For most of the past 25 years, I have been actively engaged in an activity called Step 12. It’s from Alcoholics Anonymous and it reads:
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 affairs.
This is the way that people who are successfully recovering from addiction pay it forward. We recognize that a power greater than ourselves has delivered us from a place of total darkness, to a place of ever-increasing light and true happiness. It is through helping others that we strengthen our resolve and our allegiance to sobriety. Understanding and practicing this principle is so important to me. It means keeping my sobriety.
I was in my second year of being clean and sober when I began to realize that I had the ability to actually help people suffering with addiction. Local church leadership knew that I was a recovering addict and would call on me to visit with people requesting help with addicted loved ones. I went to homes, hospitals, and jails and shared my experience, faith and hope. While I was going to school and studying psychotherapy and counseling skills, it was a wonderful revelation that I had at this time that I did not need to be a professional therapist to guide people to recovery. I became aware that all I needed to do, for my part, was to encourage the person who was suffering to get help and then volunteer to introduce them to the local fellowships. The first couple of meetings are the most difficult, so I would go with them.
…the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. –
It is my hope that all of my friends who are in recovery will read this post and will be encouraged by what I have said so far about helping others; being a mentor or a sponsor. Now, as I switch gears, I don’t want to lose my audience with you as I talk more directly to the Earthlings.
Who are the Earthlings? Earthlings always ask that. In the great big world there are people who are prone to addiction and others who are not. Earthlings will often observe an addict’s destructive behavior and ask, “Why does he do that?”
The addict, on the other hand, will observe the Earthling as they suffer their trials without drugs or alcohol and ask, “Why does he do that?”
It’s not a derogatory term. I LOVE THE EARTHLINGS! Selena is my sweetest friend and she’s an Earthling. Sometimes though, the addicts and the Earthlings simply do not understand one another. Whenever I can, I like to reach out to the Earthlings, sort of like a diplomat—maybe I’m an Addict Ambassador.
Occasionally someone will come to me about a loved one whose life is spinning out of control due to drug and/or alcohol addiction and want to know about treatment options. I have some personal beliefs with regards to treatment that I want to share, but remember, it’s just my well-informed opinion. The advice is free and worth every penny of it.
I have known better than a handful of addicts over the years who began and sustained good recovery with 12 step meetings alone. I have great admiration for these people because it isn’t easy to carry on with the normal day-to-day of life and, at the same time, immerse yourself into understanding and implementing full-time repentance. It works for some, but many of us seem to lack some key variable in our personality or the necessary self-discipline to pull it off. It is for this reason that I always recommend residential treatment when it is possible.
If you are an Earthling, and you are trying to decide the best course of action for your addict, and residential treatment is a consideration, let the following be a guide:
1. There is not a program, a method, or treatment (like electroshock therapy), that has the success of 12 Step. Millions of people worldwide have found success with programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and it would have to be the fundamental philosophy of the program that I would choose for someone that I love.
2. Education is very important. The more a person understands the physical and mental toll of addiction, the less likely they are to return to it. The program should teach how addiction works in the body and mind and how it progresses.
3. Successful recovery means being ever-vigilant. A good program teaches coping strategies for real life stresses and relapse triggers.
4. My personal experience as an addict; using alcohol and pills on a daily basis for many years, meant that it took time for me to begin thinking clearly. Some inpatient programs only run 30 days, and for some that just isn’t enough. The most effective programs will have more inpatient time and include a period of outpatient treatment along with supervised living. Not always possible or available, but a person needs to be totally devoted to recovery for a full year. We always worry about the job or the family and the conflict that there can be, but there is no family or job if the addict fails.
5. Again, not always available, but very important: Co-ed inpatient care is not the ideal. Just like the smoker, who replaces cigarettes with donuts and begins to put on weight after giving up tobacco; the alcoholic/drug addict will often seek to substitute sex/romantic relationships in the absence of chemicals.
So far, in my 25 years of sobriety, I have yet to see 12 Step fail to deliver on its promise. 12 Step is almost flawless. Almost. In all fairness I must admit that there is one fatal flaw with regards to 12 Step and it can be frustrating and discouraging, particularly to Earthlings. It’s only one thing, but it’s huge: You cannot make an addict start or otherwise, embrace recovery. You cannot force treatment on an addict against their will. Addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual cure, and because that cure is given of God, in the form of repentance, we have to work within His framework. God will not compel an individual to be sober. He won’t. And you can’t.
~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story