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12-Step Analysis Project
12-Step Analysis Project
Addiction is the concept in the 12-Step Program is defined as the inability to stop a behavior after the initial experience. The reason for not being able to desist in a behavior can be based on the participant’s perception of why they cannot quit the behavior despite sometimes devastating consequences. The 12-Step Program addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual possibilities for addition; the addicted person can use one or all of the components in an effort to control their addiction.
The 12-Step Program was originally introduced by self-admitted alcoholic Bill W. in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Millions of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (W., 1939). Over the years, the 12-Step Program has functioned as the framework for many other systems for addressing addictive behaviors. In addition, Al-Anon and CoDA was established to assist the family members and friends in coping with the addict’s behaviors, promote understanding of the behaviors, and create a more supportive environment for recovery.
The 12-Step Program is based on twelve activities that promote self-awareness and self-forgiveness. While there is a strongly spiritual component to the traditional steps, more contemporary alterations use the term “God as I know him” or can even use the collective group as a “higher power”. There are also motivators such as helping others, learning the way to a new life, and “restoring sanity”.
The requirements of this paper are to attend two 12-Step meetings and two Al-Anon meetings in the Los Angeles area. I attended the meetings over a two week period. The meetings were very strict about starting and finishing on time, although there was a great deal of socializing before and after the discussions. The meetings included Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics/Southbay.
Meeting #1: Alcoholic Anonymous
The first meeting I attended was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I am a Saudi woman and I did not see anyone at the meeting who was from my country. I also did not know anyone. A man introduced himself to me and said he had not seen me at the meeting before, and I mentioned that I was just visiting. He welcomed me and offered me a cup of coffee, which I refused. The meeting area was a storefront that had an entry area opening to a meeting room with a table surrounded by chairs. I seated myself and waited for the meeting to begin.
The meeting started with the man who introduced himself to me standing and welcoming everyone. He introduced himself only by his first name and stated that he was an alcoholic, and when he did so, the rest of the group responded, “Hi, Jim!” Jim made some announcements, and then invited someone to read the 12 Steps, which were on a poster at the front of the room. They did so, reading directly from the poster. At the end, there was a round of “Thank you, Ralph” from the group and Jim. Jim then asked for a volunteer to read from the “Big Book”, which I later learned was the standard text written by Bill W. The group evidently was reading the book in order by sections, and the volunteer discussed “letting go”. This is a topic related to the need for the addict to admit that he is powerless over his addiction and needs assistance in recovering.
Following this introductory ritual, Jim stated again that the topic for the evening was “letting go” and asked for a volunteer to start the discussion. There never seemed to be much hesitation on the part of the group for someone to volunteer. I was very worried about what I would say when it came to be my turn. I wondered if I was expected to talk about my life, even though I do not consider myself an addict. The person starting the discussion introduced herself by her first name, stated that she was an addict and alcoholic, and stated the length of her sobriety, which was 23 months. Each speaker was very specific about the length of his or her sobriety. She spoke a few moments about an issue in her life with which she was struggling, and then announced that she was happy to be there. Again, the group said, in unison, “Thanks, Kathy”.
The speakers went around the table until they came to me. Following the lead, I introduced myself and then said that I was just visiting. Everyone said, “Hi” and Jim said he was glad I was there. No one pressured me to continue or asked me any questions. The person next to me picked up the discussion. The meeting ended with a money collection, everyone stood, held hands, and recited a prayer. After the meeting was over, Kathy approached and said she was glad I was there. I suddenly realized she thought I was looking at the meeting as a place to start my recovery. I explained to her I was doing a research paper and did not consider myself an addict. She smiled and said she was glad I was there, anyway. I left shortly after.
The content of the meeting was interesting to me and I could see how it was a confidential, non-judgmental place for people to discuss their problems. There was no professional therapist present; it was just a group of people all struggling with the same problems in different circumstances. The meeting was free (unless you wanted to donate) and very friendly, which is a positive way to promote recovery in an informal setting.
