[Written in 2006.]
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Translation: I admit that I don’t have a true self within that can heal and regain control over my life, and that this is the reason – not all of my unresolved childhood traumas! – that my life has become so disturbed and dysfunctional. I admit that the root of my problem is alcohol, not all the trauma I experienced as a child and cannot acknowledge, and that’s why I come to AA. If only I can cure the symptom then everything will be okay! (So untrue!)
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Translation: I came to believe that since there is no God within me, that is, no true self within me, that this God must be outside of me and beyond me – and that this external God, who is essentially little more than an idealized, fantasy parent, can save me. Basically, I can’t take care of myself because I am too wounded of a child, too completely damaged, but Mommy can still save me! I just have to put my faith back in Mommy – and hopefully a better Mommy than I had the first time around (the one who participated in crushing my personality and making me into such a deranged alcoholic).
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Translation: I will totally divest myself of my belief that I can really take care of myself and heal my own wounds, and I will consciously decide that this externalization of my split-off inner self – this external God – can save me. This allows me to keep alive my unconscious, grandiose, and immature idea that I am the king of the universe, but simply place it on something external, which allows me all the while to keep alive a façade of humility. When I speak of God or Higher Power I am really speaking of the my own unconscious, grandiose feelings about myself, which follow the exact template of my idealized image of my abusive parents.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Translation: Now that I have worked hard to believe that I don’t have a true and holy self within (that lives under the mounds of unresolved childhood trauma which I don’t believe I even have), I will do an odd second best of looking within to find out what else might be just be inside me. I will not take an emotional inventory of the traumas foisted on me when I was a child, because AA tells me that is irrelevant to my healing – and might just tell me that I am a lot more miserable and disturbed than I delude myself into believing – and also might force me to discover that my parents really did mess me up worse than I thought, and that the upwelling pain coming from that potential discovery might want to drive me back into my old patterns of drinking. So instead I will stick with a “moral” inventory, and just study my morals, my own “badness” and hurtful behavior – which is convenient considering I have already come to believe firmly that I have no true self which would really root me in the deepest morals and inner goodness of all.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Translation: With no self-reflection at all on where my acting out behavior might have come from (that is, no acknowledgement that my disturbed patterns are simply a replication of the traumas done to me when I was vulnerable and innocent and powerless in my family as a child), I will now admit all the bad things that I have done to others, and not only that, I will cement this list of my badness into place by admitting it to this externalized God (which I am convinced is separate from the essence of me!) and to a person who buys into this deluded and dissociative philosophy. Talk about thrusting myself down a blind alley, and further cutting myself off the from deeper root of myself.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Translation: Now that I have been a good boy and admitted all the bad things I did – without ever having explored what was done to me to motivate my “bad” behavior – I will be pleasing in the eyes of this external God (Mommy), and will be ready to be loved once again. This will give me a very warm feeling inside, a dissociative feeling which I will mistake for being a sign-marker on my path to enlightenment. And I must always remember that no one but ME is responsible for my “defective character,” and heaven forbid not Mommy herself! Mommy loves me, and she’s the one who will save me. She has nothing do to with why I’m so messed up!
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Translation: Please Mommy/God, now that I’ve admitted how bad I am, and how much I’ve hurt you, and how naughty I’ve been, will you love me again and tell me that I’m a good boy? I’ll do anything you say. I really do love you, I really, really do. And I always did love you deep down, even though you did horrible things to me which I can’t seem to remember anyway because I so pickled myself with booze to try to blot out the memories. Please tell me I’m a good boy again!
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Translation: Now I’m really going to change my ways. I’m going to stop being a bad boy and be a good boy again, and prove to you that I really was a good boy all along, even though deep down underneath all my grandiose façade I still think that I’m the pathological, worthless, evil, vile, stinking, rotten, useless, hopeless, piece of dogs**t that you always subtly and sometimes not so subtly taught me that I was – which is why I drank so much and so destructively. But now I’m going to make it all right for the world, even though I’ve still never even come close to looking at the harm that you, Mommy, and you, Daddy, did to me. But I’m the bigger person! I’ve already forgiven you – even though I really have no clue exactly what I’ve forgiven you for.
9. Made a direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Translation: I’ll change my ways. I’ll be so dissociated and split-off from my deep and churning inner rage and fury and misery and sadness over what was done to me that I’ll come across like the Best Little Boy in the whole wide world, and I’ll prove to you that I’ve changed. And on the surface I WILL change. I’ll sure seem different. I won’t get plastered and get violent for no reason and puke all over the new carpets and drive like an intoxicated maniac and frighten the hell out of everyone and force you to live with a pink elephant in your living room. No, the only pink elephant left in my life will be the pink elephant of my entire unconscious, which I won’t notice anymore because it will just get in my way. I’ll smile and convince you that I’m reformed, even though underneath it I’ll still be as deformed as ever.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Translation: I’ll be a good boy forever and ever. I’ll do the dishes every day and always say I’m sorry when I do or say a mean thing. And at least I’ll be honest enough to continue calling myself an alcoholic for the rest of my life, even though I’m not drinking, because my program of AA is wise enough to admit that AA is no cure for alcoholism, just a temporary stopgap. After all, I’ve never even looked at what made me an alcoholic. How in the world can I expect this denial-laden program to cure me?
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.
