with the "cured" belief is that many of the people that have been "cured" will take a drink (or whatever the affliction was) with the belief that they've been "cured" so they can now drink but they won't get drunk this time. My grandfather used to always say that he was "recovering alcoholic" and not a "recovered alcoholic", even after 36 years of sobriety, because he believed it would be easy to slip back into drinking.  When you think about it, why tempt yourself, if you believe that your an alcoholic or addicted to gambling (or whatever) why put yourself in a position where there is a good chance of failure. 

One Day At a Time

One of the key principles of AA is that you should live your life one day at a time.  Alcoholics must go day to day without taking a drink.  This applies to so many other problems.  Beating whatever affliction might seem like an insurmountable task, but if you break it up into one day at a time (or even perhaps smaller chunks of time if necessary), you're more likely to be able to manage to get through one day of not taking a drink than trying to just quit forever.  If your window is small enough, you can do it and this builds further confidence in your ability to keep on going.

A Support Group Is Needed

One of the things that has made AA so successful over the years with its 12 steps adopted and/or modified by so many other groups, is the realization that you need a support group.  In AA everyone needs a sponsor and is encouraged to sponsor others.  That is to say that a sponsor is someone that you can talk to when you are tempted to drink and feel that you need support.  There are AA meetings in all kinds of locations around the world, so it is possible to get the support of other "alcoholics", people that have probably been where you are now and have dealt with what you're going through.  We tend to think that our problems and challenges are unique and that noboby has them but when you look at it, the circumstances maybe different but often the problem is not really new or so unique. Grouping up together can make the individual alcoholics strong enough to overcome to take on their continous desire to take a drink.

The Serenity Prayer

Another key principle of AA that has found its way into my life is the Serentiy Prayer. It really says a lot about the challenges that we all face in our lives.

"God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

courage to change the things we can,

and wisdom to know the difference."

The Serenity Pray has an interesting history, you can read more about it at the AA website.

I can't really praise AA enough.  It certainly helped my grandfather become the man he was and has helped so many others.  If you find yourself being out of control in any area of your life, there is a good chance that there is some sort of support group to deal with it, be it gambling, shopping, and so on. A word of caution, you'll want to make sure that the support organization is legitimate and that someone doesn't try to take advantage of you. Be on the look out for cults that try to pray on people when they're at their weakest. Finally, remember that you can do almost anything one day at a time.

Photo Credit: Scotch courtesy of jlumbv.
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