Every day of the week, in cities, towns and rural areas, across the U.S. and many foreign countries, in church basements, storefronts, member-owned clubs and living rooms, even some large auditoriums, people from all walks of life gather in pockets of peace, serenity, mutual support, non-judgment and unconditional love. These are meetings of the 12-step programs started by and including Alcoholics Anonymous, which alone has a membership of millions worldwide. I have heard foreigners say that the greatest gift the U.S. has given the world is AA and its offspring. These offspring are many. Better known ones are: Alanon, Narcotics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous. They are supported by members putting a dollar or two in a basket that is passed around during the meeting.
For both professional and personal reasons I have attended many of these meetings over the past 28 years. Their principles and guidelines have led me to a life I never dreamed I could have. As a professional, I have sent many people to 12-step programs because often there is nothing else that can do what they do, transform troubled lives and keep them transformed. These programs are wrongly labeled “self-help.” They are not self-help but mutual help and support. Alcoholics Anonymous started in 1935 when two “hopeless” alcoholics got together and helped each other to achieve lasting sobriety. One of them, Bill Wilson, a stockbroker (the other was Bob Smith, a medical doctor) who was the main writer of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939, was asked many years later if, looking back at the years of growth in AA, he would change anything in that book. He said he would only change one word. There is a phrase in the book, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” He said he would change “rarely” to “never!”
These fellowships teach the 12 steps, a set of spiritual (not religious) guidelines that help people come to terms with life and become accepting of themselves and others. They are sometimes referred to as “a blueprint for living.” For addicted people they create a way of living that does not need drugs, alcohol, or other ways of artificially altering their minds. People in all the programs learn to embrace and love their lives. Another result is that they stop judging themselves and others. Sometimes 12-step programs have been portrayed in the media as dreary places of self-pity and self-flagellation. This is far from the truth. They are places of love, joy and laughter.
The groups themselves are guided by the 12 Traditions. Tradition 11 states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion.” It is my experience that true recovery in these programs is very attractive. In the book, The Natural History of Alcoholism, George Vaillant studied alcoholic men enrolled in the Harvard Medical School’s Study of Adult Development, which signed up 660 men in 1940 to follow for their entire lives (a “longitudinal study”). One of his findings was that men who were once diagnosed as sociopaths became altruists through participation in Alcoholics Anonymous! Psychology would deem this impossible. I do not doubt it. I have seen it myself, thieves, murderers and bank robbers becoming caring, selfless people. Step 12 of the 12 steps states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to (alcoholics, addicts, others, etc.), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” There is also something called “The 12 Promises.” Among other things these say, “We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.” This is what leads to non-judgment and unconditional love. The third one reads, “We will understand the word serenity and we will know peace.” Namaste.

Author's Bio: 

Paul Hood is a recovering alcoholic/codependent who has been counseling alcoholics and addicts since 1983 and practicing professional counseling and psychotherapy since 1989. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice as Mountain Spirit Counseling in Evergreen and Bailey Colorado. He has broad experience and training in chemical dependency, many forms of mental illness, particularly ADHD, PTSD, depression, anxiety and personality disorders, marriage, family and relationship counseling, general life and adjustment problems, anger and stress management, personal and spiritual growth.