Monday, 12 June 2017

Can a 'lukewarm' use of the 12 steps be helpful for someone who isn't a real addict?

 

Hi, 
 
I spoke with you about my situation a few weeks ago and you told me that I was probably not a real addict. (I only fall around once a month when i'm home from yeshiva and with a TaPHSiC shvua less often than that). But I started to read the AA and SA literature and I found it to be very helpful.
 
But in a recent breaking free email, Dov said that "applying 12 steps and some of the 12 step concepts to non-addicts twists both realities, mixing falsehoods into yiddishkeit by distorting yetzer hora/avodas Hashem into feel-good messages, and also makes a mockery of recovery by pretending that it is Torah when it is in reality only derech eretz and about self-honesty".
 
Does this mean that I shouldn't try to apply the 12 steps even in a general way (focus on the honesty and surrender parts, and less on the fellowship and making amends etc...) with the knowledge that it was intended for real addicts and i'm probably not one? Or did he just mean that non-addicts should not apply them thinking that they are addicts who need to apply the steps to stay healthy?
 
I'm also not sure why the 12 steps are not beneficial to everyone? We all have defects, and the steps are about acknowledging our minuscule amount of control and surrendering our will to conform to Hashem's Will. It's about being honest with ourselves about who we are. I don't see how practicing the steps and adopting them as part of a frum lifestyle in any way 'mixes falsehoods into Yiddishkeit by distorting our avodas Hashem into feel-good messages". 
 
To summarize, I just want to know if my 'lukewarm' use of the 12 steps can be not a good thing and even harmful? And if so why?

 

by Dov (See all authors)

Dov Responds:

There are two things here, as I see it: 1- the 12 Steps themselves, and 2- 12 step culture. The culture of the 12 step fellowships is described pretty well in the sefer "B'nei Machshovah Tova" by the Piasetzner hy"d even tho he surely never heard of AA, being in the Holocaust while AA was forming. It's the derech eretz brought out in a way to face up to the faker in all of us and deal with it using a group of other safe, real flesh-and-blood friends. The culture is based on self-honesty that is learned as a result of being open and honest with others, first. And the 12 Steps themselves are each great stand-alone tools for smart living.

There are numerous examples of 12 step tools and culture in Yiddishkeit itself (because we have a great religion). For example: The Tzetl Kotton #13 says it is essential to have a trusted spiritual guide or faithful friend to admit everything we really feel drawn to doing or fantasize about to, no matter how shameful. That's obviously the same idea as (No, not only Step 5 but) the entire basis of meetings and the 12 Steps: Openness and Honesty with real people; no more hiding, not letting our pride masquerade as shame any longer. And in #3 he writes an amazing thing. First he refers to the 'dying al kiddush Hashem' imagery (that he described in #1) when beginning to enjoy a luxury like good food or sex, and suggests we say to ourselves: "As great as this feels/tastes, I'd enjoy mitzvahs even more...and even though this food/sex w my wife/kavod from the crowd, etc is so yummy - if I had the choice I'd gladly be thrown into a fire pit by goyim al kiddush Hashem right now in the middle of it, than continue enjoying it because dying al kiddush Hashem is even sweeter to me and more enjoyable to me than this food, sex, etc." Then he ends with a qualifier that says it all and is my only point here regarding 12 Step culture: "ach yizohair sheyi'hyeh dover emess b'libo...v'lo yishateh es atzmo lihyos k'goneiv da'as Elyonah c"v." That last part is pure program culture. Being religious is great, but not if it's fake, especially to myself. Better be less 'religious-sounding' but self-honest. And for a guy who has been frum and yet still managing to pretend he was really 'struggling against it' for years (in other words dishonest to self and hypocritical), self-honesty comes very, very slowly and only through lots of practice, practice, practice.

On the other hand, surely there are some ideas that are unique to the 12 Step program and it's culture and STILL I say that normals can use program ideas - but the important thing to do is maintain the clarity that they are not using religion, but program ideas. And addicts in 12 steps can use religious ideas in their recovery. But my point and passion is to clarify that when either group does these things, it does not make those things into program or religion when they are not. I use vorts galore in sharing my recovery and experience of the Program! But I use them as similes to Program work and try to make that clear. Some people scratch their heads and hear religious words and vorts and think black-and-white so they see one thing: 'religion = program'. When I spoke w Rabbit Twerski about his book Teshuva through Recovery or Recovery through Teshuvah, whatever, I said this to him and he laughed and said he never once intended that Teshuvah is recovery or vice versa and admitted that many people will make that mistake and it is not his problem.