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12-Step Recovery Is Without Defense

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Twelve-step recovery communities have recently been under heavy criticism in opinion pieces, with individuals suggesting they may be less-effective approaches to healing addiction to alcohol and other drugs. These communities, based on their participants' continual work to grow out of defensiveness and focus on personal responsibility, have a hard time defending themselves against criticism. When members work to respect each other by not speaking for each other, the group by definition cannot summon a group response.

I can only speak for myself, but I have watched as countless people in recovery learn to speak a language older than words, a language of actions. On Sunday, we will speak for ourselves, but in chorus, as we gather at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally on The National Mall in Washington D.C..

What is the message of a group of people who are learning to let their actions speak for them? My message, and those of many at the gathering, will be that recovery works.

America is sometimes portrayed as a nation built upon selfish individualism. I prefer to frame that quality as respect for the immense power of self-awareness and personal responsibility.

Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," a story of his experience surviving as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II, demonstrates beautifully how personal responsibility is the one thing that cannot be taken from us. Recovery, at its best, is all about the ability to take responsibility for our actions no mater what is happening, and in so doing free ourselves of resentment, dishonesty, fear, and selfishness.

It's not about believing in God to get sober, it's about believing in ourselves: that we are strong enough to weather the seemingly crushing weight of other people having been right and ourselves having been wrong. Belief in God, however you define him/her/them, is often an effect, not a cause, of developing such strength. But perhaps the greatest revelation comes from the discovery that we weren't actually wrong, nor were the other people -- instead, we come to see that we have been defensive.

Taking action today is my own answer to being free of defensiveness tomorrow. It is my responsibility to cease fighting everything and everyone, for sanity is slowly returning in my life -- I can no longer deny that all of you are me.

This week I am in the midst of presenting a workshop called "12 Steps for Everyone," for therapists (and everyone else) in Portland, Denver, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. Saturday, I will give a presentation to 500 addiction counselors in the state of California, before flying across the country to join countless people in recovery for a historical day. I will look for you this Sunday, in the chorus of laughter and tears; I will be the one smiling.

Buster Ross is the National Director of LGBTQ-Integrative Programming and a Graduate School Adjunct at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.