The 12-Step Program of Alcoholics' Anonymous (AA) has proven for many years to be a very effective self-help method of returning alcoholics to sobriety. It has also proven equally effective in other self-help, substance-abuse programs such as Narcotics' Anonymous (NA). Several other self-help groups, including some non-substance-abuse ones such as Emotions' Anonymous (EA), Overeaters' Anonymous (OA), and Sex Addicts' Anonymous (SAA) use the same 12-Steps to regain control of their lives.
The first step of the 12—Steps is: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable." It is usually with great difficulty, over a long period of time, that alcoholics (or other addicts) finally admit, even to themselves, they are addicted and that their lives are unmanageable. This awareness and action may initially appear to be the worst thing which could happen to them, but it turns out to be the best thing! It is the turning point—"hitting bottom"—which puts some on the road to recovery. From the bottom, there are only two ways to go: up or die. Unfortunately, not all alcoholics choose the road to recovery; up to 90% die drunk! For those addicts who admit their addiction, choosing recovery immediately brings them to step two.
The second step of the 12-Steps is: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Steps two and three are closely related and need to be considered together. The third step of the 12-Steps is: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."
For addicts who have a positive, even loving, conception of God, steps two and three are no problem and are keys to their recovery. But for addicts whose addiction has been caused by or greatly exacerbated by a negative, even fearful, conception of God, these steps are a non-starter! They cannot trust the God of their negative conception to return them to sanity because the God of their conception is the One who caused the problem or greatly worsened the problem in the first place. There is, therefore, no way that they can turn their will and lives over to the care of the God of their understanding. For these classes of addicts, AA simply does not work because they cannot work the program. Since they cannot do steps two and three, they certainly cannot do the rest of the steps: four through twelve, which involve praying to know and seeking to do God's will. While AA is an excellent spiritual program, some people have called it, "All that God stuff." Actually, AA is not a religious program. That is why God is undefined in AA literature and no specific religious affiliation, belief, or practice is required. There are several wise saying in AA, one of which is, "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, but spirituality is for those who have been there."
Is there no hope of recovery for those addicts whose fearful conception of God has caused their addiction? No, there is hope but they need to seek other help first. For addicts whose addiction has been caused or exacerbated by spiritual abuse/terrorism, they first need to get competent spiritual counseling to heal their fearful view of God, and then participate in a 12-Step program. I have counseled with many addicts in a state-mandated treatment program for those convicted of drunk driving, a residential substance-abuse treatment facility, and my private counseling practice.
A widely-used method of counseling is called, "Cognitive Therapy." Cognitive is a Latin word meaning "knowledge" or "to know." It is a simple as Jesus saying, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). That is cognitive therapy. When addicts come to understand that God's love is unconditional and everlasting, that God's mercy is infinite, and that God's justice is perfect, which means that the fire of hell is for purification, not eternal torment, they are able to trust God to restore them to sanity. They are then also able and willing to turn their lives over to the will and care of God, as they understand God, and seek to know and do God's will. I have seen this method work well many times.
Another approach which has proven helpful to addicts, who have a fearful view or no particular view of God, is Rational Recovery (RR). Some people have called RR anti-religious, but that is incorrect. RR is not anti-religious; RR is simply non-religious but, unlike AA, it is also non-spiritual. Participants in RR can be religious and some have been, but RR uses neither religion nor spirituality as part of its recovery program. Also, RR, for about ten years, has not had group meetings since they are believed to be unnecessary. RR has not been around nearly as long as AA and is not nearly as widely recognized as AA. Many drivers found guilty of drunk driving, have been mandated by court orders, to complete an AA program as a condition of getting back their driver's license. Some state-medical boards have required medical professionals, as a condition of the restoration of their license to practice medicine, to complete an AA program. Some have charged that requiring AA participation is a violation of the law of the separation of church and state. But, in such instances, the state is not advocating any particular religion, conception of God, or even a personal faith in God.
In 1994, a medical doctor (whom I will called Bart) came to me for counseling, in my private practice, who had lost his license to practice medicine due to drug addiction. Bart had taken legal medications, but, due to his easy access to drugs, had taken far too many prescription meds. He related that he had gotten addicted trying to deaden the psychic pain of worrying about being tortured forever in literal hell fire. He stated that he had been taught, from childhood in a fundamental Christian Church, that people, including Christians, will go to hell for many sins, including: smoking, drinking, dancing, card playing, going to movies, and having pre-marital sexual relations or even committing sexual fornication in his heart! He was in his forties, but he had never been married and he constantly fought the "demon of sexual temptation." One woman whom he had deeply loved and wanted to marry broke up with him because he was "too religious."
Bart told me that he had tried to complete an AA program since is was a requirement for getting back his medical license, but he had dropped out because he could not do steps two and three. Step one had been no problem, but two and three were simply impossible. For him, God was the One who had caused the religious insanity due to all of God's unreasonable commandments, rules, and regulations especially being condemned to eternal hell fire for just thinking about having sex! He had chosen to complete a RR program and had regained his sobriety, but the medical board would not recognize the validity of the RR program and restore his medical license.
Bart still needed much help with reformulating his horribly negative conception of God in order to understand God in a loving, merciful, and just way. After several weeks of spiritual counseling, that purpose was accomplished. Christian Universalism was the best news he had ever heard! That is why the Greek word "Gospel" means Good News! Had Bart come to me first, he would not have needed to do the RR program since he would have been able to have completed the AA requirement. Responding to his and his psychiatrist's request, I wrote a letter on his behalf to be presented to the state-medical board. The board did recognize the validity of the RR program and did restore his license to practice medicine. The last time I talked with Bart, by phone about three years ago, he was practicing medicine in a large hospital in Ohio and doing well.
Boyd C. Purcell, Ph.D., Author
Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse
from the Womb to the Tomb
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