Why I Distanced Myself from 12-Step

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Why I Distanced Myself from 12-Step

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This post was originally published on July 21, 2014.

I’ve been in and out of the 12-step world for eight years now. I’d always been dubious about AA and similar programs—though I’ve seen them significantly help people close to me, I had a hard time letting go of my reservations and doubts. Most of those doubts were fueled by the rumors I’d heard, from both peers and the media. You know the ones: that AA is a cult, that I’d get brainwashed, that it was religious (and Christian, at that). I’d also heard particularly unsavory things about a local DC group called Midtown that’s incredibly controversial.

So I didn’t expect to have much luck or success when I started going to meetings in 2006. Against my own better judgment, though, the more I went, the more I found that I appreciated some aspects of 12-step—the fellowship, the social support, being surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and issues. I kept going, and eventually began making friends, and getting sponsors, and working with sponsees—the whole deal.

But though step work and the like did help me in some ways, it just didn’t seem to help enough. I’ve grappled with depression since my teen years, and to me, it felt like mental illness was trivialized in the rooms. I knew there were tons of people like me in there, but was frustrated to find that on numerous occasions I heard people tsk-tsk over 12-steppers who needed to take psych meds. I’m of the firm belief that no matter what meds you’re taking, if you’re taking them as prescribed by a doctor, it’s nobody’s business but your own—definitely not something up for discussion or debate.

And I also never grasped the God focus of the program. I know AA is not totally religious, per se, but it’s definitely spiritual, and the texts’ constant use of the word “God” skeeved me out every time I heard or read it. It didn’t matter how many of my peers claimed that the program wasn’t about believing in God God—your Higher Power could be a door knob, for heaven’s sake (yeah, we know, we get it, blah blah). Sorry, but I still just don’t understand how praying to a door knob could possibly enhance my life. When I tried to pray, I felt like a fraud each and every time, because I was trying to talk to something that I just…didn’t believe existed. It felt hollow and fake, and I didn’t believe it would help, so it didn’t.

I also fell out of the program a bit more after moving cross-country in December. Starting over in a new place (or, in my case, my hometown) just kind of made me put the program on the back burner, and it hasn’t ended up budging from that position as of yet. I wouldn’t say I’ll never ever possibly go back, but for right now, I probably…won’t.

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About Author

Laura Barcella

Laura Barcella is a freelance writer, editor and author from Washington, DC. She currently works as the Weekend Editor for xoJane. Her writing has also appeared in Salon, Esquire.com, Elle.com, Refinery29, AlterNet, CNN.com, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl and NYLON. Her book credits include Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.

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