The 12 Steps in Reverse

By Juliet Elisabeth 08/20/14

What if I told you... You are smarter than addiction?


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There is this meme out there with Lawrence Fishburne as Morpheus from The Matrix films asking us, "What if I told you..." and people caption the end of the phrase with some revelation, only the revelation is obnoxiously obvious. Such as, "What if I told you... not all steaks are porterhouses." But what if I told you the initial phrase never appeared in the films, which is true. Or what if I told you, you do not have to stay in Alcoholics Anonymous forever?

It is not a revelation that people recover with or without AA. I have heard the wonders people feel after working the 12 steps, only to question their need to repeat it over and over again. I suppose I am easily bored and move on with most tasks I've accomplished the first time, unless they've yielded amazing results and kept my interest. Yet again, what if there was something I was missing this whole time?

There is this saying that if you play a country song backwards, you get your car back, your spouse back, your dog back, and your grandparents back. Maybe, if you work the 12 steps backwards a similar magic happens- you get your power and manageability back? A Google search revealed this has been attempted before, only the writers reversed the meaning of all the steps and declared it not safe to try at home. They all started at Step 1, which negates the whole idea of working the steps in reverse. As in, literally backwards from 12 to 1.

Maybe I'm having a "spiritual experience," but just in case I'm wrong, I'm going to run it by you guys to make sure.

To transcend to a higher plane, one which will truly skyrocket us into the next dimension, we need to give this a real, sincere try and test it out. Give it 100%. We cannot hold any contempt prior to investigation.

When we are urged to carry the message and practice all the principles in all our affairs, in Step 12, let's extend that beyond only the sick, suffering alcoholics. Aren't we practicing these principles in all our affairs, which I hope doesn't mean cheating on spouses? (I'm kidding.) Let's practice carrying a message of...  Well, it's difficult to say what the message is except that we've had a spiritual awakening. Could the message be in Step 11?

In Step 11 I am praying and meditating, hoping I can discern God's knowledge and will and have the power to carry it out. Now that I am at this point, I am very uncomfortable attempting to know, for certain, what God's will is. Adam and Eve ate from God's tree of knowledge, and that did not end well. In order to better understand God's knowledge, though, I move to Step 10, where I am told to continue to admit when I'm wrong. This must be God's will for me: constant pathetic apologizing.

I need to interrupt for a moment - as a mother, and as a concerned friend. I'd never carry a message to anyone I truly loved and cared about that God's knowledge would be to constantly apologize. I think my friends and my own children are smart enough to know right from wrong. And this is the message I'd carry to them: We all make mistakes, and learning from our mistakes makes us stronger.

Step 9 instructs us to make amends, unless doing so might harm someone else. Which can only mean I have permission to do whatever I want, as long as I don't get caught. For people in recovery, this is a horrible idea. If you set a goal to abstain from drinking, and then lie about drinking, you are only going to feel miserable and guilty afterwards. Secrets keep you sick. The only one you are really harming is yourself. This applies to any action you commit that you know is wrong; most humans have guilt complexes, I know I do.

I will tell you that Step 8 is bad advice right from the start. There is no point in making a list of everyone you have ever harmed, most have already forgiven you years if not decades ago. Please don't go around apologizing to people who have let bygones be bygones. Don't pour acid on old wounds.

Step 7 assumes God will remove our shortcomings. Even mine, presumably. Sometimes I feel lousy, sometimes jealous, sometimes angry. Don't I need these feelings to know what the opposite feelings are? Why on earth would I want them removed? Step 6 wants me to make a list of all my beautiful, awesome, character defects. For example: self pity. If I didn't feel like I was not accomplished enough, I would never work harder.

Pride. It's healthy in moderation. It's only dangerous if you are too arrogant, conceited, and narcissistic. Without pride, we have shame, which actually provokes aggression. I really don't want to be too aggressive, either. So I'll take a little bit of pride.

I'm supposed to admit to everyone, real or imagined, the exact nature of my wrongs in Step 5, but I feel this was basically covered in Steps 8, 9 and 10. This is getting redundant. Step 4's fearless and searching moral inventory should aim to show that I am okay with my inadequacies, faults, and mistakes. I am a human and I am flawed. I can't dive off a diving board. I suck at guitar. So what? I can get better at some things or I can accept my limitations.

When my kids were little and fell off the swing, I comforted them. When a friend calls me on the phone with a problem, I listen to them. When I stub my toe, I cuss sometimes. I don't always do the right thing when I know I should. Who among us hasn't questioned our morals from time to time? But there is something inherently unhealthy about documenting each and every failure in our lives. Let's stop dwelling on the clouds and start looking at the sunshine.

Am I allowed to say that Step 3 is pointless? Up to now I've already made amends, lists and inventories. How am I supposed to give my will and life over to the care of God? Wouldn't I need God to trust me, to love me for me, because God created me? I was taught as a young Catholic schoolgirl that I could do all things through Christ who makes me strong. I never had to give my will or life over to God, it would have already been there. I'd have no choice in the matter because God is Almighty. (We Catholics had 3 "gods" in one, so Christ is God, and it's one of those beautiful mysteries I'd rather leave a mystery.)

Anyway, Step 2 is believing we'll be restored to sanity. Once more, I'm carrying this message to others who need help. The last thing I'm going to tell people is they're insane. I'm pretty sure they'd slap me. And finally, Step 1 claims we are powerless and our lives are unmanageable. But, did you notice how much we've managed to do from Step 12 to Step 1? We are very, very manageable my friends. Have you read the NESARC data, that 75% of us will recover naturally from addiction without treatment or the 12 steps?

I realized that the 12 steps actually mirror too much of my childhood, and maybe you can also relate. When we were very young, and afraid, or hurt, we all felt helpless. Some of us wished we could be Superman or Wonder Woman and magically fix everything, and save everyone. Sometimes, in order to get others to like us, we kept putting ourselves down and apologizing. We didn't realize that fear, wishful thinking, and self-deprecation was keeping us from enjoying life, and friendships. In order to recover, I had to stop thinking like an addict, as Dr. Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson wrote in their book titled: Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict.

I want you to know that we are all capable, powerful forces when we put our minds to it. It requires faith and belief, with or without God, that you are strong because you have learned from your past. What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Each fall, each slip, each stumble requires determination to rise back up and try again.

Your "disease" is not telling you anything. It is not doing pushups in the parking lot. You are telling yourself these things. It is time you stopped making yourself sick, and started to make yourself well.

What if I told you... You are smarter than addiction?

Juliet Elisabeth is a writer and artist. She is also a former court mandated attendee of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her activist cause for 12 Step alternatives in Ohio is the AARMED with Facts blog.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.