Sunday, July 02, 2006

Letter from a Woman in the UK

We received the following letter at the LifeRing Service Center yesterday. It came via air mail from a woman in the UK. I’ve edited out identifying details. She writes:

“Dear Marty and all at LifeRing,

Thank you for the e‑mail. Also thank you for saying that starting a LifeRing meeting here [in the UK] is providing a valuable service. I am not used to being valued, I am used to being undervalued.

The boss at my place of work has said that if we do the meeting within my working hours we can have the room paid by the fund. I have managed to work out how to order literature from the Internet and the next time I am paid, I will be ordering some things. Meanwhile I am downloading things such as door signs and printing them out.

I hope that this meeting gets underway. Having been in and out of AA/NA for 6 years, I feel a bit uneasy with doing it. However, at the same time I want to. I am scared, you see, to leave AA/NA. I have had it drummed into my head if I do, I will return to active drug use, live and die in my addiction; or if I manage to keep clean, I will have no spirituality and will go insane.

At present, I am seeing a psychologist on the N[ational].H[ealth].S[ervice]. who is aware of my thoughts, feelings and difficulties within the 12 step organisations. I am waiting to go into group therapy, which will last for just over a year.

When I hear of people such as yourself my first thoughts — and please don’t take this personally – are: is that person really clean? Has he/she really got and stayed clean without a 12 step programme? Is this person in a good mind state or are they insane? I can’t help this because of what has been drummed into me. I have been wishing hoping and praying for another way that will work for me — a way that has nothing to do with 12 steps and higher powers (though I have one). . A way where I am supported and befriended by others who are not out to control or abuse me in any way. And I in turn would support them without need to control or abuse.

This LifeRing may be the answer I have been looking for. I believe in the value of one person helping another in support to stay off drugs. But not when one person is out to control or use and abuse the other. And what I have found in 12 step organisations is that those who we have to listen to and stick by usually end up trying to manipulate me for their own ends. Become abusive in different ways. Controlling demanding dominating and putting me down — making me feel as if I am a bad person all the time.

I also find the god concept a bit much at times. I have a belief in god but I do not have a religion. (Or do I? Sometimes I feel like I am in one). And I do not want to talk about god all the time…

The steps also I have went through them but always relapse on the 4th one. ..I did go back once after a short relapse and picked up my 4th step from where I finished it and got it finished and shared that and then went on with the rest of them …then back to the first one to start all over again …I have never got right through all the steps without relapsing. I know that this is a requirement of 12 step organizations, to go through all the steps than start again and keep doing them. I get sick of doing them. It is time consuming and painful.

And I often wonder: if I am (as I hear at meetings) loved as I am unconditionally and accepted as I am, why is it that I have to go through a process of change for the rest of my life? I asked this question and was told because god wants me to. How does one know god wants me to?

Anyway, there are many things I find difficult in 12 step places. And all I have done since I got there is wish for a way out, as I feel trapped. Scared to leave. The same way I have done in domestic violent relationships. I do not know why I am writing to you of these things. I feel I need to explain things. I also feel the need for reassurance that there is actually a way to keep clean and sane without 12 steps and AA/NA meetings. I am sorry if I have done wrong in writing to you. About this. LifeRing seems to be quite well attended in the United States …I hope that this can happen here in Great Britain too. I am not the only person around here who is experiencing difficulties with AA/NA. I hope this will help those people too.

Thank you for all your help [Name withheld].”

Dear _______,

Thank you for your letter. It is heartening to meet a person who has the courage to speak frankly about their issues and who takes practical action to improve their situation. So many people merely complain, without doing anything. If you persevere in your efforts, I feel confident that you will rise above your present difficulties and find a new clarity and happiness.

You write that your first thought about me and other LifeRing people is to doubt that we are really clean and sober. And if we are clean, we must not be sane. I have heard this same doubt from some other 12-step participants over the years, and there are some passages in the Big Book that seem to imply that the 12-step program is the only way to sobriety and sanity.

As to being clean and sober, I can assure you that I have not put alcohol or drugs into my body for the past 13 years and 9 months today, without ever attending an AA or NA meeting. In this I am far from alone. The majority of successful recoveries from alcoholism take place without and outside of AA. The evidence for this finding comes from an unimpeachable source: George Vaillant M.D., professor at Harvard, and a Trustee of Alcoholics Anonymous. In a large, long-term study published as “The Natural History of Alcoholism,” Vaillant found that 60 per cent of alcoholics who achieve five or more years of sobriety did it without AA. You can find this fact in AA’s own Grapevine magazine in the May 2001 issue at p. 36; here is a link to the excerpt. This is, of course, not a criticism of AA. It is merely a reminder that AA does not span the whole universe of recovery. Most of the miracles of redemption from alcoholism occur outside of the 12-step tent. It is important to remember that many people in AA are well aware of this fact and have an open, welcoming attitude toward other recovery approaches.

As to proving that I and other LifeRing people are not insane, that is hard to do. How can one prove one’s own sanity? In truth, I have doubted my sanity more than once. Anyone who undertakes to change the world as it is presently constituted must have moments when the effort seems crazy. On the other hand, when I look at all the people who keep trying the same old recovery experiments over and over again with the same negative result, I wonder who is the crazy one. What’s really insane is to think that the addiction problem is going to get better if we don’t change our approach to it.

You mention that you have done the 12 steps over and over, and always relapsed on the fourth one. I have heard many people share that same experience. It doesn’t surprise me. Focusing on one’s character defects is a depressing, paralyzing occupation, ill calculated to give a person the strength and confidence required to resist cravings and build new, sober connections. In my experience, the path to recovery begins with recognizing the part of ourselves that remains sound and sober, no matter how small and hidden it may be at first. Then the task is to dwell in that place, to connect with that self in others, and so to extend — inch by inch, minute by minute — the dominion of the sober self within our own mind and body. To be sure, in that process we will come face to face with many of our shortcomings, but always in the context of building on and extending our inherent strengths.

You write that many authority figures in your 12-step organizations tried to control you and manipulate you. How is LifeRing different in this regard? It’s well to be aware that there are people everywhere who enjoy controlling and manipulating others, and that the 12-step organizations have no monopoly on that. I have met such people also in LifeRing. The important difference is that — apart from abstinence, our common denominator — LifeRing does not prescribe or suggest a capital-P Program to which all members are expected to conform. We each put together our personal recovery programs, tailor made for who we are and what we need to do. This emphasis on personal recovery programs tends to disarm the control freaks among us. There is no dogma with which to beat someone over the head. Whatever works to keep you clean and sober is a correct program, even though it may be diametrically opposed to the things that work to keep me clean and sober. The diversity of personal recovery programs that result from this emphasis forms a rich pool of experience and wisdom for all of us to draw on.

Again, I want to congratulate you for making the move from contemplation to action. You are definitely not alone in your feelings. Like every pioneer, you may encounter hardships and find yourself a target for stones and arrows. But if you persevere, you will break through to a new reality, and your friends and successors will be thanking you in the years to come.

With best wishes for your success,

Marty N.