Lifeaholics Anonymous: AA’s 12 Step Program Will Help Anyone Who Walks It
AA’s 12 Step Program has absolutely no bias whatsoever. None. Addict or non-addict. Alcoholic or non-alcoholic. The Program doesn’t care. If you want help, it’ll provide help. All you’ve got to do is take the Steps.
Just ask Kristin Snowden. The California-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) was going through a particularly rough patch a few years back. A real rough patch. Then she wound up finding the great solace of the 12 Steps. In fact, the 12 Steps saved her life. They also saved her marriage. So she wrote a book about it all. Then she shared her story in Newsweek. And that’s where we had the great good fortune to bump into her.
The Side Entrance
Snowden didn’t come to the 12 Steps after an opiate overdose or a five-day meth binge or some cinematically-lit lost weekend; she came to the 12 Steps the new-fashioned way — through the side entrance. But just because Snowden snuck in through the side door doesn’t mean she didn’t have a ticket. No, Snowden had a ticket alright. A full-priced ticket at that.
A “string of brutal life events” had hit Snowden. Hard. Her mother died suddenly. Pancreatic cancer. Then her husband wanted out of their marriage. Mid-life crisis. Nevermind the fact the mom of two kids had a career of her own. Snowden’s world had effectively turned “upside down.” She found herself “floundering, rage-filled, and drowning in fear and shame.” Snowden needed help. And answers. And she needed both badly.
Snowden first “turned to religion.” No luck. The “platitudes” only further fed her “resentment and despair.” She tried therapy. A no-brainer considering her occupation. Again, no luck. Unless luck means “a string of therapists that seemed to agree with whatever [she] was saying.” Sure the therapists were “supportive.” But they were not at all “helpful in changing [her] dire circumstances.”
Snowden then took a look inside. Oops.
“My lack of understanding of myself, what I was experiencing, and how to cope with it all created a dark storm of emotions in me,” she writes. “I became possessed by my hatred toward God, cancer, my husband, and every other uncontrollable entity in my life. I became robotic and selfish in my choices, turning my back on all of my guiding principles and values.”
Snowden now realizes that she was searching for “a community of non-judgmental people who bravely shared their stories and insight into their messiness.” A group of like-minded folks where “one couldn’t help but feel inspired to dig deep and begin to own one’s own darkness and light.”
Snowden found just that with those working the 12 Step Program.
Even as a non-addict.
A Non-Addict Addict
Snowden was sold on the 12 Step Program at Step One. No, she wasn’t technically an “addict.” She was however experiencing what addicts call “powerlessness.”
“I had lost control of my life, my faculties; everything I had previously known was important to me,” she writes. “I was clueless about what healthy coping skills to use to stop the pain and the healthy way forward from it all. My life had become unmanageable and I needed a new manager. I had to do what recovering addicts call ‘surrender.'”
Snowden dove into running a new program at a high-end addiction treatment facility in Malibu. A male-only drug and sex addiction recovery program.
“The job and the clientele intimidated the hell out of me,” she writes. “But desperation and intrigue pushed me forward. I figured I knew enough about addiction recovery and the 12 steps because my previous jobs and education had glossed over them.”
Snowden would quickly come to realize that you can’t simply gloss over “a time-tested, worldwide program that has helped millions of people change their lives for the better.” Not if you want to gain anything from it. But if you applied yourself, well, then the 12 Step program will give you the world.
Snowden applied herself. Due diligence. And then some. The books. The literature. Whatever Fellowship material she could get her hands on. Alcoholics Anonymous. Narcotics Anonymous. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Al-Anon. Snowden says she was initially driven by a “desire to be a good therapist to my clients who sought recovery.” Eventually though, the 12 Steps “became [her] lifeline.” It made sense. Most of her colleagues were in long-term recovery. So was her boss.
Having all that long-term recovery on hand also turned out to be a real personal boon to Snowden.
“I found [my colleagues’] honesty and willingness to call themselves out on their own s**t to be intoxicating,” she writes. “They shared stories of their struggles, 12 step fellowship “isms” — sayings like ‘if nothing changes, nothing changes,’ ‘tell the truth and tell it faster,’; ‘do the next right thing,’ and ‘one day at a time.’ Little by little I began to find my own truth hidden behind all of my shame and defensiveness.”
Kinda just like an addict.
The 12 Step Program
Snowden wants to be perfectly clear that she didn’t get a sponsor and “work” the Steps in the traditional manner. She didn’t regularly attend 12 Step meetings either. Instead she tried to work the Steps “through osmosis.” And Snowden did a damn good job of it too.
“Steps One through Three are about realizing that I have a problem and that my best efforts still brought me here,” she writes. “So I need to own what’s not working while also be willing to seek and receive help with my problems. Step Four through Seven focus on the internal work of exploring, owning, or repairing all of my wounds, strengths, hurts, and redeeming parts of my life and my personality. Steps Eight and Nine focus on exploring and repairing my interpersonal relationships. And Steps 10, 11, and 12 are meant to be daily practices to keep me conscious and connected to myself and others.”
“Learning about and applying the principles of the 12 Steps provided me clear, applicable, relatable tools to meet life on life’s terms,” she continues.
Snowden may not have traditionally worked the Steps, but she most certainly reaped the traditional rewards.
“The 12 steps have given me more intimate and fulfilling relationships, shame resiliency, less self-righteousness, and more authenticity,” Snowden writes. She also credits the work with improving her “capacity for empathy, compassion, and forgiveness.” Those skills not only helped Snowden as a therapist, “but, most importantly, [they helped] with her husband when we were able to work toward healing their marriage and family.”
Snowden has also adopted daily traditionals such as honesty, accountability and always considering “her part” in anything and everything, especially with regards to relationships. “Those tools were paramount in helping me move beyond my season of victimhood,” she writes. They also helped her move into “a greater space of empathy and compassion,” as well as “forgiveness,” for herself and others.
In short, Snowden “has learned that non-addicts are not completely different from addicts. When faced with stress and other forms of emotional discomfort, both groups cope, at least some of the time, in maladaptive ways.” She also learned that “the 12 Step concepts, its community, and its structure allows a safe space to share victories and failures, seek and provide comfort, and inspire or acquire courage in the face of numerous life’s challenges.”
No addiction required.
Healing Properties is fully and firmly committed to AA’s 12 Step Program. And we applaud Kristin Snowden’s effective and inspiring application of the Steps. We’ve long known of the great good benefits to be found in the century-old Program. We’ve also long-suspected the program’s great good benefits could be had by anyone willing. So we’re heartened to see our suspicions confirmed. Do you want what we and Ms. Snowden have? Then give us a ring. We’d be delighted to show you just how to get it.
Image courtesy the great good folks at AA Cleveland. With great gratitude.)