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Addictions Anonymous, 13: A Universal Secular Twelve Steps

There are
two important thoughts to keep in mind when we consider what have been called
the Twelve Steps of Recovery. First, each step is really an important idea that
can be incorporated into every aspect of life. These ideas are intended to make
abstinence easier. A step is not like a move in a board game, something you
simply take and then leave behind. Life-changing ideas require more than
contemplation, they take time and practice. The second important thought to
keep in mind is that the steps do not cure anything. We are by now so imbued
with medical thinking that we tend to see the steps, and the whole self-help
movement, as some kind of cure that, once taken, should hold for life. So, the
steps are ideas, not specific, isolated moves, or assignments. And, the steps
are not to be considered a cure so much as they are an education. They demand
participation and practice. In this sense, then, the program never fails and
need not be subjected to some kind of evaluation; what fails so often is the
student who will not work at the task, follow directions, attend class, or do
the homework.




The
original steps of Alcoholics Anonymous made free use of religious elements, and
that is something I think needs to be changed if the program is to help more
people. I have been accused of hating religion. I donít hate religion. Iím just
not interested in it, and I donít really believe religion is a necessary part
of recovery from an addiction although spirituality certainly is. Religion is
an option many will want to include in their personal lives, but self-help
groups open to any addict are public forums. People of all religions and of no
religion are welcome so long as their goal is abstinence and recovery. No
religion, not even a vague and very general reference to God or a short prayer,
is appropriate because we cannot take for granted that each new member coming
into a group will accept and be comfortable with elements of religion. Some, in
fact, will have had bad experiences with organized religion and will be driven
away by certain group rituals. It is simple arrogance if members disregard the
feelings of new members. My position would be quite different if religious
practice and belief had ever been shown to advance individual abstinence. There
simply is no scientific evidence to support this idea. So, if religion causes
conflict and has no real positive effect in achieving the goals of the group,
letís just leave it out and let the individual find whatever religion he or she
needs in other situations.




Few
subjects are a divisive as religion, but the purpose of a self-help group is
unity around the common earthly goal of abstinence. Addiction is an earthly
problem, a problem acquired and practiced on this earth. We are well past the
level at which people thought addictions are moral defects. In like fashion,
recovery and normal living are affairs of this world in the here and now.




Our form
of government in the United
States
was a radical development; it was
intended to be a secular or non-religious government. The founders had some
very particular reasons for avoiding a theocracy; they did not want a
government that combined religious beliefs with governing principles. They did
not want a king with divine rights, and they did not want a leader who was also
the head of a state religion. The purpose of forming a union of the states was
unity, and nothing is so divisive as arguments over religion. A true political
union would be impossible if it favored one religion over another. Our laws do
not, of course, forbid, regulate or promote religion of any kind. It certainly
was not the intention of our founders to prohibit or suppress religion.




The
United States Constitution does not stipulate that anyone seeking government
office be a member of any religious sect or denomination. Anyone, with or
without religious convictions, can run for office. Also, anyone can vote
without having to express a particular religious preference. Our laws apply, at
least in theory, to everyone of any religion, and to anyone of no religion.
Self-help groups for addiction problems would do well to follow this model for
the separation of religion and worldly affairs.




There are
good reasons for separating church affairs from government business. The
separation protects the people from any possibility of persecution or exclusion
because of their personal beliefs. It also protects religion itself. The
government does not tax religious organizations so it cannot repress or abuse a
religion financially. Government cannot force religion to change its beliefs or
support a political party.




Freedom
of religion also includes freedom from
religion. Addicts coming into self-help groups want help for their addictions.
They are not there to be converted or educated in matters of religion. They are
not there to help others practice their religion by joining in prayer. The sole
purpose is abstinence or sobriety. Self-help group members should keep their
expression of their religion at home or in their houses of worship.




In the United States
the courts have recently ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous (and, by extension,
all similar groups) is a religious organization. Thus, treatment programs that
get any part of their monies from the government may not mandate attendance by
their patients at A.A. meetings. This is a direct result of the failure to keep
religious practice out of the meetings.




Immediately,
some will say that if we exclude religion, we exclude spirituality. This is
nonsense. Spirituality and religion are not the same. One part of the meaning
of spirituality is spiritualism, the
belief in spirits, gods and supernatural forces. A more important part of the
meaning is noble character, and this
will be the subject of much discussion later. Noble character, in fact, is the
highest goal of abstinence from addictive behavior; no court can take exception
to that goal, I hope.




With the
separation of religion from a recovery program as a goal, and wanting to
preserve the fundamental and valid philosophy of the original Twelve Steps, I
offer a somewhat different version.




The Universal
Secular Twelve Steps




Whereas
all addictions to substances or activities are but manifestations of a single,
underlying problem in human development, we adopt and recommend the following
Twelve Steps of recovery for any and all persons who suffer with addictions of
any description:




1.
We admitted we were powerless over addiction--that our lives had become
unmanageable.




2.
Came to believe that The Program, as a power greater than ourselves,
could help us toward normal living.




3.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care this
program and to the loving care of this group.




4.
Made a searching and fearless inventory of our character for ourselves.




5.
Admitted to our group, to ourselves and to another human being the exact
nature of our faults and misdeeds.




6.
Were entirely ready to practice the program in order to remove our defects
of character.




7.
Humbly asked the help of others in the removal of our short comings and
resolved to work to remove these faults ourselves.




8.
Made a list of all persons we harmed, and became willing to make amends
to them all.




9.
Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do
so would injure them or others.




10. Continued to take personal
inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.




11. Sought through study and
meditation to improve our awareness of law and of the natural forces that
govern life hoping only for knowledge of right and wrong and the strength to
follow that knowledge.




12. Having had a spiritual
awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts
and to practice these principles in all our affairs.




Great
thinker and pioneer that he was, William Wilson was not trying to write a bible
and would certainly never have viewed his writing as a sacred, unalterable
text. The basic goal is always personal change and growth. The means of
achieving that goal is personality change brought about by new values and
habits of living.




Although
the goal is to keep the steps as close as possible to the familiar version,
further changes may be appropriate so long as the basic philosophy of each step
is retained.




Next, I
will offer a series of chapters devoted to the exploration of one of the above
steps. These twelve discussions are separated into different units to
discourage rapid reading and to encourage readers to pause at each step
spending as much time on each as it takes to make the step a part of their
thinking, their lives, and their program.




Assignment:
write what you think is the big idea behind each of the steps above.



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