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Are Live Groups Necessary to Learn the 12-Steps?

Is it necessary to attend meetings to follow the 12 steps?

GYE Corp. Monday, 09 April 2012
Part 1/2 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

A member called "Yaakov" posted a reply to "eme" (edited):

I have done the 12 steps without the groups, so I can testify that it is possible to grow from the 12 steps without the groups. However, those who went to the groups will tell that you will gain a lot by going to the groups. There are definitely advantages of doing it with the groups over doing it alone. But whether I did it the proper way or not, makes no difference. It gave me a framework for growth. So even if you decide that groups are not for you - for whatever reason (practical or other), the 12 steps can still be your address. I would advise though, to look at the Jewish version of the 12 steps on the Guardureyes website (over here). It is more direct for a yid trying to reconnect.

I would like to address both eme's question AND Yaakov's reply. As usual, we turn again to Boruch - our "12-Step" expert - for some guidance.

A few weeks ago, Boruch sent me a very important article called "Gersham's Law" to read. I will try to summarize the article very briefly as follows:

The article outlines how, since the inception of the 12-Step system in the 1930s, there have evolved a few strains of 12-Step approach today; The Strong Way, The Medium Way and The Weak Way. Over the years, the 12-Steps have been watered down and have come to rely more on the power of the group's "social structure" as opposed to relying on the actual program - which was meant to be a powerful and life-altering spiritual experience. The article also charts a profound drop in the statistical effectiveness and overall recovery rate of the 12-Step groups, over the years. As the article states towards the end:

"AA worked in the first place because its Twelve Steps were a workable set of guidelines to spiritual experience. Growth of the movement made possible for a time a kind of parasitism in which partial practitioners and non-practitioners of the spiritual principles were able to feed off the strength of those who had undergone real spiritual experiences. But at this point in time, the parasites have already drained the host organism of a considerable portion of its life force".

After I had read the article, Boruch wrote me as follows:

Unfortunately, the basic problem - as described in that article - of "watering down the steps" has spread to us too. Let me explain.

Our instant-gratification society has ignored the original prescription of AA which was ALL about Group, sponsor and working the steps and has just taken the steps in isolation. Who needs a Group and sponsor if I can just read a list of steps on my own? Why, we can find lists of the steps all over the web and many think that there is some value in the steps on their own.

That is a fatal error. Not just because you need a group to implement the steps. But because trying to understand the steps in just a few sentences as it appears on the site (over here) is no less than trying to figure out the contents of the Mesilas Yeshorim without ever reading the sefer, just by looking at the 10 steps of R' Pinchos Ben Ya'ir (upon which the Mesilas Yesharim is based). Or like learning Hilchos Shchitah without ever having seen a real Shchitah. Can you become a Shochet this way? Of course not. That's why "Shimush" is vital for any Rav before he can pasken Halacha.

In the old days, it did not matter whether an alcoholic read the Big Book, or even whether he could read. He heard the Big Book in meetings, and his sponsor and many of his fellow members had read the book. He got the system that way. Today, many groups skimp on the readings, the sponsors themselves have not read the literature and so many groups have lost their way. Especially those who content themselves with just reading a list of the steps!

We need to go back to encouraging the old AA system of group, sponsor and working the steps. And for those who are not ready for that yet, we need to encourage them to read the Big Book.

But we have not done that yet on Guardureyes, and we are paying the price without even realizing it. I can give you one excellent, well intended example of where we have totally lost our way.

On our site we have The 12 Torah Steps (copied from What could be better than that? Torah and the Steps wrapped in one!!! The best of Bill W. and Breslov. It seems like the perfect combination. Self-help, spirituality and kedusha all rolled into one. And all in an easy, step by step guide.

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