Want to Limit Yourself? Place a Label upon Your Life.

I believe, with that of my heart and soul, that self-awareness is the absolute foundation of developing and maintaining recovery (and health in general). Seeing, and naming, meaning in one’s life provides the momentum and strength to face life’s challenges. However, one of the questions that people always ask me is, “Since you think we have the answers we seek inside ourselves, how do you feel about 12-step programs?”

I think the reason this question emerges is that, while I teach people to delve into themselves in order to find those golden nuggets within their souls that may be hidden, I don’t teach or advocate any one treatment program, 12-step or otherwise

In my opinion, 12-step programs have their place within an overall treatment strategy. However, the component I do not find useful is the self-labeling as “addict” or “alcoholic.” These terms are not neutral; rather, they are self-fulfilling prophecies that may do more to keep people in an unhealthy view of themselves.

I have taught, and will always teach, that empowerment requires removal of limits placed upon a person’s life. Any label does just the opposite: Instead of assisting to remove a limit, a label is a limit in and of itself. To illustrate my point, I always ask people, “If someone applied to be your child’s babysitter, but the first words out of his mouth were I am an addict, would you hire him?” After a smile and a slight chuckle, the response I almost always receive is, “No.”

As I said, 12-step programs have their place. There’s little doubt that the community that forms within a group does provide a place for support and common ground. This support is invaluable in recovery. Also, for me, the higher power component is a huge asset to someone trying to rebuild his or her life out of the detritus addiction leaves in its wake. There’s no doubt that addiction robs our soul of all that’s good and strong and beautiful; connecting with “God” is the lifeline to refilling souls with beauty and strength and goodness. So, the support and higher power components to 12-step programs could be significant contributors to long-lasting recovery.

However, I do not think 12-step programs are for everyone, nor do I think they are the sole path to recovery. Everybody is different and has different needs. From now on, the question I’ll pose to people who ask for my opinion of 12-step programs is, “What do 12-step programs mean to you?” The responses to this question invariably predicted for whom 12-step programs would work. Really, what something means to someone is personal. But finding meaning, even of 12-step programs, is personal and for each of us to find in ourselves.


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