Maybe for some individuals, whose goal is simply to get off drugs and meet like-minded people, a 12 Step fellowship fits the bill better than, say, the local church or civic group.

iStock_000007745118MediumOnline discussion groups are a great way to find out what people in the field are thinking. Example: Over the past year I’ve noticed a recurrent complaint by some counselors that the 12 Step emphasis on ‘working’ the Steps was just a sly way of blaming the addict or alcoholic for failure. “They slander the addict by making relapse his fault. If he uses, it’s because he wasn’t going to enough meetings, or working the Steps. It increases the stigma.”

That’s open to debate, but I was interested in the viewpoint of one notable 12 Step speaker. He claimed that most of the people he runs into aren’t working the Program. They may be attending meetings, and collecting anniversary chips. They’re having coffee and cake. But they’re not working the Steps as intended. The spiritual component is largely missing. They don’t change in the way recovering folks need to change. And because their program is weak, they’re vulnerable to relapse. Even if they’re sober, the quality of their lives isn’t what it could be.

That reminded me of a fellow I met recently on another project. He could boast of a couple decades of sobriety, bringing meetings to hospitals and treatment programs, carrying the message to those who still suffer. Yet my initial impression is he’s one of the unhappiest human beings I’ve met. If I were a newcomer confronted with that guy, I would probably stop going to meetings, just to avoid him.

“Classic two-stepper,” someone observed. That’s an old term for somebody who focused on the first and last steps– in other words, quit drinking and began proselytizing– but appears to have skipped the other ten. And therefore has no real spiritual program of recovery to rely on.

Of course, that’s a value judgment. But isn’t it the value judgment made by anybody who commits to (or claims to represent) a 12 Step program? Seems to me there’s a responsibility to practice the Steps if you hope to attain the benefits. Maybe for some individuals, whose goal is simply to get off drugs and meet like-minded people, a 12 Step fellowship fits the bill better than, say, the local church or civic group. I say more power to them, your liver is grateful.

But if they’re not practicing the 12 Step program, is it unfair for others to bring that up as an issue when and if they relapse? Or experience other life difficulties?

Is it really slander if it’s true?

I think I’ll return to┬áthis topic in a few more posts, talking to others about working the 12 Step program, versus merely attending meetings.


Hi I had 4 years of “not drinking” attending meetings but no programme. I certainly was not sober during that period. It was only when I began practising the programme that I began to live a more contented free life.

Comment by john k — September 30, 2015 @ 2:39 am

Scott, Thank you for this post today. It popped in my inbox and I couldn’t resist the read when I saw the title. For me, I love the 12-step program and am indebted to the people who sat before me. That being said, After (formally writing out) my steps 3 times in 4 years and still not “feeling it.” …whatever “it” was, (LOL) I started working with a life coach. KABAMMM…this is when the moreness of recovery began to shift for me. I know all the work I did in 12-step changed me deeply. I also know that effectively “practicing” meant moving on and continuing my spiritual journey. The Universe is abundant. I wanted and got more for the asking. I’ll be interested to read your follow-up posts on this. This is definitely a topic that drives me. Love you all. Thank you for being a part of my journey, Lisa

Comment by Lisa Neumann — September 3, 2015 @ 9:38 am

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