Meeting #3: Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
This meeting was very different from the first one I attended. I thought it would follow the same type of format, and it did in a way. However, there was only one other female than myself and I was very uncomfortable. The other woman gravitated to me, and I explained to her the reason for my being at the meeting. We sat together in a room with folding chairs in a circle and the meeting started. The introductions were all again without the use of last names or even initials. Announcements were made and volunteers were solicited to clean the meeting room after finishing as the person normally responsible for it was not present. The 12 Steps were read again, but in the first step, the word “sex” was inserted for “alcohol”. As the talks progressed around the circle, it was similar to the meeting for alcoholics, but the situations were more sexual in nature. However, the process for recovery seemed to remain the same. As with alcohol, sex had assumed a different value for the addict that it has for the non-addicted person. Sex had evolved into a perception alien to me. I realized a collection basket would be passed at the end of the meeting, and I placed a dollar bill in it. The groups use the collection to pay the rent and utilities and supplies such as coffee and cleaning products. I left as soon as the meeting was over, and I noticed the other woman did, also. I have to wonder with an addiction of this type if the meetings are beneficial or may possibly fuel the urges by discussing them.
Meeting #3: Al-Anon
Al-Anon meetings are for people who are involved with addicts who are not addicted themselves. While I understand there are some meetings for children, this one was for adults only. Al-Anon members could be spouses, children, friends, or other people concerned about their relationship with the addict. Rather than opting to walk away from the addict, they are attempting to learn ways of coping for themselves and ways to help the addict if they can. A supportive, knowledgeable environment can help an addict on the road to recovery.
Like the other meetings I attended, the atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was friendly. I suppose I had a look of not knowing where to go, because again a woman came to me and asked if it was my first time at the meeting. I had come to realize that it was alright to simply visit and no explanations were needed. I joined the group in a large meeting room that looked as though it may have been the lobby of a bank. The chairs were in rows and I sat next to the woman who greeted me. As with the other meetings, the chairman started the meeting with announcing his first name, but did not put a label on himself like “alcoholic” or “addict”. The announcements were made and someone read the 12 Steps, which were very similar to the other meetings. The group was large enough that it split into different rooms with different topics. The members separated into the room where they thought they needed the most focus. I noticed there were several groups that appeared to be families.
I went into the room that was talking about being powerless. As I listened to the various monologues, I realized that the different steps applied to areas of my life as well, and I was tempted to contribute some thoughts I was having about times when I might have been powerless in my life and needed someone to help me. Admitting powerlessness means admitting you need help and you cannot do it alone, whatever “it” might be.
When a member talks, he or she is not interrupted until they are finished. One member of this group became upset in recounting how she felt when her husband would drink and kept talking and talking. No one stopped her. However, the time for the meeting was coming to an end and the remaining members seemed happy to say, “Hi, I’m (name) and I’m just glad to be here. Thank you, “and the opportunity to talk would pass to the next person. But the next to the last person in the group also had to talk about some issues he was having about not controlling his daughter’s drug abuse and the other groups began to meet again in the main area. We all stayed until everyone in our group was finished before we went into the main area.
It was amazing to me that the people in the meetings could come in with any problem they might have and talk until they wanted to stop. No one ever made a comment on what was said except when one man said, “I want to thank Bob for talking about that. It reminds me of when . . .” There is really no other place outside of a 12-Step meeting that I can think where this could happen. Even in a therapy session, the therapist will ask questions about what is being said.
Meeting #4: CoDA
The last meeting I attended was a CoDA 12-Step meeting for addicted people who are in a relationship with other addicted people. I think this situation would be the hardest of all. If I were trying to stop a behavior I was having trouble controlling, I would want to be as far away from someone doing the same behavior as possible. The members of this group, however, looked and acted no different from any of the other meetings. The agenda of the meeting was similar and by now I had gotten fairly comfortable with the strangeness of the people.
The meeting was also fairly small and we all met in one room. I think there was at least one couple there together, which meant they were both attempting recovery. I would think it would be difficult to discuss what was on your mind about a relationship with the other person there, and maybe harder not to interrupt if I was the part of the couple listening. As the turn passed from person to person, I found that some of the people were in a relationship with someone who was in recovery and some were with people who were still using drugs or alcohol. It was particularly hard for these people to set aside their desire to help the other person because they had to help themselves first.
