This is the 8th in our series of reviews of the 12-Steps addiction treatment program and how each step compares with a 12 Steps alternative approach. We understand the 12 Steps have helped many, many people over the years, and we respect that success.
We also recognize that the approach does not work for everyone. The main purpose of this series is to present some potential limitations with the 12 Steps that you may not have considered. We want to make it easy for you to understand the differences as you go through your addiction treatment research.
What is the AA 12 Steps Addiction Treatment Program?
The AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 Steps program has been in existence since 1939. It was created by an alcoholic for other alcoholics, and relies on group support and behavior modification to a very large degree. It is still the main healing protocol and approach in the vast majority of addiction treatment programs (including very expensive residential treatment centers).
Since that time though, there have been many breakthroughs in psychology, spirituality and healing, but the 12 Steps have not been updated to take advantage of these advances.
With that let’s take a look at Step 8.
Potential Limitations with 12 Steps Step 8 - a Step of Disempowerment
Step 8 of the 12 Steps program reads:
"We made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all."
Fasten your seatbelt, hold on tight and get ready for a rocky ride. Step 8 of AA's 12-Step program is assured to stir up the pot – big time.
We may have done damage to our own lives from our past actions, but when we consider the damage we may have caused to another person or persons, look out! Our addictive habits spur shame, guilt, and despair.
“Did you do that?!”
This is what I used to yell at my dog with a rolled up newspaper in hand. Yes, she might have pooped on the carpet and as a result I had to clean it up. But I damaged our relationship each time I did so.
There are two ways to look at the logic behind 12 Steps Step 8:
- Do we find closure from our misdeeds of the past through others?; or
- Do we find closure through our own efforts?
Here marks a departure between the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous and a pure spiritual healing approach.
In a true spiritual healing approach (Spiritual Practice), there is no right and no wrong - only learning.
Basically we falter, fall down, and learn how to go about it differently through introspection, meditation and prayer; get back up and keep plodding forward.
Compare this with the traditional 12 Steps, where this scenario would be: falter, fall down, tell people how horrible you have been for failing, get back up with the help of a sponsor, then meet with other members of the group for support as you plod forward toward the next confession.
Do we simply forgive and forget our past transgressions?
Of course not.
We look at what we’ve done, address the mental and emotional issues that are interwoven into each event, learn, grow, and ultimately forgive ourselves for the harm we may or may not have caused. Eventually we need to let it go to move ourselves forward.
Will people truly forgive us?
Maybe yes, maybe no. But is other's forgiveness really the point?
(See our post Self-Forgiveness: An Important Step in Rehab and Recovery).
Can we really have an effect on others' actions?
According to the late Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, people external to us are in our "Circle of Concern." We are concerned about them but don't have direct impact on their actions. Our "Circle of Influence" refers to the impact we have with ourselves – period.
Asking Jerry and George for Amends
I love the Seinfeld episode of a friend contacting Jerry and George in order to make amends.
Their reactions to him are typical - "OK."It doesn’t really matter to them. People are all too aware of the struggle addicts have in putting their lives back in order.
They don’t necessarily want to be involved in the process, nor should they be.
We have all of the resources necessary to look at the wreckage from our past, do the inner work necessary to free ourselves of the issues and problems related to these events, learn and grow as a result of this introspection, forgive ourselves, and ultimately let it go.
About The Clearing
The Clearing is a residential treatment center located on beautiful San Juan Island, Washington. We created The Clearing in response to the pervasiveness of treatment centers that focus more on luxury than modern, evidence-based therapy.
Our approach is based on healing the underlying core issues that cause addiction. If you'd like to learn more, contact us, or download our free eBook: