Alternatives to 12-Step: Options In Recovery

Alternatives to 12-Step: Options In Recovery

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My Personal Account of Stepping Outside the Box

As many of you know from Facebook, I’ve been exploring alternatives to 12-Step (I.e. multiple pathways to addiction recovery). As of late, many have questioned my endeavors, and I feel an explanation is appropriate.

Initially, my sole intention was to pass on what I learned to the many who struggle with 12-Step programs. Subsequentially, I found great potential in many other recovery programs. Still, I never imagined it would alienate me from my own recovery program. I thought people would appreciate my desire to do good for the greater good.

During this process of self-exploration and newfound knowledge, I’ve been on the receiving end of considerable scrutiny and what I believe is the judgment from members of my inner 12-Step circle. Just today, I lost my sponsor. Fortunately, we parted on good terms and will remain, friends. She asked me to pick just one program and one program only, I couldn’t do it. No – I wouldn’t do it. This is only the 2nd time I went against the suggestions of a sponsor, but I find this philosophy extremely limiting and close-minded, and I will not do it. I found many benefits in many programs. I want to learn more and pass it on to others. I take my recovery very seriously, but I fail to see how I am doing anything wrong. I have a legitimate desire to establish choice in recovery through my education, training, and personal experience.

Fortunately, My Only Option in Recovery Worked

When I came into recovery, I was not given options. I was told, “Go to either AA or NA, or you are in direct violation of your probation.” Honestly, I was scared to death to go back to jail, so I did what I was told. I would have done anything to stay clean at that point. Fortunately, my only option worked. I achieved multiple years of clean time, attending both AA and NA meetings, working both steps, had a sponsor, sponsees and was fairly active in service. I still do these things with the same determination as in the beginning. So, why are people asking me, and asking those who know me if I’m leaving the 12-Step program? Why are people insisting that I chose just one pathway to recovery? Obviously, what I’m doing, and what I’ve done (which was never solely AA or NA) is working.

12-Step Recovery is One Way, but it’s Not the Only Way

My change of heart started not too long ago. I took part in recovery coach training that included multiple pathways to recovery. Given my introduction to recovery, I didn’t know other pathways existed. The more I researched, read and reached out to members of other recovery programs, the clearer it became that 12-Step is one way to get clean and sober, but it is not the only way!

Different Strokes for Different Folks

I met a woman whose first twenty years in recovery were spent in AA and the last 15 in LifeRing Secular. I know a therapist who has 38 years clean who started in AA, and is now in private practice. She studies Gestalt Therapy, CBT, DBT, etc. She has no sponsor nor any ongoing affiliation with the 12-Step program, yet she is happily clean and sober. These are just a few of the many who have cultivated their belief systems over the years. Read More Success Stories Here and Here.

My recent involvement with two secular recovery programs has raised many eyebrows in the 12-Step world. I’ll admit that initially, the idea of a secular recovery program baffled me. I couldn’t imagine recovering without God in my life. However, as I investigated further into the meaning of secular, I found out that my initial belief was uninformed and incorrect. Secular does not mean that one does not believe in God. On the contrary, almost half of the members of the secular recovery programs do have a belief in God. A secular recovery program is one that has no religious affiliation. Secular means the program is not bound by any religious rule.

Is it or Isn’t it a Disease?

Addiction is a brain disease, right? If so, why not treat it as such using psychological and behavioral, evidence-based methods? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, building self-efficacy, and changing behaviors are what SMART Recovery is based upon. LifeRing Secular advocates for empowering self, building motivation for change and elements of positive psychology. All good stuff, I think.


Let’s think of addiction as heart disease caused by smoking. Yes, it was your choice to smoke, and now you have heart disease. It must be treated by professionals. Can you imagine going to your heart disease doctor, after a relapse, and being told, “You must not be ready to recover. Go back out and hit rock bottom and come back (if you make it).” OR “We are going to totally deflate whatever little self-confidence you have left before we can help you.” OR “As you know, this is an extremely complex disease, and every person is different, BUT we are going to prescribe you the exact same treatment as every other patient, and if that doesn’t work, you must not be working it!” Preposterous right? Exactly why we need options in recovery.

The Reality of Psych Meds in 12-Step

Suppose you have co-occurring disorders/ dual diagnosis: Upon completion of treatment, you are stabilized on medication for the first time in your life. Your aftercare plan says to attend meetings. The only meetings around are that of AA and NA, so you begin attending. You get yourself a sponsor and eventually some clean time. Not too long after, you begin to feel ashamed for taking your psych meds because it is suggested that if you need them, you must not be working your program hard enough, or that you’re not even clean! This happens all the time within the rooms of 12-Step programs namely AA. I’ve personally witnessed it.

The Reality of Medicated Assisted Treatment in 12-Step

Here is another scenario: You enter treatment after many failed attempts at staying clean. You are prescribed medicated assisted treatment. Sixteen months pass, and you have not put any addictive substances into your body. You haven’t been arrested, nor have you stole anything. You got your kids back. Life is getting so much better. This is the longest amount of clean time you have ever had. For the first time, in a long time, you’re feeling good about yourself, but there is still something missing. You observe those around you and conclude that you need to work the 12-Steps, so you seek out a sponsor. Strangely, you cannot find one who doesn’t have a biased opinion toward the medication you’re prescribed. In fact, someone tells you that you are not clean, and you are shamed on a regular basis. Why are we not encouraging each other?

Old and Close-Minded Beliefs
are Scaring the Newcomer Away

How does this make you feel? It makes me feel extremely sad. It’s reality, though. This is why those of us who have recovered have a duty to help others recover by whatever means necessary. Who cares if someone is on psych meds or medicated assisted treatment as long as they’re not dying! Why does one way have to be the only way? Every single day we are losing people to these old, close-minded, judgmental beliefs. Frankly, they are scaring the newcomer right out the door.

We Need Options in Recovery

My point here is this: WE NEED OPTIONS IN RECOVERY. Face it – Not everyone wants to work a 12-Step program. Not everyone believes in God. Not everyone can stop taking their medication to fit in with old-time beliefs. Not everyone can use deep breathing, step work, and prayer to remedy all their psychiatric issues. How have we allowed it to become acceptable that clean time is the qualification for providing free medical advice?

I am Not Against the 12-Step Programs

Anyone who really knows me, knows I am certainly not against the 12-Step programs. As it states in the LifeRing book “The 12-Step people are my brothers and sisters in recovery”, and the 12-Steps positively changed my life. They’ve helped me and many others in so many ways, but they are not for everyone. Furthermore, they are not the only way. I was not able to see this when I was in the middle of the program. It required that I step outside the “box” to clearly see what was really going on. I had completely surrounded myself with people who were recovering. I was told to look for the women who had what I wanted and stick with them. In doing so, I had shut out the newcomer. I was unable to see or help the MANY who were not sticking around. The MANY who were going back out and ultimately dying.

There are Many Ways to Recover

This deeply hurts me because I don’t want anyone to die from something that is preventable and treatable. Why shouldn’t I share, all that I learn, with as many people as I possibly can, by whatever means necessary? I believe I should.

Options in Recovery, Yay!

This is my new philosophy on addiction: “You don’t want to work a 12-Step program? No problem. Here is another option!” “You don’t believe in God? Can’t get to a meeting? Can’t find a sponsor? Are on medicated assisted treatment or psych meds? That is OK! Here is another option!”

In closing and just to clarify any misconceptions of my intentions, I intend to continue doing that which has proven to work for me, up until now, but I shall also continue to expand my horizons on practicing mindfulness, yoga, meditation, prayer, CBT, DBT, NA/AA, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery and so on and so forth, until I run out of things to learn. I will continue to pass along everything I learn to other individuals with addictions so the information can help someone else. I intend to help all people, respecting all recovery programs equally because this is a complex disease which requires options, and not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. While I’m busy saving lives, there isn’t a person in this world who can tell me that I am not fulfilling God’s will, as I remain a message carrier. I’m carrying the message and the hope of RECOVERY to the addict who still suffers.