As in the Al-Anon meeting, I found myself finding situations in my own life where these ideas might apply. For instance, when you fly on an airplane and the stewardess is giving instructions, she says if I am traveling with a small child and the oxygen masks come down, I am supposed to put on my own mask first before I put the one on the child. The same idea applies to an addict in a relationship with another addict. A crippled person can’t help another crippled person; you have to get well to be able to help someone else. Another thought that occurred to me is that maybe I am not as mentally healthy as I think I am. I say people in jeans and people in suits, old people and young people. This sort of problem doesn’t appear to have any preference for who it strikes. Perhaps there is an addiction waiting for me to discover it and I’m not aware of it.
I attended several meetings for patients suffering from addiction in the Al Amal psychiatric hospital in Saudi Arabia. They were not 12-Step meetings and were guided by counselors and psychiatrists. Also, the addicts attending the meetings were institutionalized and medications and behavior were documented. However, the same issues of helplessness, admission of feelings of guilt, and other similar topics were discussed. The issue of religion was not reinforced as necessary unless it was important to the patient; 12-Step meetings require the addict find another person, group, or entity as a higher power in which to surrender.
I wondered if there is a weakness or personality defect that makes addicts more susceptible to losing control than other people. Perhaps they happen to be using at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable. There are some indications that genetics can play a part, or childhood upbringing, or other variables. But you can’t know until it actually happens to you. I heard from one man in Alcoholics Anonymous that he had been a social drinker all his life, and one day he realized he was a drunk. I suppose it can just sneak up on you without you knowing it.
There are two very important aspects to the 12-Step meetings around the world. First, they have no cost. This is crucial for some people who have very little money, especially since seeking professional help without insurance is very expensive. Second, there is complete anonymity. There is a poster on the wall and I heard several times something along the line of, “What’s said here stays here”. In other words, you do not go home and talk about what someone said while you were in the meeting. No one uses last names, although some people offer what kind of work they do or other personal information. If I were to see a member of the group out on the street, I would only know to say hello with his or her last name.
Some of the members have been coming to meetings a long time; one man said he had been sober 39 years. I asked him later why he kept coming to meetings when he seemed to have his drinking under control. He told that that he enjoys the meetings because they are sort of like church for him without all the music. His higher power is with him as much in a meeting as it is in church. He also said he will always be in recovery; an addict is never recovered. I think that is a little sad to think of it that way, but it makes sense so the addicted person does not ever think he can go back to using drugs or alcohol because he is “cured”.
The woman sitting with me in the Sexual Addiction 12-Step meeting told me that new people coming into the program are encouraged to ask a recovery addict with a long sobriety is they will be their sponsor. When I asked her what that means, she said it is a person (preferably of the same sex) who takes the new person under his or her wing and keeps them on the right track. She will encourage her protégée to come to meetings, sometimes 30 meetings in the first 30 days so it will become a routine. She will meet the person outside the meetings in an informal way to talk about problems and discuss the solutions the Big Book has to offer. If the person feels the need to use, she can call her sponsor at any time and the sponsor will either talk to her until the craving goes away or the sponsor will meet with her to get her over the desire to relapse. I asked the woman talking to me if people relapse after a long period of time and she said that it happens from time to time. Recovering addicts can stay “clean” for years and years and suddenly the desire to use will pop up. She said the best thing to do at that time is to find a meeting and go to it. When you are there, you tell the group you are struggling with the desire to relapse and there will be no shortage of support and encouragement. No one will lecture you or tell you what you are doing wrong. They will tell you what you need to do right.
The 12-Step program is a group of lessons on self-discovery, walking you through exercises to help you forgive yourself, even if others don’t. It’s an adventure in spirituality, even if you aren’t spiritual. And the last step pushes you out into the world to bring the word of the 12-Step program to other addicts in need. In doing so, you strengthen your own recovery.
My experience in the 12-Step Programs was very interesting (even the one for sex addiction). I was not aware there could be a haven for addicts seeking recovery that did not involve a therapist of some sort present. I think many people think 12-Step meetings are just for alcoholics, but the Steps can be applied to just about any area of your life where you have lost control, even for a short period of time. The 12-Step programs are really a good way for anyone to live their lives.
W., B. (1939). Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Millions of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. (4th ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Incorporated.
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