Despite the title, this post is not about religion per se. It is about 12-step programs and the fundamental lesson that they teach, the lesson upon which the foundation of such programs is built, and on which so many recovering addicts rely.
I was reading an article on Salon.com about the harm done by religion, and when I reached point 5, on the subject of religion teaching helplessness, it struck me. The phrase “Let go and let God” was a favourite of the therapist who ran the group therapy in the outpatient program that I fairly recently attended, the same person who frequently accused me of not practicing powerlessness.
It struck me that this is why I was angry for so long after I initially tried to get recovery right, and this is why I am so passionately anti 12-step programs. I tried to make my recovery work the first time. I tried to follow the program even though I am not religious. I tried and I failed. For nine long months I tried, and it wore me down. Seeing no other way than following 12 step bullshit wore me the fuck down.
This is the underlying message of 12-step programs: Let go – admit that you are powerless, in other words helpless, over your addiction, and ask God to help you, because you need to be saved. You thus need to have faith, which means to deceive yourself into believing that this fictional higher power is helping you. Then keep on asking God this, and never move on. This is the basis of all 12 step programs, that we must ask God to keep us from going back to drugs. Despite what anybody in those programs claims, they can not be separated from religion. “Spiritual, not religious program”, my arse!
It is true that as an addict in active addiction, stopping by oneself is very difficult. It is true that the best way to stop is to get help from others. But that doesn’t have to mean leaving your brain behind. That doesn’t have to mean lapping up all the bullshit and accepting everything they tell you in rehab at face value. Getting help from others doesn’t mean that you are helpless; it is simply a matter of using whatever resources exist in order to clean up. Then, if you really want to stay clean, nothing further is required other than abstaining from using drugs. No 90-meetings-in-90-days (or 90/90 as they call it) bullshit, no step-work, and certainly no higher power. Just because you were an idiot in active addiction does not mean that you must remain an idiot in recovery.
A girl I spoke to when doing that program, who was doing the inpatient program while I did the outpatient one, told me how her individual therapist (the same therapist I went to for individual therapy) told her that she was very clever (the girl has a high IQ) and that it is more difficult for more intelligent people to follow the program and stay clean. (I forget the details after that.) I am very fucking glad that the therapist didn’t try telling me the same thing, despite knowing what I do for a living and knowing that I do have a high IQ. I would’ve ripped her logic to pieces. That statement acknowledges that clever people might think critically and recognize bullshit where they see it, and then proceeds to try bullshitting them into submission using flattery.
By the way, high intelligence does not necessarily mean anything with regards to theism or atheism. I know many highly intelligent people who are also highly credulous, and many intelligent theists who are neither credulous nor gullible. (They are simply indoctrinated, and will likely never reject their indoctrination.) I will also never call anybody stupid because they are a theist. My own brother, who had an identical upbringing to myself, did not reject our Roman Catholic upbringing as I did. He is a theist, and is at least as smart as I am, if not smarter. Assuming that people are stupid when they don’t believe or disbelieve what we do (i.e. what seems obvious to us) is a mistake common to many of us, whether we are theists or atheists.
What is true though, is that an atheist or critical thinker who tries to follow a 12-step program, will almost certainly fail. We are not helpless. We are not powerless. If you know this, you will never be able to accept the bullshit of NA or any similar organisation. You will go to the meetings, and try to make them make sense somehow, but eventually you will just go through the motions and not take it seriously (because it is too stupid to be taken seriously) and then give the believers more fodder to feed their fallacious idea that complacency in the program was the reason for your relapse. (But relapse, you will.)