The Basic Foundations
The way I see it, the addiction is only a symptom of a larger "disease", which is a general "disconnect" from the very root of what makes us mentchen. The 12-Steps were designed to give a person a refreshed perspective of what it means to be a human being - created in Hashem's image, at a level so basic that even Goyim can understand. Once a person has these yesodos, they can go on to become true Yidden and great Yidden.
The truth is that ALL humans - especially Yidden, can gain a tremendous amount from the 12-Step perspective. After all, our addictions is only a "symptom" of the disease. Unfortunately though, many Yidden have this disease - even if they did not develop the symptoms that we did. So in a sense, we are fortunate as addicts to be FORCED to refresh our very foundations, because we know that otherwise we are finished.
Well, for us to be able to heal - and we MUST heal, we addicts must learn to completely surrender our lust to Hashem. Not only that, but we also learn surrender our RIGHT to lust, as well as any expectation of ever achieving lust. All of this is surrendered to Hashem so that we can heal. But this is a tall order. How can we, who have lost all control in this area, successfully learn to surrender all this to Hashem? How can we achieve a level of surrender so profound, that we no longer even need to fight to overcome lust, rather Hashem does it for us instead?
I think the answer can be found in two words that appear in the first Pasuk of Shema: Hashem Echad. The unification of Hashem is perhaps the most fundamental and constant of all of the 613 Mitzvos. But what does this have to do with us? Let me explain.
This overriding Mitzva of divine unification is not just about believing that there is only one G-d. The Chassidic Masters have taught us that our entire lives, every second, and everything we do, should ultimately be an expression of Hashem's unity.
But How? As human beings, we have our own desires and needs, and this seemingly conflicts with Hashem's absolute unification. After all, if there is only Hashem and nothing else, why do I want to do my own things, things that often conflict with His will?
And so, in order for a Jew to learn to live his life as an expression of Hashem's absolute unity, it means that he has to learn to completely let go of self-centeredness and have Hashem in mind in all his deeds. And when a Jew does everything for Hashem's sake and not his own, then even his eating and his sleeping become expressions of Hashem's unity. And this is the underlying message of the 12-Steps:
"Completely letting go of self-centeredness"
And here are some of the fundamental moral principles that enable us to achieve this high level:
- Dependence on Hashem. As addicts, we have no choice but to learn the deepest and most profound connection to Hashem. A complete "life & death" dependency on Him, analogous to the dependency of a one day old baby who is completely and absolutely dependent on its mother. We can see that David Hamelech expresses this type of connection with Hashem, again and again throughout Tehhilim. "Ke'gamul alei Imo - like a babe who suckles from his mother". Who had imagined that we could reach a level anything close to David Hamelech? But we can. We HAVE to.
- Humility. Achieving absolute dependency on Hashem requires total humility. This is not hard for the addict, for he has completely surrendered and admitted that he cannot do it alone, and he knows this with 100% clarity. Through this admission of powerlessness, he is able to achieve a very high level of humility, analogous to Moshe Rabbeinu who said: "Va'anachnu mah? - What are we?".
- Pure Faith. We are forced to quit playing G-d and let Hashem run our lives. We acknowledge that we are no longer in we control and give ourselves over to Hashem's care, to do with us as he sees fit. This leads to drastic life changes, not just in the area of the addiction. We are able to achieve a high level in fulfilling the Torah's commandment:"Tamim Tehiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha - You shall walk in perfect faith with the Almighty, your G-d".
- Honesty. In order to heal, we are forced to learn rigorous honesty with ourselves, with others, and with Hashem - in all our affairs. This allows for a host of vital life-changes, such as true introspection, learning to discern when the Yetzer Hara/addiction is talking to us as opposed to the Yetzer Tov, and it also allows us to squarely face our faults and make amends wherever we have erred. We are able to reach a high level of the Midda of Emes, something that the biggest Tzadikim spent lifetimes to achieve. And as we all know, Emes is the foundation of the entire Torah."Hakadosh Baruch Hu Emes, Ve'Chosamo emes - G-d is Truth, and his stamp is Truth".
These are some of the basic foundations stones, divided into 12-Steps, that help us learn to completely remove our self-centeredness. Through them, we develop a true willingness and desire to help others, with no thought of getting anything in return. And this is practiced in all our affairs, and with all those we interact with in our lives. Ultimately, this can spill over to help us reach the highest levels of "Lishma" - living our lives and all we do purely "for the sake of Heaven".
It's easy to write these things down. After all, I did it in a half hour. But to learn to truly live this way takes the kind of life changes that can happen only through joining groups, getting a sponsor, and working the steps into our lives - day by day. In the groups, we learn to LIVE these life-changes by sharing hope and experience, and through helping others.
Now it's not that these things can't be found in Mussar, but it has a totally different affect when practiced as a group, as Rabbi Twerski writes over here. Also, please take a moment to see what Rabbi Twerski writes on this page in answer to Question #1 about why the groups are generally much more effective than Mussar.