What Do 12-Step Programs Involve?
- Free peer group support from people who share what has worked for them;
- The sense of safety and self-esteem-building experience of an organization in which everyone’s voice and work is equally important;
- Unique tools for setting boundaries, increasing self-awareness, managing money, releasing anger and guilt, planning meals, and strengthening relationships;
- Ongoing, life-long support in transforming our lives.
What Do People Get Out Of 12-Step Programs?
I've been working the steps in a wide variety of 12-step programs for close to 10 years at the time of this posting. (No, there's no "12-Step Addicts Anonymous." For the same reason that there's no... I don't know... "Getting Really Good Massages Anonymous.") I am lucky enough not to have any substance addictions, but there seem to be no limits to what else I can use to mess my life up, avoid my feelings, avoid having real relationships with other human beings, run my finances into the ground, run what relationships I do manage to have into the ground - and cetera.
"Addiction" just means, essentially, something that you compulsively use in a way that harms you. (I would say "it means not being able to stop fucking up your life by yourself", but that's not so formal.) There is a program out there for very nearly anything you can do that with, sometimes several. Overeaters Anonymous, Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Procrastinators Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Underearners Anonymous. There's something for every substance you can be addicted to as well, including Nicotine Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous.
And there are plenty for the ways that other people can mess up our lives. Dysfunctional and abusive upbringings can dent and warp our defense mechanisms so that we careen through life with the same basic problem: having a dysfunctional relationship, ourselves, with food, other people, drugs and alcohol, money, work, and so forth. Hence: Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Survivors of Incest Anonymous, Families Anonymous, COSA (like Al-Anon but for people affected by sex addicts), and on and on. In these programs,
Healthier Relationships With Ourselves & Others
Twelve-step work makes it very easy to see what things aren’t our responsibility to change, and what we need to fix on our own side of the street. When people see that we are interested in supporting them in fixing their own problems, instead of trying to fix those problems for them, and that we are interested in taking responsibility for our mistakes and setting healthier boundaries with them, they become able to be more honest with us. Instead of seeing us as authorities to rebel against, our children start to see us as role models. They start to share their problems, feelings, and successes with us, instead of shutting us out in favor of peer pressure.
“I sometimes find myself in a never ending circle of dealing with the problems of living. I deal with my life as I saw my parents deal with theirs, and they dealt with their life as they saw their parents. Until I am willing to break the circle and forge a new shape to my life, I will remain stuck. By working my 12-step program, I stand a chance of making changes that can lead to a better way of life for my family and me.” – Families Anonymous member
Powerful, Healthy Boundaries
A twelve-step program involves more than just going to supportive meetings. The core of the program is working the steps with someone we trust who can show us what helped them. One of the many benefits of working the steps is discovering where we’ve given our power away without realizing it – and what we can do about that.
Freedom From Anger & Resentment
Every parent whose child has run into a busy street without looking, or come home hours late without calling, knows that anger comes from fear. The tools that we learn in twelve-step programs free us, over time, from our fear and our anger.
Instead, we get to learn what we have the power to change in our lives, how to change it, and how to heal the roots of our rage – and as we and our loved ones practice those skills, all the old worry, fear, and resentments that were eating us up start slipping away.
Healthier Relationships With Food, Work, Money….
Many people have gotten into twelve-step programs to support (or get support around living with) an addicted family member, and then found tremendous help in areas they had struggled with for years. Of course, there are programs like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and Codependents Anonymous that help people understand a loved one’s behavior and needs in more depth, and set stronger boundaries with them. These are often great places for parents who don’t understand why their children are drinking or doing drugs, or how that may tie in with seemingly unrelated problems at school, problems with anger, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other issues.
But besides that, there are also twelve-step programs for people who struggle with:
· control issues, isolation, “fixing” or caretaking others, dysfunctional relationships, or shame (Codependents Anonymous),
· overspending, underearning, or credit card debt (Debtors Anonymous),
· anorexia, bulimia, and overeating (Overeaters Anonymous, Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous, and Eating Disorders Anonymous, among others
· work avoidance and overworking (Workaholics Anonymous),
· sexual abuse (Survivors of Incest Anonymous) or any kind of abuse at all (Abuse Survivors Anonymous),
· being unfaithful to their partners, addictions to pornography, or other compulsive sexual behavior (Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex And Love Addicts Anonymous)
· loved ones’ difficulty with those behaviors (COSA, Codependents Anonymous)…
· and on and on.
Attending meetings in these programs, working the steps, and using other suggested tools in each program, can offer a new lease on life. Best of all, they’re free! (After working with talk therapists for years who couldn't see through me, figure out how to get me where I wanted to go, or even figure out where I could be going, all for sixty dollars an hour... that "free" part is a pretty big deal to me.)