Translation: Now I will become a master of dissociation. Despite still clinging to a philosophy and self that are full of holes, I will practice the art of becoming Holy. I will pretend to be going deep inside the root of my being but in reality will just practice splitting off and making it look fancy. I will talk to God in prayer but have no idea who God really is, and I will listen to God in meditation and not be able to realize that I’m ignoring the deepest and most basic essences of my soul. I will be lost and will now have the beautiful capacity to delude myself into thinking that I’m almost home!
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 affairs.
Translation: Now that I am enlightened (that is, dissociated) and no longer need alcohol to achieve this dissociated state, I will begin to be the Best Little Boy in the world and go out and begin my mission to proselytize my false version of “the truth.” I will feel the comfort and confidence to pressure and manipulate others who use alcohol to dissociate from their unresolved childhood traumas to follow this largely unreliable program and to split-off from their ancient wounds just as I have done. I will feel justified in insulting and degrading and pathologizing them if they are too much “in denial” to follow my lead, and the truth be damned. It will make me feel very grandiose to cajole other traumatized drinkers into dissociating by requesting that they follow my adopted methods, but I will not acknowledge this as grandiosity, and instead will just call it “having self-esteem.” And if these newcomers fail to follow my methods and drink themselves to death, well, that’s just too bad – I guess they didn’t have enough “radical honesty.” Thank God I do! That’s why I love AA. It’s saved my life…even though I have no idea what having a real and connected life is remotely about. P.S. It is not coincidental that the first word of AA’s “Big Book” is not alcohol, but instead is a totally trauma-related word: WAR!
I can feel your hostility toward the 12 steps, AA & Al-Anon in this essay and the other critique of AA itself. I applaud your honesty and I think you’ve shown a lot of courage speaking out about the entire system of psychiatry, psychoactive pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy… Wow. I appreciate all your YouTube videos, introducing me to Peter Breggin MD, and all the “atypical” or alternative paths to healing that I was just ignorant of in general. It’s helped me immensely in my own recovery.
In the interest of disclosure (or as much as I’m willing to reveal in a public blog) I left social work for many of the same reasons you did, I’ve experienced my own mental health issues and I’m a sober member of AA with 13 years. I’m a militant agnostic, and on particularly nihilistic days, an angry atheist – usually only briefly though. I would never want to invalidate someone elses experience with 12 step programs because I think that’s completely unfair. I’ve experienced my own judgement of “the program” and regularly refuse to “drink the Kool aid”. I do see a big difference in how we have perceived the 12 steps entirely differently. My experience has been so different from yours I’m a bit confused of how that happens. I take what works from AA and leave the rest. Maybe none of it worked for you, or perhaps Al-Anon has a different focus. I don’t know. I found al-anon a bit depressing and, contrary to your experience, the al-anons I met were pissed off. And rightly so. Anyway, if you’re ever in L.A. and curious why my experience has been so different, I’d love to sit and chat, perhaps sit in on a meeting and hear your critique.
Keep up the great work. I really appreciate what you’re doing for people in the mental health system and delivery to “clients & consumers” (I hate those terms). I can honestly say in the moments when I most needed a competent, caring, affordable therapist, I would have called you up in a second.
I would be interested to know if you might be aware of any advocacy groups in Los Angeles? Anything similar to Freedom Center here? I’m certainly not aware of any.
Thank you again,
I’ve been in the 12-step program for eight years and I have problem leaving. At the moment I’m studying to become a psychologist but I still find it hard to integrate my experience from the program so I’m very grateful for this essay. I think the adult children program (ACA) takes up some of your critice of AA, that of childhood trauma, but I still find that people sit at those meetings without the right tools to be able to move on with their lives.
On a spiritual level I am afraid that bad things will happen to me if I leave the program and I’ve been very cumpulsive with it, it has made me avoid life and relationships. Lost most of my friends from school and my family is very tired of me. I have a really hard time to see clearly on my experience from the 12-steps.
What are your recomendations?
greetings. hmm…i’m not really in a position to give recommendations….everyone’s situation can be so specific. but i know for me, when i was in a twelve step program (al-anon) and i found that it was no longer helping me as much as it once had, i just started going less to meetings and building a life more outside the meetings. and then eventually i stopped going to al-anon entirely — that was more than ten years ago. i really haven’t missed it at all — but it was a gradual process of leaving. i did get criticized by some people in al-anon for leaving, though — like somehow i was betraying the program. but i wasn’t betraying the program. i was being honest with myself, i was moving forward, and i was living my life. all the best to you, daniel
Thanks for your reply. I recognise your feelings. I’m very afraid and feel guilt too. Well I’m not going to meetings as often as I used to but it feels like I’ve forgotten some of the “normal” skills I used to have so I’m going to go to therapy to sort out my behaviors and traumas. Have ignored my real needs and inner voice for so long. Thank’s for sharing your experiences. I don’t know that many people who has left the program, most you hear is horror stories and I feel that that is the wrong motivation to keep people in the program. Well, hopefully I’ll be fine! 🙂
wishing you the best on your journey, Bea! –daniel
You will be ok. I had been in AA for 12 years, with 11 years of continual sobriety . I have not been to a meeting for about 1 1/2 years . My life is no better or worse.
In AA we would say if you don’t go to meetings you will end up in (jail, an institution ,or dead ). But you rarely here about people thriving with out AA because they are not in AA.
It reminds me of the christian church,
when people would speak of trying other religions but found Christianity to be the only true way. But I was hearing it in a christian church . Just a little bias there.
How has it been going Bea? years have passed since you posted.. how has it been going? Ta