Clarifying my skeptical view of 12-step programs (About Page updated)

I’ve updated my About page. Since pages don’t show up in RSS feeds like posts do, it might be missed. Therefore I’ve copied the content here…

My name is Jerome Viveiros. I am a forty-something year old, living in Johannesburg, South Africa. In my professional life I am a senior software developer. (I also have a programming blog here.) In my personal life, I am an atheist and sceptic. I am also an ex-addict – I struggled with a methamphetamine addiction for around seven years altogether.

Just to be clear about where I am coming from, in those seven years I used day and night, every day and night. I used until I destroyed almost every relationship in my life, and lost jobs due to various reasons – including poor performance, negligence and once even gross misconduct – all of which were caused by my behaviour under the influence of crystal meth. (Actually in my last prolonged relapse of about two years, I somehow performed well enough at work, but it wouldn’t have lasted much longer.) I used until I had “voices in my head” all the time, and lost my every posession once, almost twice before I turned my life around for good.

I’m not your average addict in that I started using my “drug of choice” (recovery jargon that I dislike, by the way) in my thirties. Then during my first attempt at recovery, I found myself surrounded by people who had started using when they were far younger, people who didn’t even know basic life skills and who had never had proper careers and responsibilities. We all end up in the same place, but going into recovery naive was a bad experience for me. I didn’t have any expectations, but in my naiveté assumed that treatment involved something concrete, something based on science or medicine, or at the very least, reality – not magic.

Not only was I unable to identify with many of those in rehab with me; I found myself thrust into an environment where believing in bullshit was the only correct and accepted way to continue with my life. It didn’t work out well for me, and I believe that such programs are actually harmful to many addicts who want to recover, but do not realize that 12-step programs are not the only way.

This is my second attempt at recovery. I cleaned up on 4th September 2013, so as of the 4th May 2015 I am twenty months clean. I remain highly critical of 12-step programs such as NA and AA. I do not believe that addiction is a disease, and do not believe that it can be treated with a “spiritual” program. I believe that in any case, even if it were a disease, a spiritual program would not be the correct approach to treatment. I believe that the No True Scotsman fallacy is the strongest part of belief in such programs, and is required… The idea that addiction is both a disease and that it can be treated with a spiritual program is contradictory. It sets up a false dichotomy that results in recovering addicts believing simultaneously in contradictory ideas – this is known as cognitive dissonance. One has to use motivated reasoning and fallacious belief in order to hold on to the placebo that such programs provide, and one must assume that anybody who doesn’t believe in such a program is in denial or is “not working the steps”.

This is where the No True Scotsman fallacy comes in… Every time the program doesn’t work for any individual, others in the program redefine what it means to be “in recovery”. Thus they redefine the group in order to exclude that individual. This way, people who believe in the program can state that it never fails. When individuals fail themselves, they convince themselves that they didn’t work the steps “properly”. They assume incorrectly that those who do not return to being “in these rooms” (more 12-step jargon that I detest) do not make it. It’s an assumption that you can not make because you just don’t know that.

In meetings you become part of a culture that believes in this nonsense. Every meeting starts with reading their standard text, and as you hear it repeated over and over again, you get indoctrinated into this culture of belief in nonsense, and accept that you must continue working a spiritual program by relying on a higher power. Every meeting ends with the group holding hands while chanting the Serenity Prayer. 12-step culture is a joke, a sick and cruel joke on the addict who really wants to stop, but finds him or herself in a culture that doesn’t really help at all. And when this type of “treatment” doesn’t help, it’s more fodder for the believers in the program, who see it as confirmation that the individual didn’t work the steps. (Confirmation bias.)

This blog will include some personal information, from the point of view of this godless sceptic who is critical of 12-step programs and all the woo they contain, and of the credulous world we live in. I may also occasionally write a movie review or something about another of the many topics that interest me.

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