The sad reality is that, when it comes to behavioral change, no one can save anyone else. There isn’t a big genie riding a cumulus who’s going to wave their magic wand and make life better for anyone. Yet, 12-step programs continue to insist that giving oneself to a higher power is the only way to find health after addiction has devastated someone’s life. But those what 12-step programs are saying is that they don’t really know any other way to “treat” addiction but to do the same thing, which is: make someone’s life about the substance. Really, AA will give out coins to people who haven’t used their substance for a certain period of time. And really, I have no problem with that, except for the fact that nothing external can either “help” someone or be a measure of someone’s internal (think “spiritual”) health.
I’ve taught, for several years, that language is not neutral. That is, the words we use are loaded with meaning and value connotation. I’ve always wrestled with the 12-step behavior of labeling with terms like, “addict” or “alcoholic” because those aren’t terms that have positive connotation. I mean, it seems obvious to me that calling oneself a term that most think of in a negative way can’t lead to positive self-images. Yet, 12-step programs still continue to insist on using those terms. But addiction isn’t a binary situation: There is more to addiction than whether someone uses or doesn’t use.
There is a section of the Catholic mass that states, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him,” which to me indicates that God is not external to humanity, but is a part of the living universe. Therefore, the “higher power” we seek is within every living thing. Language is humanity’s ultimate tool and gift; to use pejorative terms to describe ourselves is contrary to the divinity that is within us. No one is coming to save us: we’ve already been saved and to think otherwise is, well, sinful.