I’m an addict in recovery. I participate in a program, but that doesn’t mean I will shut up about the fact that I do not believe in the twelve steps, and do not believe that addiction is a disease. I participate in a program for three reasons:
- I have not yet found a viable alternative.
- I go to meetings, not for myself, but rather to speak to and inspire other recovering addicts. The weekly meeting I attend is at a rehab with inpatients.
- There are people who will hold it against me if I do not participate in a program. So I do, even though neither the meetings nor the twelve steps is what made me clean up, and neither is what’s keeping me clean.
Up until recently, I accepted step one as being true. Step one states:
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
But this site made me rethink my attitude to step one. Was I out of control? My life became chaotic, and I felt powerless, but feeling powerless and being powerless are two very different things.
Let’s step back a few years and see how powerless I was, or wasn’t.
I made choices every day; most of them bad choices while I was still using. But they were choices. When things got totally out of control back in Cape Town in 2009, I realized that I needed help. We, including our 18 month old son, were living with a dealer. We had no house, no car and almost no possessions left. My job was on the line, and I was barely holding onto it.
I accepted that the environment we lived in was unfit for a child, and that I couldn’t get him out on my own, so I cooperated with certain people to get him out of there. Then I came up with a plan for myself. That involved getting help from my girlfriend’s mother, and temporarily staying in a shelter. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was a roof over my head, a meal in my stomach and a hot shower every day. Also, I stopped using meth, and about three days later the voices in my head, which had become my permanent companions, disappeared completely.
I still had my job, and that situation was starting to improve. All I had to do was survive until the end of the month, and then buy or rent a small place for myself. After that, the plan was to get her out of the situation too. As long as I didn’t lose my job, I had medical aid that covered rehabilitation. I’d called them and found the details, and was ready to book her in if she was willing. But on the fourth day, while I was at work a relative had called the people who ran the shelter. He told them all about drugs; that I was using meth. He told them this even though he wasn’t living in the same part of the country as I was. Bear in mind also that almost everybody in such shelters are there because of drugs. (I recall an odd experience when I showered one night. The other person showering, a man in his early twenties, spent about two hours there talking to himself. The shower was right next to the room I stayed in so I heard him for long after finishing.) The main difference between me and the others at that shelter was that I wasn’t using drugs anymore, but the people who ran the shelter didn’t know that. The bottom line was that I had to leave – they weren’t even willing to talk to me, but instead trusted the word of a stranger in another province, who stated incorrectly that I was using. So it had come about that I must leave, and I was left stranded at night when I arrived from work.
I tried a few options to prevent going back to where I’d been, but they didn’t work out. So I had nowhere to go, and ended up back in that awful situation, living with my “girlfriend” and the dealer she was with. Of course I continued using. There was no way I could live in a single shared room with two people who were using without using too, and that lead to my losing that job, and being in a situation where I was very close to living on the street. I could no longer function, and there was no way of getting another job while living there. That was the lowest point of my life.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and you don’t get more desperate than I was. I had nowhere to go, and I only saw two options to get out of there:
- Kill the dealer. Go to jail. (Not really an option. I will never go to jail. Also, I’m not a murderer.)
- Manipulate the dealer into beating me up really really badly, and trust that someone, anyone, might actually care enough to get me out of there, and into rehab. (Actually I had someone specific in mind, of course.)
I went with option two. It was a long shot, but I’d been in contact with that relative and figured that I knew him well enough and this would be enough to get him to help me into a rehab. It was a huge personal sacrifice as well as a calculated risk and I had to swallow my pride, then use my sarcasm as well as a physical threat (which was a bluff) to provoke the dealer, and not fight back when he started hitting me – although I had to use my remaining strength to make him stop. (Taunting him into action was the easy part.) And it worked. (In my mind, it took strength to do that. I wasn’t fucking powerless at all.)
After rehab and staying clean for several months, I did ultimately relapse almost a year later, and return to active addiction. But during that time, I continued working and paying my rent, as well as providing a place for my mother to live. She’d be destitute if I lost my job and my place, but that didn’t happen. (So how powerless was I?) Eventually I did manage to stop, without another intervention, but by putting other people before myself. (Aside: Many other recovering addicts have expressed that they didn’t “get recovery” until they did it for themselves. For me it was the other way around. I couldn’t do recovery for myself, but it worked out when my primary focus was on other people, those I care for. That also means my “higher power” is my loved ones. I’m told that’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t work with the 12 steps. I can’t pray to my loved ones. Heck – maybe I can? At least they fucking exist! Unlike God…)
So I was already clean for some time before I started participating in any program. This has allowed me to view the program quite differently to my first time around. I didn’t go into the program feeling powerless – I went in with over a year’s clean time. Thus not feeling powerless and desperate allowed me to see the faults and all the bullshit in the program for what it is, all too clearly.
To conclude, I do not believe that I was ever powerless over my addiction, although it did feel that way. I was denied the chance to quit of my own will the first time around, denied by a well-meaning relative who accidentally undermined my plan to help myself when I could, but this last time around I have succeeded. And I succeeded without any program.
I never tell anyone that I succeeded by myself although technically that may be close to the truth, because the crux of my recovery succeeding was that it was for my loved ones, not me. So I may have done it on my own, but I could not have done it alone. (A paradox, but hopefully it makes sense.) Also, I remembered everything I’d learned in rehab from the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, and applied it. I was fortunate that the rehab I attended didn’t only focus on the 12 steps.
I do participate in a program now, but for other reasons, not to help myself. The fact is, there is no evidence that the program of NA, including the 12 steps, actually works at all. There is no evidence that it is any better than doing nothing at all. More on that in upcoming posts…
If I feel that way inclined, I’ll continue this as a series, all tagged “casting doubt on the 12 steps” with the step number in the title… But some of them are so absurd, any critically thinking person should be able to reject them out of hand. For example, step 11 requires “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”. And I’m told that my “higher power” can be something other than your god? Spiritual, not religious program, my arse!