"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves." Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5, How It Works, page 58, 4th Edition
This quote from the big book is pretty bold when it says people who do not recover either cannot or Will not completely give themselves the simple program. I believe, in our society, many people would tend to be offended by a statement like this. But the truth is, this statement is just as true today as it was when it was first written. The first sentence helps us understand this statement, it says, "rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path." The key here is the statement "who has thoroughly followed our path." In my work as a therapist, I have encountered many people who claim the program does not work for them. My guess is, well over 90% of the people who came to me for some type of addiction, believed the program would not work for them. I heard this over and over again. In almost every case the person eventually admits they did not follow the program completely. It's important to note the vast majority of clients I worked with over the years were there because someone else sent them to see me-the court system, a parole or probation officer, Department of Social Services, their employer, their spouse, and others. So, their internal motivation for change was very limited. In my experience, it's easy to recognize those who are internally motivated for change.
I have seen a wide variety of reasons for not following the program including: I can't find a sponsor, I don't like my sponsor, I can't relate to my sponsor, I don't get along with my sponsor, the meetings are boring, the Big Book is hard to read, I can't relate to the people at the meetings, I can't find a meeting I like, I don't understand how to work the steps, I can relate to a higher power, I'm not an addict, I'm not an alcoholic, I was following the program (even though their actions did not match up with what they said), and many, many more.
Many people in therapy or counseling for addictions don't really want to change. As a result, they come up with excuse after excuse. They don't really want to thoroughly follow the program. For some, this is a conscious choice, for others, it is unconscious. The defense mechanism, denial, is unconscious. The people who are truly in denial don't realize they are making excuses. That's the power of denial-they really believe they are not addicted or they can't change. Denial has become so cliché, that many people use it any time a person claims they are not addicted. As I said before, true denial is unconscious. When the big book says, "those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program" it is the people who "cannot" give themselves to the program who are in denial. The people who "will not" are choosing not to give themselves to the program for whatever reason. In either case, people are failing in recovery because they are not giving themselves to the program.
In order to thoroughly follow the path of successful recovery a person must overcome their conscious or unconscious resistance to giving themselves to the program. So the question is, how do you give yourself to the program? This quote from the big book says, the program is simple. If it's simple why do so many people fail to find good, quality, recovery? I think the answer is, simply, they don't want to quit their addictive behavior. There is some "payoff" or "reward" that is keeping them all and their addictive behavior. As I've already indicated, this could be conscious or unconscious. Either way, the result is the same, they do not follow the program.
Breaking through the "denial" is very challenging and frustrating. If you're not careful you find yourself going round and round in an unhealthy cycle. Until they begin to recognize their denial there is little you can do to help them achieve healthy recovery. In my experience, you must confront the denial consistently and point out the person's behavior that is destructive. It's important to remain calm and adopt a "matter of fact" attitude. Once you get emotionally entangled in this struggle you begin to lose the battle. Avoid arguing with the person in denial. Arguing helps them justify their denial-as they resist and counteract your argument they are adding to their arsenal. The best plan is to just state the facts and leave it at that. Eventually, the pain in their life caused by their addictive behaviors will be enough to help them break through their denial. The problem is some people don't live long enough to break through denial because their addictions lead to life-threatening consequences.
Breaking through the resistance of a person who will not give themselves to the program is also difficult but different. Some or all of their resistance is a conscious choice. They are very good at manipulating and arguing and they know all they have to do is to not agree with you and they win. With this group also, it's important to not argue. The best course is to let them know that you know they are choosing not to be engaged in the program. Again, state the facts, and leave it at that. Until they are internally motivated to change they will not give themselves to the program.
This chapter refers to the program as "simple." Many people tend to make the program complicated. They do this by picking some parts of the program they will follow and some they will not follow. For example, they might attend meetings but never get a sponsor and work through the steps. Or, they may get a sponsor but never talk to the sponsor about their problems, struggles, or temptations. Many, get a sponsor and begin working the steps, but they quit when they get hard (usually around step 4 or 5). There are many other ways people make the program complicated, the common denominator for all of these is they don't follow the program as outlined in the Big Book.
So, the other side of the coin is, the program is simple when people do what the program says: attend meetings regularly, get a home group that you attend every week (so you get to know them and they get to know you), get a sponsor (preferably from your home group), have regular contact with your sponsor, begin working the steps with your sponsor, be open and honest with your sponsor and the group about your struggles, temptations, and mistakes, and keep coming back. There are other things that will help you work your program of recovery but these are the essentials. The bottom line is this, do what the program and your sponsor says. The people who benefit the most from a 12 Step recovery program are the ones who get actively involved. As a result, I always recommend people show up to the meeting a little early, talk to the people who are setting up and help them set up, arrange chairs, make coffee, etc. Also, stay late and talk to the people who hang around after the meeting. These people are most likely the ones who are really engaged in their program of recovery. In other words, these people are most likely there because they want to be there and they know how important the program is to their recovery. The ones who don't want to be there, but are forced to be there, by the courts, their parole officer, or whoever, are the ones who get there right on time or late and leave as soon as it's over.
There's one more key phrase in this quote from the Big Book, and that is, "being honest with themselves." It is hard work to be honest with yourself about all your flaws and all your failures. That is why many people stop working the steps around step 4. Doing an honest, "searching and fearless moral inventory" can be very difficult and even painful. Giving yourself to the program requires this kind of honesty. In fact, the person who is not honest with themselves will not remain in recovery very long.
One more thought about step 4, many people emphasize only the negative parts of their life in their moral inventory. Certainly, the failures and mistakes a person makes have to be dealt with in recovery but, a moral inventory also needs to help you identify your strengths that will assist you in your recovery.
In my opinion, STABLE Recovery requires giving yourself completely to the program. Take a minute and leave a comment-share your experience with giving yourself to the program.
Other posts you might also like:
Have You Worked the Steps
The Danger of Doing WellWork the Program