As the Result of These Steps
Let’s take a look at the next phrase in Step Twelve - as the result of these Steps. What is pretty clear to me is that the huge emotional displacements and rearrangements, or personality changes that are necessary to overcome alcoholism come about from working the previous 11 Steps. It’s a process, not a flash of light, a burning bush or a phrase read from a fortune cookie. There is also an implied guarantee: if you work these Steps, you will get better. You could call this belief that working the steps will result in recovery an act of faith, another word that raises the hackles of the non-religious. I understand their concern. Faith is a word that is very often misused, especially by Christians of the evangelical, fundamentalist variety, to bludgeon both the believer and nonbeliever.
Faith, as defined by Webster’s is confidence or trust in a person or thing or a belief not based on proof. It may also refer to a particular system of religious belief, (as in the Jewish ‘faith’). The term 'faith' has numerous connotations and is used in many different ways, often depending on context. Here, I am talking about faith in terms of the first definition: confidence or trust in a person or thing or a belief not based on proof.
Unfortunately, we are never going to have overwhelming, scientific proof that A.A. or the 12 Step process works. A.A. is not, nor ever can be, an absolutely, evidence based treatment program like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Contingency Management Intervention Therapy (CMT). Evidence based means, among other things, that the methodology has been tested through a study of a group of alcoholics that have had that methodology administered to them in a very specific and documented way. In order to determine if the methodology works, it must be measured for effectiveness against a similarly composed group that does not receive that treatment, which is referred to as a control group. Likewise both groups must be followed after treatment to determine if, and for how long, recovery lasts.
For many reasons, the anonymous nature of A.A., which is the founding principle underlying all of A.A.’s traditions, prevents it from being measured in this fashion. Alcoholics Anonymous is delivered by alcoholics to alcoholics; we have no professional class of therapists with a prescribed method of delivering the program. Everyone who joins A.A. works their own program. Many get sponsors, some do not. Some sponsors work their sponsees through the Steps, some do not. Some who join A.A. go to lots of meetings, some go to a few, and some don’t go to any. Finally, to have alcoholics participating in a study as part of a control group who would receive no information on the A.A. solution to their alcoholism is anathema to the A.A. program. Our only reason to be is to carry the message to other alcoholics who still suffer. We cannot conceive of such a thing as a control group, the members of which would go untreated.
Does this mean there is no place for faith in Alcoholics Anonymous? Quite the contrary, to give faith to those who are new is why those of us with time in the program go to meetings and sponsor others. We stand as examples that the program works. “Yes, we were alcoholics like you, we could not control our drinking, but we came to A.A. and heard about the solution. For the first time in our lives, we did what we were told. We worked the steps and we changed, changed in such a way that we have been able to recover from the disease of alcoholism. Have faith that it will work for you too. Look around you, listen to what we have to say. This worked for me and it will work for you.” This is how we try to carry this message to alcoholics. Another way we carry this message to alcoholics is through meetings, while others carry the message to those incarcerated in jails or prisons. We reach out to hospitals, institutions and treatment centers. We help family members, relatives and friends when they ask for help. Often our neighbors or those we work with will ask us about the program. Another one of our “sayings” is that you can’t keep it unless you give it away. And giving it away is exactly what we mean. We don’t charge for this. We give it away freely because it was freely given to us. Passing it along to others is payment for the debt we owe to those who came before us.