Anger, Buddhism, and the 12 steps, oh my!

6 Jul

1:11 pm

As I posted yesterday, The Fix published a piece I wrote about blogging myself sober. Obviously, it’s not the ONLY thing I’ve done to “get and stay sober,” but that’s beside the point. I think connecting with others who share your problem, and who can help you DEFINE its gray areas, is the key. So, thanks to all of you out there who continue to help me stay the course.

There were some negative comments posted in response to the piece, which I found, for the most part, to be instructive (thankfully!).

Why are some people so angry about a seemingly-successful recovery that either does not involve meetings or the 12 steps, or does not involve “as much work as someone else” or “the way that they did the work?”

What can I glean from the 12 steps, and why do I keep coming back to them, feeling like I’ve got some unfinished business? Maybe I AM a dry drunk?

If it wasn’t the personalities in AA, or the sharing, or the group therapy aspect that bothered me all that much, it must have been the steps, right? What am I afraid of? What about the steps hangs me up?

It’s those words: powerlessness, God, higher power. To me, the 12 steps are not rocket science; in fact, in order to get sober, EVERYONE has to do some version of these “steps,” I’ve come to believe. You might not KNOW you’re doing the steps, but you are. We admit we can’t drink anymore; we accept this fact. We feel remorse and say we’re sorry. We work on our relationships, we question our sense of purpose–why are we using booze to avoid or hide from what we know, deep down, we should and could be doing? I used wine for YEARS to avoid writing; yet, it’s the one thing I knew that if I just fucking DID it, I’d be free. Free of both the urge to drink away my fear and sensitivities surrounding “putting it out there” and possibly failing, and free from the self-loathing brought on by not doing it!

I wondered, how do atheists approach the steps? Do Muslims go to AA? What do people who come from non-Judeo-Christian backgrounds and worldviews think of AA? I mean, people all over the world have drinking problems–how do they approach the steps if they don’t, actually, believe in “God,” per se? What–or who–IS God? A quick Google search made me realize that the concept of God is extremely broad, and can range from an overlord or all-knowing being to, well, “being” or “existence” itself. Huh. As a scientist, I am not a theist, but neither am I convinced that “being” or “existence” does not hold a higher order. The whole is, most of the time in the biological sciences anyway, greater than the sum of its parts. Systems biology takes advantage of the FACT that studying systems of genes, or proteins, or cells can lead to surprising insights into how things actually work when we’re not reducing them to their parts.

At the beach yesterday, I felt the need (and this is usually accompanied by a lot of gesturing and loud talking to myself, so my apologies to the boyfriend–LOL) to tease out my “official” definition of these words. And, here’s what I came up with:

Powerlessness: To me, this is simply my desire (key word) to drink more than just one. I can never drink one. Why? Because I don’t WANT to. And this, I think, is where the neurochemistry of addiction comes in: my brain is wired–at the moment, at least, because I’ve abused wine for so long–to want more than one. It’s an urge that is VERY strong. And, already after one, my “rational brain” is starting to become overpowered by my “irrational brain.”

This is actually the opposite of the general idea that most people, including myself, have of powerlessness. I have a choice, yes I do; and that choice is to drink a second. Whether or not that choice is a good choice, well, morals aside, the powerlessness lies in my reward system being fucked up.

God: Well, since I do not believe in a deity or any sort of omniscient creator being, I would say that “God” is the order of the universe, being, life itself.

Higher power: I’ve always thought that this is simply my higher self, a literal higher consciousness. In fact, I now believe that when we “bottom out,” or hit our lows, we’re actually becoming our most self-aware. Our wake-up calls are just that: we snap out of it, we awaken, we’re fully conscious of just how bad it is. We’re at the top of our game then, not the bottom. This higher consciousness is our most aware selves–the self that knows better, wants the best for us, sees our potential, follows that “order” of the universe, or at least, of being human, which is to protect our bodies and minds from harm, to sleep when it’s dark, to wake when it’s light.

