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Addiction, Self-responsibility, and the Importance of Choice

Why AA doesn’t work

One of the central facets of addiction is the unwillingness to take responsibility. Without exercising the all-important watershed of self-responsibility, breaking the compulsive cycle that leads to addictive behavior is all but impossible. Systems like AA or the Minnesota Model, which allow the abdication of self-responsibility to The Program, The Meeting, The Sponsor and even God, are, from this perspective, clearly suspect and, as the numbers bear out, considerably -- and understatedly -- less than successful.

In this moment, the heads of 12 Step proponents are exploding, for I have blasphemed. Before you do explode, however, consider that, if you have maintained some semblance of sobriety for any extended period coincident to participating in a 12 Step-type program, you constitute less than 5% of all those who entered into that program within the 12 month period of your initial participation, and 95% of your brethren left that program sometime in those same 12 months. Given that the Harvard Medical School reports spontaneous remission of alcoholic behavior at 50%, rethinking the Holy Grail of AA and its sister systems, with their historically less than 5% success rate, might be worthwhile.

One of the core elements that inform our humanity is free will. When you were a child, the fastest way to get you to do something was to tell you not to do it, right? Has that really changed? If we consider driving rules as a metaphor for the similarly hard and fast rule set fostered by the Twelve Step contingent, what we find is that, by and large, we drive over the speed limit, we don't wear our seat belts all the time, we text and talk on the cell phone while driving, and we park where we're not supposed to park, sometimes even in the handicapped zone.

Think about that for a moment. The potential legal and financial consequences of that errant behavior are even more immediate than those of going on a run. So, what makes you think that the 12 Step template has any more influence in keeping you on the straight and narrow? Jamming a rigid behavioral template down onto a creature whose primary motivations are driven by free will is, by definition, a fool's errand. Why? Because what it comes down to is choice and choice is an interior process.

We cannot enter into any process of personal transformation without releasing our reliance on externals. Holding onto those externals enslaves us every bit as much as our addictions, our assumptions, our expectations, our model of the world and even our own self-perception might enslave us. As soon as we say, "I am powerless." that's exactly what we are - powerless. Choice, free will, the ability to script our own destiny, this is where the power - our power and the power to reclaim ourselves from our consumptive compulsions -- lies.

In all the years that I have personally lived and worked with addicts, whether as a friend, a professional, an educator or a spiritual teacher, I have not once witnessed someone come to their sobriety -- or at the very least some semblance of that sobriety -- without first saying, "I just don't want to be that person any more." Granted, this observation is anecdotal, but it speaks to the very essence of choice; choice driven by a willingness to change, which, in turn, drives interior transformation and, ultimately, the reclamation of personal power.

The choice "not to be that person any more" is at the core of self-responsibility. It is the quantum moment when a person re-defines themselves on their own terms and does so by taking hold of both their life and their personal experience of the world. From this viewpoint, the 12 Step model does not afford the necessary venue for the reclamation of self and personal power because it forces us into an unrelenting system of external compliance that is anathema to the very free will that defines us.

© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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