I have struggled quite honestly since I first hit bottom in 2009 to get more than about 14 months of clean time as defined by the 12 step recovery groups.
With the recent help of some trusted friends, my higher power, some experiences with relapse, and some other lessons, I’m beginning to see that for me, I need more than “the rooms” can offer me…at least at this stage of my life.
The twelve-step programs have a definite place in recovery and work for some people as a “life plan.” Even for myself, they served a purpose during a the critical phase of my recovery, when I was learning to live life “on life’s terms.” But, I’m beginning to understand they fall short of what I want and need now. So, I’m finding my own “voice,” and my own “recovery program.”
Quite simply, for me, life is more about living in the gray. Things are not as simple or neatly defined as one finds in the very “fundamentalist” worldview of 12 step groups. I’ve already lived through the painful disappointment of a rigid, dogmatic Christian “cult” when I was in college. Again, it served as a useful “crutch” during a traumatic period of loss, while my parents were going through a divorce. Back then, the Christian group on campus gave me structure and instant “community” – though in the long run, their worldview was very black and white, right and wrong – with little room for independent thinking and diversity. So as a gay man, I left — and watched as every single relationship turned their back on me because of my choice to come out of the closet.
What I’ve come to realize is the 12 step process was beginning to give me the same heartache and disappointment. I’ve been really frustrated and let down, because what I’ve heard from people in the rooms and their demonstrated practice have not matched up. I heard expectations from them about what they would do in times of need – yet in those times of need, I found little support, friendship or understanding.
As with the teachings of the Christian campus group, there is still much that agree with and can use going forward. So, I don’t want to throw everything out with the bath water. I can try some things on – if they work for me, then they become a part of my belief system. But, if they don’t work for me, I can reject them and move on…and that’s okay.
It’s called finding my voice, coming up with my guiding principles, discovering myself…which ultimately is what MY recovery is about. I lost myself in work, relationships, and ex-pat living. I don’t want to “lose myself” to another external organization and philosophy. Instead, I want to learn from others, but determine my own path.
The beauty about rediscovering yourself is you get to do it over and over. And that’s exciting and scary – but more aligned with where this recovery person wants to be. It’s a little more fluid and messy at times – but in my experience, that’s life.
The other important thing for me to remember is this doesn’t mean that other people are wrong and that I’m right. It just means that I found what has worked for me, just for today. It’s about living in the gray, it’s about asking questions, it’s about being open to changing beliefs when they no longer work for me until I find the handful of principles that are my “truths” by which I choose to live.