Defects of character: This was a hard one, but I figured it out on the ride home, with the help of my boyfriend. My biggest problem in this whole nightmare has been learning how to forgive myself. I realized that IF, in fact, I viewed my higher power as myself–the best version of myself, the mindful, awakened version–then, couldn’t asking myself for forgiveness be the same thing as asking “God” to remove my “defects of character?” YES, it really could.

In my research last in night, I came across Kevin Griffin, who founded the Buddhist Recovery Network, who has written some excellent pieces for HuffPo on the Buddhist approach to recovery, and whose work I can’t wait to read more of. It sort of helped to confirm some of my new ideas, which, apparently, I’m not the first person to have. 😉

I guess maybe a step meeting could’ve helped me wade through the murky semantics of the steps, or a Google search earlier in my recovery, but so it goes. If I look at the steps with my new definitions in mind, they might read as such:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
(I am powerless to not want that second drink…and then, it’s all downhill because my rational brain turns off the warning and my irrational brain turns on the “It’ll be different this time, it won’t hurt you, you can drink as much as you want, forget about last time, there is no last time…”)

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
(That power is myself–my aware, awakened, mindful self; the one who’s looking at me when I’m jogging in the hot sun thinking, Good job, and, You deserve to be awesome.)

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
(Wonderfully explained by Kevin here.)

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
(Among a lot of other things, this would include shit I did that I still haven’t forgiven myself for…because I have offended others and hurt myself.)

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
(Admitting to ourselves, really, the things that we haven’t forgiven ourselves for having done. I have a few select people who know EVERYTHING, and I’m grateful that it’s been easy, in a way, to “unburden” myself to these friends.)

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
(Ready to forgive ourselves, to stop caring if others have or will forgive us, to really let it all go, and to start moving forward in our emotional lives. Self-actualizing?)

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
(Asked ourselves for forgiveness, and the power to let it go.)

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
(Being aware of our thoughts and feelings, of our actions and especially, REACTIONS, to these thoughts and feelings. To live in the world without taking anything personally.)

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
(Staying aware, practicing mindfulness.)

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
(This one, I’m not sure about. Maybe just helping others see their problem is not necessarily about moral flaws, it’s about fear of living and fear of self-discovery–and, the truth (your personal truth) will set you free…?)

What do you think?

10 Responses to “Anger, Buddhism, and the 12 steps, oh my!”

  1. eileen July 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    loads of things i want to say, i could type all afternoon.

    but i’ll start with… thanks for that article, because i’m now part of team 100.

    i’ve learned things because of attending aa, but i always hated a few things. or disagreed. or was uncomfortable with. ‘powerlessness’ never quite cut it. as i always somehow had the power to get more, or drink more. therefore, i wasn’t powerless over it. i like the way you have elaborated upon everything up above…

    the ‘defects’ of character never sat well, either. maybe because it was pushing a button i already had, inside, that somehow i was defective, period, at the core. (a past counselor had helped me understand ‘core scripts’ that were running in the background, much like an operating system on a computer… you get yours, basically, from your first 8 years of life.

    and sure, there are upgrades, of both operating systems and new programs you put in, but … glitches and malfunctions occur, and then, wham, you can only open in ‘safe mode’. If your safe mode has crappy core scripts, it makes anything that changes your state very very alluring. bruce lipton has some great things to say about those programs running in the background, if you can get past lilou’s presence in this video:

    i prefer the healthier term ‘deficits’ of character. you can’t have a healthy plant if you are missing a mineral or two. you can’t have a healthy outlook on the world if the folks you came up around were missing a few minerals in THEIR mix.

    so yeah, a big part of my discomfort could be seen to be semantic in nature.

    when i first went to aa, i was just doing rather abusive binges when i was overwhelmed with crappy emotions. i recognized it was a major problem. but it turned me off completely to share my emotions and be told, ‘you need to work the steps.’ it was just basically, complete invalidation of emotions. at the time. and it’s happened at other times. but i’ve learned a lot more, about a lot of things. from a lot of sources.

