Stepping Through to Recovery

A Pagan approach to the Twelve Step programs

by Anodea Judith

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The problems of addiction and dysfunctional behavior patterns have become epidemic. In a culture out of balance with Nature, the sexes, races and religions and which employs barbaric child-rearing practices, it is no surprise that we encounter a constant barrage of human problems. Therapists are often expensive and friends undertrained or overwhelmed. As a result, many have found solace and healing through the use of "12-Step" groups that are available nearly free of charge across the nation.

Originally created in the 1930's for Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-Step Program proved to be far more successful than other therapeutic methods for keeping alcoholics out of relapse and restoring a sense of satisfaction to their lives. When it was found that partners and family members of alcoholics also had dysfunctional patterns, the 12-Step Program was expanded to include them as well. At first called "co-alcoholic", the concept has been expanded to include drugs, sex, food, gambling and other behaviors. The term is now "co-dependent", meaning one who is a part of another's addictive process or who is so focused on the other that she neglects her own needs. This, too, has come to be seen as an addiction.

Today there are 12-Step groups for almost any problem, with the understanding that we are all "adult children". This is a term popularized by John Bradshaw, a leading figure in the recovery field, meaning adults carrying with them programming and wounding from various dysfunctional childhood environments which were once taken as "normal" in our society and are still rampant.

The 12-Step programs provide a structure and a human support system for treating additions and other disorders. Working through the steps (see below) one at a time and attending regular meetings, one has the chance to share personal stories with others who are struggling with similar issues. Additional support is obtained by choosing a sponsor (someone who has been in the program a little longer) to call upon or report to when needed.

12-step programs incorporate both practicality and spirituality, and in many cases have been a great success. However, the spirituality of the 12-Steps is steeped in Christian theology. As a Pagan priestess and therapist, I have a hard time arguing with a client who refuses my recommendation to attend such meetings on the grounds that they cannot stomach the concepts or wording of some of the steps. I have not found affinity with 12-step groups for the same reason.

Some have suggested simply changing a word or two, such as "...turned our will over to God as we understood Him (or Her)." While this change can be muttered under the breath at a meeting, it does not address other more inherent discrepancies with Pagan theology which are built into the conceptual framework. Notable are the implications that divine force exists soley outside ourselves, the injunction to abandon our will, and the concepts of sin and guilt.

Also, many people object to the labeling used in 12-step programs, wherein every person introduces himself by saying something like "My name is Bill, and I am an alcoholic," even if Bill has maintained sobriety for five or ten years. Admittedly, there are some good reasons for this practice. Since Bill can never drink alcohol again, the label is a reminder that his relationship to the substance is forever tainted by his misuse of it. Yet, in magic we know that names have power and can invoke the concepts they imply. Perhaps "My name is Bill, and I am recovering from alcoholism," speaks more to the truth we are trying to create.

There are ways of approaching some of the steps that are more fitting for Pagans and still do not force religious dogma on anyone. The adapted steps listed below are my own, except where noted, but the thinking behind them has been stimulated by each person I have talked to or who has sent me their material. Where possible, I give credit at the end. I am open to feedback and suggestions for those steps and encourage each person to make any adaptation they need, in order to have the steps serve them the best way possible. Standard steps are listed in italics, adapted steps in bold, and commentaries in regular type.

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Copyright 1996 by Anodea Judith.
Note: reprinted, with the author's permission, from Green Egg, vol.24, no.92, Ostara, 1991, pages 10 through 12.
Article is divided into four HTML files for convenience.

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Counseling Basics for Wiccan Clergy home page, by Judith Harrow and Gwyneth Cathyl- Harrow.

Also by Anodea Judith: Out of the Frying Pan - Into the Fire: Dysfunctional families and group energy.

Visit Anodea Judith's website, Sacred Centers.

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Last Update: May, 1999 ce

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