The 5 Steps

By Mark Smed 08/10/17

Accountability is a critical component of a healthy fellowship, and I had to leave the 12-step service structures to learn that. 

Mark Smed

Addiction is an increasing problem in our society today. We see the more critical problems on the news like fentanyl deaths and hear about issues with drugs and alcohol daily. People talk about addiction to consumerism and appearance as real problems within society.

Many organizations have sprung up to address the crisis. in some cases, they have adopted the 12-step model to assist clients with the process of recovery. The 12 steps originated in Alcoholics Anonymous and have been adapted by other organizations for similar purposes. From my experience, the steps are a process of discovery and recovery from a spiritual disease that affects many people from all walks of life.

Each organization will often pair the steps with the 12 traditions in shaping their Fellowship and the success or failure is the ability to adapt the steps and traditions to their cause. Many adopt the 12 Concepts to shape their service efforts which ensures we are fully accountable to the fellowship created. Some would argue the effectiveness of the 12-step model, but you cannot argue the fact that millions of people’s lives are now transformed because of the worldwide phenomena.

My life has been profoundly altered by the process and I’m forever grateful. Many of us that have completed the steps talk about "living the step" you are working on, so for instance, people on step 2 (came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity) experience a heightened sense of awareness about their personal sanity. What happens when the process is interrupted, not followed or not completed? There seem to be a lot of broken people in 12-step programs. How are our efforts to be accountable affected by this soup of broken people?

Quite a few years ago, as part of my spiritual journey, I attended two Vipassana meditation retreats in British Columbia. It’s a 10-day silent retreat with no eye contact, touching or any external stimuli. It was extremely difficult and people occasionally were unable to complete the course. On day 8 they warn you that you are at a critical junction akin to brain surgery and leaving would be dangerous.  

Unfortunately, I made the decision to leave my second course on day 8 and haven’t been able to return since. Some processes are invasive, and can cause considerable damage when they are interrupted. A badly set, broken arm will cause a lifetime of problems and I cannot see why spiritual and emotional processes are any different. The grieving process experienced due to a loss of a loved one might be interrupted by years of addiction but often we must return to complete the process once clean.  

Many 12-step organizations talk about the progression of the disease and we often watch, helplessly as individuals deteriorate even with years of clean time. They return time and time again, often failing to fully adopt the program, and simply switch from one addiction to another. They often cling to service positions and taint the waters, supported by a wave of new people on similar journeys. Cliques form, and the overall health deteriorates.

Unfortunately, the whole 12-step process often doesn’t fit into the restrictive timeframes imposed on recovery houses and treatment centers. These organizations have adapted and will assist clients with getting to the 5th step, then turn them loose back into society. Each step is a carefully crafted process within the whole process of recovery.

In a previous article, I wrote about how the first 4 steps concern cleaning house personally or getting your life in order and looking at who are you are with a complete self-inventory. The next 4 steps help in seeking the god of your understanding and the final 4 are about learning to help others. These treatment and recovery centers fail to recognize the steps as a whole process and the focus for many clients has become about cleaning house and building a better version of yourself. In fact, even within the 12-step communities that surround us, it’s very common to see rampant addiction to self, and a disregard for the traditions and concepts.

People will often share they are grateful for recovery and what it has meant to their lives at 12-step meetings. Weekly support meetings, service committees and recovery events are filled with these wonderfully grateful people dedicated to improving their lives. This style of recovery seems to fit with our ideas of attraction not promotion since we understand you cannot make someone want to get clean. We cannot help but be shaped by our surroundings to some extent. This causes a problem since the ultimate goal of the 12-steps is to help others, or more importantly, we just give them the opportunity to help themselves.

The process of the 12 steps has taught me that the work I do, out of gratitude, is to provide the opportunity for others to help themselves. The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel is a line from a reading in Narcotics Anonymous. I came to believe that this means, for me, that the work I do in improving the lives of those around me is more important than the work I do improving myself. 

Last year, while attending a funeral for a beloved member and friend, I started to realize that no one present was interested in how many meeting lists were in the community or showed little if any interest in helping to deliver them.

At the time, I felt it was my failing as a person but later I learned that part of the responsibility was the fellowship themselves. I have always considered the meeting list our most important literature. This single document usually has accurate locations for meetings and a local hot line for support. Accurate and plentiful supplies of them are critical to a healthy Fellowship and ensure lots of newcomers get to meetings and generate calls to the hotline.  

In fact, the newcomer is the most important person at any meeting because we can only keep what we have by giving it away. This line is often recited at meetings. A friend asked me what I was trying to give away and I realized I had become surrounded by an unhealthy support group of narcissists and I had become more concerned about my personal growth than the growth of the fellowship. The people you are around help define who you are and who you will become. That’s a part of the miracle of the 12 steps.

Self-esteem is created by the work we do, not what we learn.

Accountability is a critical component of a healthy fellowship, and I had to leave the 12-step service structures to learn that.  

Mark Smed's entire career has been working with technology and small- to medium-sized businesses. He started with his own small company in 1989, while living in Summerland. Since then, he has continued to develop his knowledge and skills. Most of his adult life has been in Summerland since he arrived in 1989. He is married and raised two daughters who have grown up and are attending university. Mark has an enormous amount of gratitude for the life he leads, and looks for any opportunity to improve himself, and his community through discussion, volunteering and work. In his spare time he likes to write creatively, hike, fish and mutilate the occasional canvas with acrylic paint.

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Mark Smed lives and works in Summerland British Columbia. He started his technology company in 1989 and he has worked with small- and medium-sized businesses his entire career. He is married and his two daughters attend university. Mark is enormously grateful for the life he leads, particularly since he found recovery. He has published articles on, and his own company Silver Lining Technology Services Inc. He has also released a book on Kindle.  He looks for opportunities to improve himself and his community through discussion, volunteering, and work. In his spare time he likes to hike, fish and mutilate the occasional canvas with acrylic paint. Find Mark on LinkedIn.