Recovery is a word used often in 12-step programs, referring to “the result” of working through the 12 steps. Many 12 steppers will claim that unless you are a member of the program, having worked the steps as they are laid out in the literature, you shouldn’t use the word. You are not in recovery. The words “clean” and “sober” seem to also have been adopted by recovering individuals, who have apparently decided their definition is the only one that matters.

Let me be clear about the fact that I found my recovery in a 12-step program. The 12 steps changed my life. I will never speak poorly of or devalue the actual 12-step process. There are, however, many things about the herd mentality and blind faith in fallible human beings present in these programs that I don’t agree with.

I did agree, once upon a time, but mostly because I was scared to death not to. I believed many things for which I had no evidence or reasoning, because someone said so. Who said so was irrelevant, and whenever I did question ideals, I was usually advised not to, “…try to rewrite the program.” After all, “it [the program] has been working since 1935.” Never mind the fact that because they are anonymous programs, no records are kept providing statistical information about how many people 12-step recovery programs don’t work for.

Just don’t ask.

It has been my experience that there are many beliefs present in 12-step programs that trickle down from members with “long term sobriety,” who just know things the rest of us don’t. Loyalty to my program of choice has made it difficult for me to voice concern without feeling tremendously guilty for doubting my saving grace.

I tried for years to take what I needed and leave the rest, but have since come to associate many aspects of 12-step herd mentality with Fight Club. It has been my experience that the first rule of 12-step programming is often: Don’t question 12-step programming, even if something doesn’t make sense to you.

After a “strong suggestion” killed my friend, I became increasing disturbed by how often medical advice is passed around the halls/rooms along with the suggestion that people taking certain medications are not “really clean or sober.”

I quickly learned that questioning what “works,” was my ego or disease trying to talk me out of simple, life saving conformity. It was often suggested that perhaps I was just looking for a reason to drink/use. “Just trust the process, and it will work for you.” Just like fairy dust and Santa Claus, however, those who do not trust in the program 100%, may not get results. Sadly, this will be entirely their fault. We may even pity them because they just “can’t get it.”

I no longer believe that noise. I choose to believe there is hope for everyone, and that we are all entitled to our process in recovery, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. I choose to believe this even though it goes against almost everything I learned within my first ten years of programming.

Instead of changing with the times, and possibly reworking, not the twelve steps, but rather the ways in which we approach and handle addiction, based on new information collected over the years, we blame the addicted. In my opinion, that’s a cop out.

Now, to be fair, this is NOT the voice of actual 12-step recovery, this is the voice of some (not all) of its members. This is the voice of “Sit down and shut up. You have nothing to offer as a newcomer.” This is ego, wrapped in a glorious, shiny cape often labeled, “Old-Timer.” This is regurgitated bullshit, “passed down” from generation to generation without question.

I believe in the powerful message of personal recovery. I’m all for sharing what has worked for me in hopes others like me might be willing to give it a try. What I am not on board with is shaming people who choose not to do things my way. I don’t agree with feeding into, and further perpetuating, stigma and stereotypes that might shame my friends to literal death. What I don’t support is a person in recovery claiming to be doing “the right thing,” while pointing his or her finger at another for not.

The idea that once we’ve reached some sort of milestone in recovery, we get a free pass to judge how other people recover is absurd to me.

Addiction kills. PERIOD. I don’t need to be an expert on anything to know that. The evidence is death. Every single day, parents are losing their children to overdose. Children are losing their parents. We’re attending the wakes and funerals of our friends’ and loved ones, agreeing they were far too young to die, and apologizing to their families for their losses – OUR losses.

Recovery has many faces. It may not be complete abstinence, membership in a 12-step program, or belief in God or prayer. Your recovery may involve all sorts of things I can’t personally relate to or understand, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge your efforts or “should” all over you. I don’t get to decide whether you’re “clean,” “sober,” or “doing the right thing.”

There is no right thing.

There’s no right way to find peace, and there’s no wrong way to stay alive.

We don’t all have the same emotional and mental obstacles, and we don’t get to define recovery for others based on our own experiences. What works for me may never work for you, and that’s okay!

Shaming people to death cannot be the solution.

Here’s the truth about Recovery:

No one owns the rights to it. Everyone is entitled to his or her own process, and no one is doing it better than anyone else.

We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and that’s enough.




A version of this appeared first on Sober Mommies

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[…] fact that traditions are ONLY a matter for people whose recovery path involves a 12-step program. Not everyone in recovery is a member of a 12-step program (I know, I know – it’s mind-blowing), so not everyone believes in or even knows […]

Kirsten Rickard
5 years ago

I want to say “get out of my head”’. I could not agree more w everything single word!