So, Donna N. responded to my recent weblog Why Do 12-Step Programs Fail 95% of The People in Them? She had some additional concerns about the role of sponsors in the fellowships of both NA and AA having very strong feelings about both and wanted me to share them with you.
Donna points out that when a newcomer is just starting to get clean, they are extremely vulnerable. They are looking for both guidance and support from someone who genuinely cares. Donna’s concern as she stated it to me, is that the fellowship is practically like a cult in the way the fellowships are set up. They get you to become dependent on your sponsor, calling every day at first. Because they ask you to get a sponsor before you have six months of “clean time” with someone with over a year of sobriety, you are being set up to fail.
From Donna’s perspective knowing what she knows as a “recovered addict” for over five years now, is that those with addictions who just attend NA and AA meetings are no healthier then the newcomer, by only going to meetings. She actually believes they are sicker, because of the fellowship reinforcing the notion that these people are “addicts’ giving the participants the suggestion to have urges and withdrawals should they ever use again, because that is what addicts experience. This is totally different from being “recovered” as Donna has been since our work ended in September of 2010. She never feels the urges to use, ever, and has even successfully used opiate medication after breaking her wrist and dealing with a torn rotor cuff subsequent to her work with me, without ever going back to abusing these medications. She has a couple of barely touched bottles of opiate based pain relief medication prescribed from her doctor from those two earlier times. These are the types of drugs she was once addicted to. So, she obviously is not in any way a person who could be considered an addict at this late date.
The sponsor she chose was a woman who had several years of sobriety at the time. Donna’s states that it is like the blind leading the blind into a burning building. Because the sponsors have zero idea in how to work with someone with the severe issues that an addict comes with. Lay people have no understanding of the mental health or illness of the person they are sponsoring. She states that addicts are just looking for love, care and understanding – especially while they are trying to get clean and back into society. Most sponsors try to give these to their charges, however, they too can be sicker than the person they are sponsoring. In Donna’s case her sponsor had eating disorders on top of her drug addiction, and was physically was ill with heart disease from her smoking. She was indeed and still is sicker than Donna ever was in this sense.
Donna’s point is that, “clean time” does not equate to “health or well being time.” Being “recovered” means that you are healed, body, mind and spirit. One, can live a fulfilled and healthy life with clear respectful boundaries for themselves and with others on top of not “using.”
Donna never made it past the 4th step of the 12 steps because her sponsor never continued with her, even though Donna repeatedly requested that of her. So, as a result Donna never finished her Step work, which is from my perspective as a healer who works with addicts, one of he more important tools that the 12-step programs give. They need to apologize to all those they hurt and make amends to these people. Without this being accomplished, Donna missed out on the most important aspect of what the 12-step program could have offered her. All because her sponsor couldn’t be bothered, most likely because she still had the addict’s mind, she didn’t really care. Most addicts by their very nature are very selfish people, unable to truly empathize with or care for another person until they have the help necessary to help them to do so. It is a fact that an addict has stopped maturing emotionally from the time the addiction took hold of them. For his reason it is imperative that an addict in recovery get the correct mental health treatment to learn how to act in an age appropriate fashion. It is the addict’s inability to act in an age appropriate matter that creates many ill feelings and a lack of feeling like they can fit in with “normal” people their age.
Donna states. Wish I knew then what I know now-but If I can help one person, it will make it ok.
I tend to agree with everything that Donna is stating here. The idea that one who has been through the same problems, as being enough to help others is dangerous. The only reason that I have the results that I do with my clients is because I worked very hard to heal my own issues, worked in the field of metal health for several years, got some formal education, both in mental health and through a year and a half of nursing school before dropping out, finding it wasn’t for me. Lastly, l Iearned hypnosis and NLP. I continue my learning about the body, mind and spirit on a daily basis, it being fascinating to me and of course very helpful to my clients.
Donna’s other concern is of telling stories of self-harm or harming of others in the second half of the meeting, as being destructive to anyone listening. These stories are told to scare the other participants into believing that they would always be addicts and would always have to be mindful of staying away from these substances. That in itself is not a bad idea for addicts. The problem comes when one believes that they will always have to be an “addict” with all the connotations that involves. It leaves the feeling of loss of hope which Donna was unwilling to buy into, luckily for her. It was this belief that allowed her to find an alternative way to heal herself so the addiction became a part of her past history, period.
The truth as Donna shows, is that someone who has made the decision to become a “non-addict,” meaning one who no longer has the thoughts and behaviors of an addict, needn’t be concerned about this issue on a daily basis. Donna doesn’t have time to waste on such matters really. She doesn’t have time for meetings or even the notion that one “needs” a meeting to stay sober – another form of co-dependence which is unhealthy. This instead of teaching an addict how to let go of their addiction and with it, the ability to focus on much more productive and fun things then endless 12-step meetings that take away any and all hope of living a “normal life.,” are what forced Donna to leave the whole notion of 12-Step programs behind as the antiquated method they are based on the manner in which we now understand the workings of the unconscious mind.
I am deeply grateful to Donna for enlightening us with an “insiders’ view of the destructive nature of the 12-step programs, especially where addictions to substances are concerned. Donna herself, knows too many people who attended 12-step programs as their only method of staying “clean” and ended up dying as a result of an overdose. This because their hearts couldn’t deal with the drugs they ingested, unknowingly to them. It is to testament to Donna, that she escaped from, because she had the foresight to realize that there had to be a better way. Now, she realizes that had she stayed with her sponsor and the NA people that they were friendly with, she most likely would have been one of the sad statistics.
Our sincere hope is that if you have any addiction issues at all, that you engage a program that is based on something that is more advanced then the 12-steps as hard as that is to find out there in the world. We would like to see addicts be fully recovered and living happy and fulfilling lives, leaving their addictions in the past, living in their present, creating their future as Donna has learned how to do.
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