12-Step recovery, Part 1: its influence on my identity

Kurt Vonnegut, that great American writer and thinker, once said that humanity’s greatest inventions included the United States Constitution and 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (he also included Robert’s Rules of Order—but that seems really weird and isn’t relevant to this blog’s topic).  As someone who was engaged in a legal career for over 15 years, and a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Vonnegut’s admiration for both the Constitution and the 12 Steps hits pretty close to home with me. In fact, that’s quite an understatement, especially the part about the 12-steps. This thought reminds me of something that came up for me while I was recently writing a blog about the problem of “situational identity.” In that blog, I said that a person’s identity is not situational, temporary, or tied to a particular relationship or role in our lives. I suggested instead, the way around the problem is to think about how we stay the same over time, from one relationship to the next, from one time in our live to the next, from one role to the next. For me, one thing that clearly stands out over time is my use of the 12 steps of AA in my life.

It’s pretty clear to me asking that same identity questions about myself that I have relied on the 12 steps of AA for so long—my entire adult life from the time I went through drug treatment as a teen—the 12 steps are so engrained in the way I live my life, they have become a part of my identity, my core sense of who I am.   The 12 steps are a constant throughout all of my adult relationships, my careers, and the roles I have played in my personal and professional life.  I wouldn’t know who I am without reference to them in some way.  I want to believe this is a good thing, but to tell you the truth, at this point, having used them as one of the fundamental tools for living my adult life, I can’t even think about how I might be or how I might have done things differently without them.  Call that gratitude, because it is. It is also a simple recognition that my sobriety or recovery from drug addiction led me to a way of thinking about my life and my self that continues to this day, including at least some of my thinking about how I practice therapy with my clients.  The influence of the 12-steps of AA on my thoughts about personal growth is a wide enough topic that what was originally going to be a single blog has turned out to be long enough to post as several blogs in a series.  This first blog is only intended to explain why I decided to write some blogs about the influence of AA on my therapy practice. The second blog sets up the background of how I first came to be involved in AA and some generalities about what AA is and how it works (as I understand it). The next blog or blogs (depending on how long this takes) in this series will expand upon how this continues to influence my work doing therapy with clients. For those of you who are not familiar with the 12 steps, I will provide a brief explanation of it in the next blog in this series.

When I really think about it, the tools I continue to use to stay away from drugs and alcohol influence my way of thinking about doing therapy with all clients, including those who do not have any addiction issues. I happen to think this is a good thing, not just wishful thinking, and something worth exploring in this blog.  There are tools used by recovering addicts that can be helpful for everyone, including those who have no addiction issues at all. This series of blogs is not intended to push an agenda toward the use of 12-steps programs for anyone. I have known many people, including clients and members of my own family, who have serious reservations about the 12-steps of AA or other similar recovery programs.  I completely respect their opinions. These blogs are really just a personal reflection on their influence on my thinking about myself and personal growth in general. As they say in AA, use what you can, and leave the rest.  I agree wholeheartedly.