I’ve recently experienced some negative conceptions about 12-step recovery programs from those who have seen others try and fail, and from the frontlines of those who are still struggling with the concept. I couldn’t help but look further into the format of 12-step fellowship groups – a program of recovery that has afforded me the great blessing of a life I deeply love and appreciate – to try and untangle some of the reasons why the program appears to be so difficult for others.

Anyone who has worked a 12-step program has made mistakes. But adjusting along the way and recognizing where we are wrong, or are holding onto erroneous beliefs, is a part of the growth process. To not change is to commit to slowly wandering back into old habits and patterns that may encourage a relapse.

While not a science, here are some consistent fallacies that I’ve seen inhibit people’s path toward reaching not only long-term recovery, but have prevented them from experiencing the joy and gratitude that both myself and a great many others have achieved.

Believing your addiction to a substance is the problem.
Substance abuse is but a mere symptom of the underlying reason we use. In completing a 4th step, we uncover the consistent patterns of thinking and feeling which leads to insecurity and ultimately the desire to use. Upon recognizing these patterns, we now counteract them by developing healthy ways to cope with them instead of using. If we believe that we just have a “substance” issue, then once the substance is taken away, the feelings of insecurity and uncomfortability still remain. In order to be successful, these
new coping mechanisms should be employed at the onset of any triggering emotional reaction to enact real change.

Deciding to put less energy into your recovery than you did in your using.
Before someone has felt the rewards of working a thorough 12-step program, the thought of investing as much of their time in their sobriety as they did their using seems impossible. But the amount of time that most of us spent using is far greater than the time it will take us to work on our sobriety on a daily basis. Most people who are living in long-term, successful recovery find that they put little effort forth whatsoever, since meetings are a welcome reprieve, working the steps keeps them balanced, and keeping in contact with sponsees and supports keeps their own program growth alive.

Choosing to be selectively honest.
It’s okay to not be completely honest all the time, or to always live by the principles of the steps. That’s why we say this program is about progress, not perfection. However, consciously making choices to be selectively honest will slowly eat away at your conscience. For those who have worked the steps, we realize that forgiveness is a powerful motivator for change and provides great redeeming qualities. But if you start slipping back into old habits of dishonesty, it becomes easier and more acceptable to concede to your character defects, while also unraveling the work you’ve done to amend past behaviors. One day, the choice to pick up again may be another lie you concede to, resulting in relapse.

Deciding not to make amends.
Holding onto resentment is like allowing a disease to go unchecked. It will simply continue to grow and develop over time. Through the amends process, we divulge our own resentments, and allow the process of forgiveness to take place. It’s a cleansing, cathartic, and purifying process. But addressing an amends with a family member or a loved one is difficult, even crippling in some circumstances. However, there are other ways to make amends rather than doing it face-to-face if it’s too hard. But, avoiding the process altogether, will lead someone back to a drink or drug.

Believing you’re somehow different than everyone else.

For many of us, it took a while to concede that we had an addiction problem. An entirely new journey begins when you enter a program of recovery and feel that somehow your recovery will be different than everyone else’s. The reality is that the steps were developed to help everyone, regardless of your background, and written in
a specific order that should be followed. Believing that you are somehow different from the millions of people around the world who deal with addiction and have experienced long-term recovery by working the 12-steps will keep you from conceding to your deepest fears and character defects, as well as prevent you from the holistic healing that the 12-steps provide.

Deciding not to seek outside help for other issues.
12-Step programs are an incredible tool to use for anyone, whether you suffer from addiction or not, in order to take hold of your life, re-align your values and live a better future, while also mending your past. But this self-help program may not cure all of the aspects of your life, especially as it relates to other family members and loved ones. It’s important and encouraged to seek outside help from a trained therapist or counselor to address any of these issues. Together, with a healthy 12-step program of recovery, you and your loved ones will be able to transcend the difficulties that are inhibiting you all from living the best possible life.

Deciding not to listen to your inner voice.
For me, my inner voice is my higher power. It first and foremost tells me, “Don’t pick up a drink, no matter what, and for that, I’m grateful. But sometimes it also tells me, “You’re feeling tired”, or, “I don’t think you should say ‘yes’ to that”. In those situations, it can be harder to listen to that voice of reason, which intuitively lets us know that our next choice may be a dangerous one. This can impact our lives whether drugs and alcohol are involved in the equation or not. For high achievers, for instance, we often force more commitments on our plate than is necessary, creating imbalance and stress.

On other occasions, we concede to plans when we know we’re not ready, or may be triggered by them. But when you listen to your inner voice, and really pay attention, it usually tells you very clearly what the right choice is. Sometimes that means missing out. But ultimately, passing up an opportunity to do something that might lead you to increased stress or even a relapse is a missed opportunity worth making.

Marissa has been in recovery since May, 2013. She has been a successful creative developer in the corporate marketing arena for over 10 years and recently shifted her efforts to the addiction treatment field at The Hope Center for Rehabilitation, located in Delray Beach, Florida. She owes her life, her success and her future to Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-Steps and to her supporters in the recovery community, and hopes her contributions will help others recognize the importance, and the gift of recovery. marissa@hopecenterrehab.org