Sunday, February 21, 2010

12 Step Wonders/Shame

The greatest sadness I experience as a therapist happens when I urge clients to begin attending 12 Step meetings appropriate to their particular problem and the client recoils in horror. They would rather die, they say, than go to "those meetings." The truth is, without becoming humble enough to acknowledge they have a deadly problem, some of these people will die humiliating, excruciatingly painful deaths. What do those of us who know the miracles of 12 Step Recovery do to reduce the toxic shame attached to 12 Step Programs? Maybe more of us need to say what we're doing when people ask.

I've listened to many people tell about being asked what was causing the positive changes they were demonstrating, who then refused to say they were in 12 Step Recovery. Why? Because they were fearful that the questioner would think them silly or inferior if they told the truth. All 12 Step Programs operate under the law of attraction not promotion. But nowhere in all the literature can I find a single word about lying or withholding the truth when asked what's causing the positive changes. If we're truly working a 12 Step Program, we can't help but be better people and the people around us are bound to notice that. They are attracted to our growth. How many thousands of people, maybe millions of people, have NOT gotten recovery because we were ashamed of being in 12 Step Recovery?

Next Post: Since when does what other people think invalidate the 12th Step?


  1. New answers keep coming. More ideas hit the street every day. The book list grows ever longer. We provide one great plan after another that demonstrates beyond a doubt that we need only take command of the universe and demand our mental health and prosperity. You know…stand up, get a grip…get some darned self-confidence right now and quit your darned whining! Take charge!….hey, wait. isn’t that the original problem? Oh well, I guess I’m just to weak to get it, anyway. Besides, all that craps just another way for people to get your money..right?
    I find the entire situation all the more exasperating, as more and more ads appear offering pharmaceutical resolutions to depression and the myriad of symptoms created within that pain. Why, if your pill quits working, there’s even a booster pill. No reason to look for answers, just take another pill!
    We see a constant flow of mental health issues paraded before us in the media, as our very leaders demonstrate the desperate condition of the crisis. We are sick. We have great problems. Our nation is suffering from mental illness and we keep using the same old justifications for staying that way.
    We have been programmed to deny the need for help. To ask for help is to admit weakness and to admit weakness is to offer ones self up for slaughter. This is the erroneous belief that we must let go of in order to find the truth we have so long denied. The real truth, and strength, is in accepting our sickness. We have to accept this as individuals, as leaders and as a society. It is only when we accept our need for help - and let go of the false shame that it is wrong to need that help - that we will know the true strength that will allow us to reject the silly illusions we hold so dear. It is then that we can heal the shame that binds us in that deluded state of power.

  2. Let's take that a bit further. Why are we, as a society, so shameful of our mental health issues, period? On any given day one can eavesdrop on the next table at the diner and hear persons describe, often with great enthusiasm, the various ailments of their lives. Angina, cancer, name it. We think nothing of soliciting as much help as possible when a physical ailment dares to slow us down for even a moment. Often, we wear those ailments with pride, as we demonstrate our resilience in "fighting the good fight." It is acceptable to be physically ill, even if my actions have directly contributed to that illness.
    But what happens when the affliction is in the mind; the spirit? Are not the heart and mind of the same body that triggers the insulin crash? Why do we associate mental illness with weakness? Why do we, as a society, punish those who admit they need help by then holding them accountable as "sick," while the rest of us march along in merry denial?
    I think it is the fear of judgment that causes people to deny their involvement. We all know a story of someone who has sought help from twelve-step recovery, only to have an opportunistic foe use that information against them. For all of our learning, we still have a tendency to cull the herd and prey upon the weak. Those of us in recovery know the weak do not sit at the tables. I think the fear lies in the reality that the rest of the world does not know that.
    Of course, far before I may deal with anyone else’s judgement, I must contend with myself. I have been in the recovery process for a few 24 hours. I have seen absolute miracles take place repeatedly. I know I am a miracle; and still, in certain situations, I am ashamed of my need to need this miracle.
    Man up, quit your whining, pull yourself up by the boot straps, be your own man, stand tall…get a grip! These are the messages that tell me it is not OK to need help with the very basic function of thinking and feeling. These messages tell me I should KNOW how to be. These messages tell me there is something WRONG with me, if I don’t have it together. These messages are drummed in by my society; a society that grows sicker in it’s denial every day. A society where we all seek the same answers, as we deny the very fact that we are looking for them.