    i got exposed to the first non aa recovery thought processes thru a book called ‘zen and recovery’ by mel ash. but even zen gives me heebie jeebies cos it’s another division . (who knew that this reply was going to ramble the way it has?) you might be interested in reading about vipassana. teachings of ‘the buddha’ without actually being called ‘buddhism’ (vipassana means awareness)

    which i’m always enthusiastic as a 4 year old to share. but there are big book thumpers in aa who will shoot down anyone that isn’t doing it… ‘the way THEY did it’. and quote from that book like fundamentalists, to prove that ‘knowledge will not keep you sober’. there is sometimes a very creepy atmosphere if you are around folks that use terms like, ‘us’ vs ‘normies’ or ‘us’ vs ‘earth people’. oi.

    in a way, aa functions like a big dysfunctional family. but, then, so do a lot of groups.

    i HAVE met quality people, both in and out of aa.

    i tend to resonate with george carlin’s take on ‘groups’ and ‘joining’…

    “Every individual has a set of eyes you look into ; gives you something, whether it’s a blank wall or an infinite regress of barbershop mirrors. Just as fascinating. There’s something in all individuals. I make room for them, psychically – even though i might want to get away after a minute and a half. People are wonderful one at a time. Each of them has the entire hologram of the universe somewhere within them.

    But as soon as individuals begin to clump, as soon as they begin to clot, they change….

    Groups of three, five, fifteen… suddenly, we have special little hats, we have arm bands, we have a marching song, a secret handshake, and a list of people we don’t agree with.

    … Once upon a time, people might have been good, up to ten or twelve, or one hundred or so, whatever the ideal tribal unit was. When everybody took care of everyone elses’ children, when there were no last names, no patriarchy, no patrimony, when ‘property’ was unheard of. You might have some personal stuff; ‘this is my favorite rock’, ‘i’ve got this axe i made’… but no one owns the tent, everybody belongs in the tent as long as we have a fire. What buffalo there are… belong to everybody, if we can kill one. Something about that is awfully compelling. But humans lost it long ago.” from ‘Last Words’ by George Carlin

    ok i think i’ve streamed enough consciousness and hope you feel my gazillion thanks for having written the article. Yay!

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 9, 2013 at 3:53 am #

      Hi, Eileen,
      Wow, so much good stuff in here, I don’t know where to start. Let me say that George Carlin is a genius and his description of groups is absolutely hilarious!

      Thank you for the recommendations–and, I think, exploring other healing methodologies is SO helpful, whether it is sitting meditation or one-on-one counseling. I found counseling to be REALLY helpful because yeah, it’s KEY to be able to express your feelings and have them validated in a comfortable, respectful setting–instead of ignored, or dismissed in a way that makes you feel even worse.

      There is nothing “defective” about anyone. Love the way you refer to it as “deficits”–was thinking about that on my walk today. AA can have so many negative impacts, including simply being a distraction. It’s REALLY important to just keep your head on straight and you know, if it sounds weird and annoying, it probably is! Let it go, move on, and follow your gut…

      HUGS. You are so right on track! OH, and welcome to Team 100….!!!


  2. Lilly July 6, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    DDG, this is wonderful, really wonderful stuff, LOVED the article. Would comment more in depth if not on iPad but just wanted to say fabulous stuff and WELL DONE on getting published too. Love The Fix! I hope Belle is ready for a massive influx into Team 100 because I see it on the cards thanks to your article. Get ready everyone. Sober parade coming through bitches. 🙂

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 9, 2013 at 3:58 am #

      Thanks, Lilly! I keep your advice in mind ALL the time now; it’s give me so much peace of mind, I guess, to hear someone say it as simply as you did–it’s a numbers game, and don’t take rejection at all personally.

      MOVE IT, PEOPLE! (honk honk, braaaaaaay braaaaaaaay–that’s my unicorn)

      • Lilly July 9, 2013 at 4:03 am #

        Oh that’s great to hear! I’m so glad it helped. And it’s totally true, 100%, which is not to say I don’t completely know what it’s like to get caught up in the fears of rejection or the ‘oh god I suck’ cycle of pitching and waiting, pitching and waiting… It’s such a great feeling when something hits the mark though too, isn’t it? The Fix piece was awesome. And I’m a tiny bit jealous I didn’t think of that… 😉

  3. Changingcoursenow July 7, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    DDG – I enjoyed your remake of the steps. I’m a newcomer to AA and am enjoying the face to face with fellow soberistas (it’s a women’s group). It’s sort of a sober blogging in the flesh. They are very welcoming of all faiths and although the steps are definitely a part of the meeting – it’s the personal sharing and support that take up the hour. The twelve steps can work for anybody when they are interpreted to meet your own needs. Hugs!

