In my previous article, I provided a critique of steps 1-3 of AA’s Twelve-Step Model. In part two, I continue with my critique, focusing on Steps 4-6. At the end of this article I provide the first (of several) alternative approaches to recovery from a drinking or other substance abuse problem. These approaches differ from AA’s Twelve-Step model in that they emphasize self-reliance over powerlessness and rationality over spirituality (among other differences). I will provide more alternatives in parts three and four.
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
This is a positive message in the Twelve-Step Model, because it requires a person to evaluate his or her own moral system in order to become explicitly aware of it. However, this step does not explain how to judge whether one’s moral system is healthy or unhealthy, rational or irrational, consistent or contradictory. Does AA believe in a rationally defined morality based on how a person needs to live in order to survive and thrive? Or is it based on a religious (or other mystical) morality, which requires one to blindly follow the morality of one’s chosen deity on faith? The vagueness of this step would make it difficult for someone to utilize in a practical way.
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step requires that people who are recovering from a drinking problem be honest with themselves and others about the things they’ve done wrong, or are doing wrong, in their lives. I think this is a healthy practice in general, and very helpful for someone who is trying to quit drinking and take responsibility for his life. One cannot make changes until he knows what changes to make; and in order for him to know what changes to make, he must be completely honest with himself about his own character, and then do his best to change for the better.
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Again, we are back to giving up one’s power to God and having Him take all the responsibility for change. The previous two steps were about self-responsibility: taking a moral inventory and being honest with oneself and others. It is implied that these steps are to be done by the person with the alcohol problem, not a Higher Power. But now, in Step Six, we are back to giving up control to Someone outside ourselves. How does God or a Higher Power actually remove one’s defects? Who is actually doing the changing and taking the actions? Who is attending the meetings, doing the hard thinking, controlling his or her drinking, reading the books, and sharing his or her story? It’s the individual, not God, that takes all of these actions. But in AA, God or the “Higher Power,” gets all of the credit. What does that do to a person’s self-esteem? If someone has remained sober for one, ten, or thirty years, who should get the credit for this: God or the individual person? I believe that it should be the person because he (or she) did all of the work. He may or may not have received support from others; but ultimately, he had to follow through and put in the necessary effort to make and sustain the changes, and therefore, should receive the credit. However, if he gives partial (or all) credit for his sobriety to others (God, Higher Power, his peers in AA, his sponsor, etc.), he will never fully believe that it was his achievement. Nonetheless, if he happens to later fall off the wagon, he will most likely place all of the blame on himself. This is truly damaging to his self-esteem and to his belief that he has control over his life.
(Originally appeared on Examiner.com)