A common phrase in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is “It Works If You Work It.” AA, to my knowledge, is the world’s most well attended 12 Step organization and the originator of the 12 Step self help programs. Other programs followed similar 12 Step philosophy such as Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addict Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Alanon, etc. I know from personal experience of being sober close to 30 years that I would not be alive today, much less sober, if not for my introduction and continued involvement in AA, and belief that it works. It however does not work for everyone. Some people give up too quickly – some attend one meeting and that’s it. Others turn their lives around fairly quickly due to their 12 Step involvement and then stop participating in their recovery. Days, months or years later they return in worse emotional and mental shape than when they first arrived at a 12 Step fellowship. I often wonder why they stopped attending when participating has improved the quality of their lives. What are the road blocks to continued involvement, what scares them or drives them away? Here is a top five list I put together after discussing this topic with many professionals and non- professionals who have been or currently involved in a 12 Step fellowship, or refer people to them:
- Life gets good again, the heat is off or the pain has subsided.
- “I am too busy.”
- The word “God” in the steps, fear, or reluctance to work the steps without choosing a sponsor to help through these roadblocks.
- Make a rapid assessment that “I don’t believe my problem is as bad as those people.”
- The social fears of, “What will I do at parties?” “What will I tell people when they ask about my involvement or ask if II go to those meetings?” “Will I ever have fun again?” Questions/concerns about the future that scares people from committing to live one day at a time.
Granted, it is scary to change. Most people who attend 12 Step meetings aren’t attending because they have been on a “winning streak” in fact most are seeking answers about serious life issues. Some attend needing more or different help than a 12 Step fellowship can offer right then. Some need immediate assistance, such as a medical detoxification under the care of a physician or an inpatient psychiatric stabilization for severe depression or suicidal thoughts. However I think a majority who attend their first meeting do and can get relief if they are indeed attending the fellowship most designed to help them. How can working or following a 12 Step principled life solve so many very complex problems? Maybe that is the beauty of it — it is not overly complicated. Successful involvement forces human fellowship, support and a spiritual surrender that gives peace and comfort to those who have over active thoughts and compulsive behaviors. I was 19 when I was introduced to the 12 steps and only attended to avoid severe legal consequences. However what I found was a fellowship of caring non judgmental individuals dealing with my same feelings and issues. I was taught and guided on how to use the 12 steps to improve my life. They were suggested never forced. I quickly learned those who don’t follow the suggested steps tend to have more issues and emotional drama and often leave the fellowship. It is my continued involvement that has been a blessing and has given me a wonderful, spiritually filled life that I wouldn’t trade for anything.