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 9, 2013 at 4:00 am #

      I’m glad you actually liked this post. I’ve been baffled by the steps for a long time, and so reading that Buddhist take really helped me to put some things into a framework that made any sort of personal sense! BUT, I have been to AA and I DID get a lot out of the sharing and connection. Hugs back!

  4. Tom March 27, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

    I am a Buddhist who is fully recovered and have gone through a lot of the same confusion.

    Forget the steps; they are conceptual garbage that has nothing to do with ending your addiction or with Buddhism.

    You’re not powerless over alcohol, ever. Buddhism says to avoid intoxicants, and that implies you have the power to do so.

    Buddhism would say that drinking is an unskillful action, not a disease. There are right and wrong actions, and you know that for YOU, drinking is a wrong one. So don’t fall for this crap that drinking is the *only* voluntary action in your life that isn’t a moral decision.

    You’re not a dry drunk. There’s no such thing. If you’ve quit drinking, then you’re not a drunk of any kind. You’re done, and don’t let AA or anyone else tell you that you can’t make a simple decision like that, knowing all you know already.

    “In order to get sober, EVERYONE has to do some version of these ‘steps’”. That’s not true. All you have to do is stop drinking.

    AA is like saying that if you keep mopping up the mess, then the faucet will somehow magically turn itself off. Buddhism would tell you to turn the faucet off, then maybe clean up some messes. You may have other problems, and drinking may have caused them, but don’t dance around the issue. Destroy it at the root.

    AA apologists will say that powerlessness means that ‘you’re powerless after the first drink’. But in fact, the literature says that there will be a time where ‘no human power’ can stop you from taking even that first drink. It’s a system built specifically around avoiding moral responsibility and extending the recovery/relapse process as long as possible.

    AA is just wrong; it supports addictions, it offers no direct solution (the problem and the solution are far simpler than any addict wants to admit), and it’s just confusing you. You don’t have to integrate AA into your life, and you don’t need AA at all. You’re not destined for jails, institutions and death if you don’t go to AA or don’t believe in it.

    People who would say thing like that aren’t your friends.

    You’re destined to become enlightened and be free of endless conceptual treadmilling about mysterious causes of a non-existent disease.

    Other problems are other problems, not signs of some lifelong disease. If you get mad, that’s not ‘alcoholism’ doing pushups. If you get hungry, lonely, or tired, those have nothing to do with your simple decision to just not drink.

    If you must try to integrate AA into your understanding of Buddhism (as I was also wanting to do), you can see it as useful for some people who are not prepared to accept responsibility and are totally confused about the actual goal and method…like doing good actions and hoping for a better rebirth, which is hardly Buddhism at all.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl March 28, 2014 at 11:59 am #

      Great comment–thank you. Yeah, I agree with all that you wrote, and I took action re: AA a long time ago because, well, I was not afraid to think and feel for myself! I stopped going to meetings because all of it–the negative ruminating, the group aspect, the false idea that we are inherently flawed or incapable of acting of our own accord–well, it was just triggering the things I drank over. And, I felt extremely bothered (and shocked) by the fact that there was not a lot of original thinking, not a lot of DERIVING the reason one drinks. It was just…detrimental to my healing. I am no student of Buddhism, but all that you wrote is very thought-provoking and I will have to re-visit when I have a bit more time… Thank you!


  1. I haven’t missed anything except regret | Tired of Thinking About Drinking - July 6, 2013

    […] like doing it … and so I didn’t do it as much as I should have. Like DDG says in her post, after I had one drink, i always wanted more. I would stop before things got ‘bad’ but […]

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