While AA is A way to recover, it is not the ONLY way. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the 12-step community is self-governed, and has no central oversight, there are some amazing groups with amazing sponsors, and groups where people are actively using crack in the bathroom or going out for drinks after an NA meeting. Additionally, AA tends to not be totally multiculturally sensitive. The emphasis on bearing your soul, speaker meetings, and the concept of a higher power is very off putting for many people. Therefore, while AA is, and will continue to be a very viable approach to recovery, we need to open our hearts and minds to alternative solutions. Failure to do so is just perpetuating the rigid, addictive mindset—”My way or the highway.”
At Gainesville-NOVA Counseling we take a more inclusive, solution focused and action-oriented approach. Is it spiritual? Sort of. Spirituality is a set of universal principles on which the majority of religions are based. However, spirituality is NOT religion. It is a lifestyle. We encourage you to nurture relationships; however, unlike AA, we believe that healthy family members can learn to be sober social supports (instead of mandating a sponsor). Our program uses the following 8 principles to help you change your negative thoughts, set and achieve realistic goals and stop relying on alcohol, drugs, sex, food or gambling to escape from the stress, anxiety, disappointments and frustrations of life.
1. Honesty: Fairness and straightforwardness of conduct; adherence to the facts. We start by talking about head-heart-and-gut honesty. If it is logically right, doing it or believing it does not make you feel bad and it does not tie your belly up in a knot, you are probably being honest. When one of those areas does not feel right, it usually means you are trying to do something, or convince yourself of something that is just not right. In recovery you need to practice not only being honest with others, but also being honest with yourself. If you grew up in an addicted household, this can be very difficult because you were taught to not trust yourself or anyone else and not feel. Many addicts have no idea what they like, want and feel, because they have never been allowed to figure it out. The first step in recovery is just that. Get honest with yourself. Figure out what is awesome about you. Evaluate all of those negative messages you have in your head, and figure out if they are true or messages/should that you can purge. Then figure out what you want 3 months from now, 6 months and 5 years. This will give you an idea about what path to start taking. It is important to remember that change is very stressful, and many times people change not to reach something, but to run or escape from something. To that end, AAs notion that you should avoid major changes for the first year are spot on.
2. Hope: Desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment; expectation of fulfillment or success; someone or something on which hopes are centered (including yourself and mankind). We have to have hope that if we start changing our thoughts and actions we will start to feel better and our relationships will improve. Hope is the foundation of motivation. In the first step, Honesty, you figured out where you want to go and started figuring out who you are. In order to do the hard work to stay true to yourself, you need to be motivated. Without hope there is no motivation.
3. Faith: Allegiance to duty or a person; loyalty; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions; something that is believed especially with strong conviction. You must have faith in the process, faith in yourself that you can do it, and faith in others that they will do the best they can with the tools they have. This means you need to surround yourself with people with good tools (coping skills, social supports, resources and recovery skills). You need to see that you can have fun clean and sober. You need to have faith that if you do the work, good things will come.
4. Courage: Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Courage closely follows faith. Changing the way you interpret things, learning to trust people, persevering even when the immediate outcome is not positive and forgoing the short-term, immediate rewards for the greater rewards when you complete your journey. These all require great faith in yourself, faith in the process and courage.
5. Integrity: Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility; an unimpaired condition. Once you have gotten honest with yourself and others, have identified a worthy goals (hope), realized that you can achieve those goals if you rely on yourself, the process and other people, and have committed yourself to change (courage) then it is time to talk about integrity. That is, the unwavering commitment to the aforementioned principles. Sometimes we call this grounding. We encourage people to have morning and evening reflection sessions (5 or 10 minutes) in which they assess where they are at/how they feel emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually, occupationally and environmentally. They also reaffirm their commitment to themselves to achieve their goals by asking themselves “What can I do today or what did I do today that is in line with where I want to go and the person I know I can be?” AND “What could I have done better?” Change is hard and you will not be 100% perfect —well ever. However, knowing what you did right and where you have room for growth is a huge step in maintaining that forward momentum.
6. Willingness: Inclined or favorably disposed in mind; ready; prompt to act or respond. As with all the other “steps,” willingness follows closely on integrity. Get honest about what you want. Cultivate hope that with work things will get better. Have faith that your goals can be achieved. Muster the courage to keep going even when there are easier choices. Maintain a constant focus on your goals, values and commitment to yourself (integrity), and be willing to do the hard work.
7. Humility: Sometimes the hard work required means getting over yourself. Having to admit when you are wrong. Saying I am sorry and remembering that we are all one bad choice away from devastation.
8. Brotherly Love: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Once we have humbled ourselves, and learned to love and accept ourselves, despite our shortcomings, we can move on to having compassion/brotherly love for others. This is one huge stumbling block for many people. The inability to forgive, accept or let go of resentments; and the tendency to get angry over even the smallest things trips up most people’s recovery. This anger festers and negatively colors everything else. Seeing the bright side. Looking for the compassionate explanation. Realizing that what most people do really does not have anything to do with you (that whole getting over yourself thing again). All of these things feel awkward at first, but eventually become second nature.