Tuesday, April 02, 2019

alternatives to 12 step, and why addiction recovery is crucial to PTSD recovery

I received one comment to my December post asking if anyone was still out there.  That is enough.  I'll try to make a few new posts, with this as the first.  Techie, the commentator, is having a difficult time with the spiritual aspects of AA and other twelve-step approaches.

A major problem with PTSD sufferers is addiction.  Without recovery from addiction, my belief is that no recovery from PTSD is really possible, since the addiction continually  exposes us to retraumitization which just compounds things.  That is why, despite my misgivings with 12-step approaches, I remain grateful that they provided a way for me to get clean and sober many years ago.  I have expressed my reservations with 12-step approaches in these blog posts:

Since I wrote these a few years ago, a whole secular approach to AA has arisen and even gotten some grudging recognition from AA's General Service Office.  Here are some of the Secular 12-step approaches I know a little about:
I am currently going to refuge recovery meetings in part because they exist in my town, where there are no secular AA meetings, and also because they adopt a Buddhist approach.  I'm not a Buddhist, but their approach does not involve seeking any external deity, so I am more or less down with it, and I have found the meetings are more open to my experience as valid than 12 step approaches have been.  I (re-) started going to an AlAnon meeting, since changing my responses to addictive type behaviors of others is central to my ongoing recovery and they are upfront at this particular meeting about keeping out any religious beliefs as anything but personal beliefs, and welcoming all, including those with none.  That is close enough for me, and I have never been shamed like I was regularly in AA.  So far, anyway!

All of the approaches mentioned above have active online communities and meetings as well, which you can find through the various sites.  

AA still, however, treats as unchangeable Gospel the dated, sexist, and patronizing approach spelled out in the big book chapters on "to the agnostic," "to wives," and "to the employer."  This despite its closing statements that it is "merely suggestive" and that "more will be revealed along the way." 

After giving AA another spin this year, I have found out that ultimately, the big book endorses the idea that a person who does not define spirituality at all, much less the way AA does (a personal deity that intercedes in your life) is a second-class citizen who is not getting the program.  Many AA-ers feel free to say that people like me "aren't really sober" and are fully in line with the Big Book.  AA does suggest tolerance, since some of its earliest and long-lasting members were dyed-in-the-wool atheists.  In fact, in the early days of searchable texts, people used to say at meetings to search the word "tolerance" which appears however many times in the Big Book.  What they don't mention, is that AA is repeatedly stating that what needs to be tolerated is me and my choice not to believe or disbelieve.

Part of my PTSD has been to go through life being treated as, and accepting a role as, a second-class citizen, tolerated at best.  I could throw in my lot with the fighters and rebels, but I have other support networks and remain pretty secure in my sobriety.  I don't need to fight them as much as get away from them.  I have no use for any organization that treats my experience as second class, even a little bit, even if it is not everybody.  Fortunately for me, I was sixteen years clean and sober when I left twelve-step approaches but it is pretty difficult for people just starting out to find a recovery community that respects our decisions to leave spiritual matters open rather than fixing them a certain way, or are atheist or agnostic.  Thus I am particularly glad to see approaches other than first-164-pages-of-the-big-book fundamentalism arise.  The important thing for recovery from addictions in my life was that I was utterly incapable of doing it alone.  I needed the help of others who had faced that situation and succeeded, and when I got sober, they were pretty much all in AA unless they were born again.  I am grateful to see other fellowships that are not stuck in religion take hold.

I will spell out what my "beliefs" are and are not if anyone is interested.  I do not believe that there is anything called God that I can understand.  I have witnessed everything from individuals to whole societies use their understanding of such a deity to do tremendous harm in the world including in my life.  Believers say that is the followers, not the deity, but that is nonsense.  If followers can commit everything from genocide to individual spiritual abuse in the name of "their" higher power, I want nothing to do with such beliefs.  If there is some form of higher power, it is pretty much by definition beyond my comprehension, so I try not to get in the way by trying to figure out what it is .  This includes spiritual, life-changing experiences, of which I have had a few.  I don't know what they were: some chemicals? (of which I had a lot in my body at various times) or the supreme wisdom of Ahura Mazda interceding directly to save me? Or something I don't understand?  

The only one I can say truthfully is the last.  I have no way of knowing, despite my subjective experience, since the matter is, again, pretty much by definition, beyond my comprehension.  And I do not believe that believers in whatever have any way of knowing either, and their beliefs are merely ways to trick themselves into an understanding where there is none, and often, to convince others of the correctness of their own beliefs, almost always with terrible consequences for those around them. Am I challenging your beliefs? No, I just don't believe them. You, obviously, are free to.  

If I am going to be back on this train, I would love to hear from you in the comments to know that there are people reading.