New Recovery Meetings in Pittsburgh

There will be several new recovery meetings coming to Monroeville, PA. I have landed a very promising meeting place, and dates and times will be announced very soon. Meetings you can expect to attend here are as follows: SMART Recovery for the addicted persons, persons with co-occurring disorders and friends & family meetings. Also, face-to-face LifeRing Secular meetings will be available. Times and dates to be announced in the upcoming week. Like my Facebook page for more details.

4 thoughts on “Alternatives to 12-Step: Options In Recovery

  1. Hi Jmee. Thanks so much for being brave enough to face the judgement and backlash from some of 12 Step brethren, and the courage to continue seeking out and learning new things! It’s incredibly important for people to learn and to know that non-12 Step recovery **is** possible, in spite of the dogmatists who insist it absolutely isn’t (and in spite of all the more open-minded, empathetic, and supportive Steppers who don’t care how anyone does it, as long as they do).

    I understand where they’re coming from – really, I do. They believe what they do because it’s been drilled into their heads and validated by too many others in the program to ignore, because the program’s worked so well for them it seems ridiculous to question, and because they truly are coming from a place of wanting to help others by trying to herd them in the “right” direction. And there are quite a few folks in the rooms who do remain more flexible in what they’re willing to try, and do what they need to do to survive – such as taking their psychiatric meds, or using medication-assisted treatment – regardless of the stigma (although it’s likely a large number of them also keep such information to themselves so as to avoid having to deal with having their fellows in their faces, as well).

    I’m one the newcomers who tried really, really hard and still flunked the program, for reasons mostly having to do with some of the behavior of some Steppers you describe (but also because I was wandering around with an alcoholic’s mindset that has trouble recognizing, much less clarifying, reality). I thought for a long time that most of them simply just suffer from “compassion fatigue”, and are so tired of the revolving door that they just don’t have the time or energy to put any more effort toward helping the newbies, and I understand that, too. It also occurred to me that they take the practice of being “selfish” in their recovery very, very seriously, such that they not only don’t have the time or energy for the newbies, or those in early sobriety, but that they’re simply one of the worst things anyone in a “support” community can be – indifferent. That you have validated that the indifference I experienced – from sponsors, from grand sponsors, from pretty much anyone in the program who heard my story up to the point I left – was not just **me**.

    Suffice it to say, having encountered these dynamics on several different occasions and several different Steppers, I ultimately believed **I** was such a failure that even in AA I wasn’t helpable (because the other thing we’ve all heard ad nauseum over the years is that AA is like one big family, who will wrap their arms around you and make you feel deeply cared for and right at home).

    It broke my heart, and it kept me drunk for several more years until I finally discovered – quite randomly, as well – a recovery group where I found all the things I was **supposed** to find in AA but didn’t.

    As a result, I just celebrated my 9 year sobriety anniversary! And I couldn’t be more grateful, happy, healthy, joyous, and free. 🙂

  2. P.S. And, yes, I’ve also concluded that calling something a disease but treating it with a spiritual solution – while blaming the patient if it doesn’t work – is utterly preposterous!

  3. Wow great read J!!! I’m proud of you for standing up and advocating! I agree with a lot of what you said (but also disagree with some based on my own experience and education) and the most important thing here is that people get educated!!! No matter what recovery option one chooses, it should start with gathering as much information as possible to make the best, well-informed decision. I can’t stress how important it is though to make sure you get good information from credible sources. Facts based in logic not feelings clouded with beliefs. I’m sorry you had a bad experience regarding psych meds and MAT in your/a fellowship but I would encourage you and your readers to look into the literature that supports the views and beliefs of the fellowship and remind yourself that one members opinion is not representation of the fellowship as a whole. I see that belief/misnomer bring newcomers out all the time among other things. But a post like this prompts discussion and at least gets the wheels turning which is awesome! Much love!

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