HOW it works

By rebelsmed 10/04/17
Mark Smed

In twelve step programs I was taught early on to adopt three spiritual principles that are critical to success; honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. Many of us in the program will talk about this is HOW the program works, which is the acronym of the first three letters of those same spiritual principles. The process of recovery makes sense once you start to apply those principles into your recovery. These three spiritual principles can be the basis of a solid foundation in the program and some would argue that without them recovery isn’t possible. The critical part of applying these principles in our lives is learned when ‘we’ choose to be a part of the 12-step process. I can go off to the top of a mountain, alone and meditate on HOW or isolate myself reading books on the subject but the success of the twelve step program revolves around the concept of ‘we’. The key to unlocking these principles is contained within my personal accountability, boundaries and reservations and your ability to accommodate. These form the basis of a successful recovery both personally and for the unity of the fellowship. In fact, our first tradition states that ‘personal recovery depends on unity’.

Accountability is when we take responsibility for our recovery. Accountability is an important contribution to the fellowship when we become a member. We might initially commit to attending meeting regularly, even if we are still using drugs and alcohol. The commitments that arise from accountability help us define our principles by creating conflict and allowing us to take make choices and accept consequences. The conflicts can be internal to ourselves and external with other people. My struggles to be accountable early on revolved around opening the meeting on time, and setting up everything correctly when I was a keyholder. I wanted to present myself as a person in recovery to my new peer group, and it wasn’t entirely about posturing, but a desire to be accountable to this new way of life.

Accountability changes with Step three, and grows with step eleven. In Step three we turn our wills and our lives over to the care of the God of our understanding. It’s a decision we make to accept a higher power into our lives, and from then on, we become accountable to our higher power as we continue in the steps. Self-esteem grows as we become accountable to the God of our understanding. In a healthy fellowship, accountability to each other and to our cause strengthens the ties that bind us together. A lack of accountability and our fellowship leads to decay. Members can relapse or worse, addiction to self, narcissistic tendencies or sociopathic behaviors. Our ever-present need leads self-harming behaviors, other forms of addiction (sex, gambling, etc) and general disregard for the world around us. Accountability to others is a critical component of HOW.

Boundaries can be our natural defenses that protect our spiritual, mental and physical selves. Some of our boundaries can be unhealthy remnants of the past and lessons learned. I still struggle with establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. I try and live by spiritual principles and often trust too easily that other people live by the same principles. Open communication is critical to healthy boundaries. When people get to the end of their principles or lack principles in an area of their lives, then they live by their personalities. That’s why we emphasis principles before personalities to push us to explore and adopt new principles. I loved being a smoker, but when I made the decision to look after myself, I understood that smoking was going to have to go at some point.
People who are friendly can appear inclusive and it feels like. Unfortunately, some people are just charismatic but so addicted to self that friendly is quickly abandoned when they are held accountable. There are plenty of people, mostly men, in recovery that abandon all the healthy principles they apply to their lives when the opportunity come to exploit new people in the program for money, sex or power. Abuse isn’t just reserved for newcomers, as many of us in recovery are learning to let go of unhealthy boundaries and become open to establishing new ones. We create new trust relationships that are open to abuse, but working together we can help create healthy boundaries. Ultimately, our goal is when both the predator and prey co-exist in the same group then we can open the door to recovery and work together.

Unhealthy boundaries are often mistaken for reservations but they are not the same thing. Reservations are secrets in our lives that open the door to abuse, relapse and death and have nothing to do with boundaries. Everyone has reservations. We often hide our reservations by labelling them as boundaries or putting up boundaries between our recovery and our reservations. Sponsorship is very important when we work the steps and look at our boundaries and reservations. Reservations can eventually destroy us. Trust and communication become important tools in digging out the current and lingering reservations.

I’ve always been smart but being smart is like being pretty; it’s handy but it isn’t everything. People have recognized my intelligence my whole life, but unfortunately this fuels my contempt, and I’m prone to grandiosity when questioned. I have a hard time accepting what clearly looks like bad decisions from others. My intelligence creates a reservation which is the contempt I feel. ‘Contempt for self’ results in self-hatred which is one of my reservations. My friends know and it isn’t much of a secret anymore, but core beliefs take time to overcome.

Accommodation and Enabling
A healthy fellowship will help us identify and work through the complex webs of our personalities by adhering to principles. We can listen and hear other people’s experiences and often the greatest insights come from people who are new. Newcomers are an infusion of blood to a fellowship and keep recovery fresh. New ways of seeing life, new experiences and perspectives help us see the reservations within ourselves and allow us to create and work on healthier boundaries. An unhealthy fellowship enforces personalities over principles, creates new reservations and weakens any who remain. The difference between enabling behaviors and accommodation of others are the principles we learn. The balance between enabling and accommodation is where unity is created.
People with clean time, service positions or even the perception of positive personal attributes creates power. Beauty, intelligence and natural charisma are all examples of attributes that create power in relationships. Accommodation is the action of compassion that allows us to extend our power around someone to lift them. I was taught to never fire a sponsee because the only thing that might save their life someday is the belief that they had a sponsor. If you have healthy boundaries, sponsoring someone is easy and if it’s a struggle you need to look at that.

HOW it works
Enabling is when we allow or encourage someone to behave in an unhealthy manner, and accommodation is when someone’s behavior does not affect our relationship. Things will go poorly in the relationship if we pointed out each other’s reservations or poked at boundaries, but we can hold people accountable. This is particularly true with our friends and critical to our service structures. Imagine if the police or emergency services didn’t feel like showing up or provide poor service because of who or where you were...wait, that does happen, so poor example, but you get my point.
People with mental health issues like depression or anxiety may not be able to communicate healthy boundaries. It is part of why we must learn to accommodate others, and understand when we are enabling. No one expects people in a wheelchair to walk a flight of stairs, or the blind to read a book. We accommodate people to include them but we don’t enable them to continue with behaviors. Everyone requires accommodation in some way and many will happily communicate if you approach them in a healthy manner. I have often seen men come into the program, begin the cycle of preying on vulnerable women, and being held accountable by a group. Everyone is accommodated, no one is excluded and unity ensues. Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are great but to be effective, you must work with other people, or better yet, you must work with everyone. In fact, as we develop in the fellowship and find a God of our understanding, we can be part of a group conscience. When we work step three, we are in fact becoming accountable to the fellowship and in step seven, the fellowship grows as we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. The Grace of God is accommodation. The health and effectiveness of the fellowship becomes our gauge in determining how healthy we are.