Magazine article Tikkun

Twelve-Step Healing: Beyond Disease Metaphors and God-Talk

Magazine article Tikkun

Twelve-Step Healing: Beyond Disease Metaphors and God-Talk

Article excerpt

WHILE IT MAY BE TRUE, AS NICHOLAS BOEVTNG STATES IN THIS ISSUE of Tikkun, that recovery (the blanket term used to describe twelvestep programs) works for only a minority of addicts, that minority is a rather large number: millions around the world. And because recovery is such a large and growing movement, Boeving's criticisms- which for the most part are valid- only speak to a certain aspect of the twelve-step paradigm.

As a recovering addict and a member of Narcotics Anonymous (NA), I should first state that I speak for myself only and do not in any way represent NA. That's one of the brilliant aspects of "the program," as we sometimes call it- no one represents or decides what it's about for anyone else. So, protecting my anonymity with a pseudonym, I will speak here of my own experiences in recovery in hopes that doing so will make it accessible to people who, hearing Boeving's arguments, might otherwise take a pass.

The First Step

IF I COULD HAVE FOUND SOME OTHER WAY TO STOP DESTROYING MYSELF, I GLADLY would have. I hated Narcotics Anonymous when I first started going to meetings. I went grudgingly and sparingly because I had promised my family that I would "get help," but meanwhile I kept up my pill addiction on the sly. I was getting a Ph.D. and had managed to stay in school by the skin of my teeth, and because I didn't let any of my friends in too close, I had maintained the appearance of a pseudo-functional adult. My father had died after a long illness and the experience had been so obliterating to me that I stopped coping with my life. I didn't know how. My family was screwed up, but I didn't know that yet, and since family was where I went for help, I was helpless. (One definition of an addict is "someone who doesn't know how to ask for help.") Whether the inheritance is genetic, environmental, bio-psycho-social, or all of the above, when the shit hit the fan in my life, the sleeping monster woke up. I went from being someone who rarely used drugs or drank to someone who would lie, cheat, and steal to get my hands on whatever I could get.

I had been a super high achiever all of my life- a good girl, an excellent this and that, someone everyone wanted to be friends with, yaddayadda. The depression I had carried deep in my belly since childhood was compartmentalized and only emerged when I was safely alone (or in the very few romantic relationships I had with people, making them so very painful). I developed a "winning personality" so that people would love meand they did- but I could not feel their love. I felt wretched and alone, "other," left out, shameful, ugly. I had lots of friends but I tended to be a caretaker and focus on them, since I literally did not know how to share my internal world with people. Too scary. Too shameful. Too confusing.

And then the bottom just dropped out. It was like a switch flipped internally and I could no longer control myself. I wanted to consume and then pass out. In retrospect I wanted not to be alive. I wanted to die because life was too hard and it seemed like nobody else was struggling like I was (the narcissism of self-loathing). People around me were getting married and having babies. They had family inheritances. They got their work done on time. They paid their bills. I was stealing pills from people's cabinets, shoplifting, spending endless hours online spaced out on opiates, missing appointments, showing up late everywhere. I got caught stealing from a grocery store and not three weeks later had a withdrawal seizure there. I dyed my hair a crazy color. I was screaming for help in all the wrong ways. And I was angry. I didn't know at whom, but boy was I pissed at my lot. This highly educated superachiever did not like that my life had come to this. I could not get off the suicide train and my only option for survival was to join a weird cult of jargon-spouting lowlifes? And I did not like being told that I had a disease. Aside from wanting to be in a constant state of oblivion, I was perfectly healthy. …

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