Retelling the story of my initial attempt at recovery as an atheist

I started out, in my random wondering thoughts as I took a bath this morning, wanting to write about why I hate the twelve steps. Of course this is a subject I have covered before. But it occurred to me that I haven’t written how I got there.

Wind back the clock to the end of October 2009, when I first went to rehab. I was in a bad state, having lost everything. I went to a place called Careline, in Hillcrest, Natal. It was a Christian based rehab, and I felt like I was in some awful combination of prison and school. We were treated like children, with the male and female inpatients being reprimanded if they merely sat together.

Once a week, we were also forced to go to church, but not like any church I knew. It was more a wannabe mega-church, complete with large screen TVs, a band,  a walk-in pool that could be revealed by sliding open the cover so that adults could be baptized, the works… And a preacher, beloved by everyone there, who would give thirty minute speeches about why you should give him all your money. And people standing up, raising both arms high as they sang praises for their imaginary grand wizard in the sky.

Yet I got to like that place in a way. We spent our days mostly in Life Skills classes, which I rather enjoyed in between the more important (in my mind) breaks in which I spent my time bumming cigarettes. Life skills classes were mostly about trivial skills that one would expect most people to have – I certainly did – but somehow most of the addicts there did not… Maybe because they started using drugs in their teens, whereas I started as a thirty-something. But in between the life skills classes, we also did self-analysis, via writing about ourselves. It was formulaic to a point, but I found that I could get into it, and evaluate myself and my life deeply, seeing myself from a different perspective and I began to understand why and how I’d got to the point of using drugs.

I didn’t know that this was not how most people do recovery. I didn’t know how lucky I was. What I grew to love about that rehab was finished in their three month course, and once you finished that, you went on to the twelve steps. But I wasn’t there for much longer than three months, and it was only when I went to NA meetings after rehab, that I realized what the twelve steps were all about.

When you work the steps and get a sponsor, what you do comes to nothing like what I did in that rehab. Because I’d had the freedom to write, and I wrote a lot, I’d been working on myself, and on evaluating the reasons that I used drugs. I’d also been learning, via videos and books, how addiction works on the brain. I’d accidentally been treating myself psychologically, and been doing something approaching evidence based treatment. But the twelve steps are not about evidence. I found myself isolated, with no one to talk to besides people who completely misunderstood what was happening. On the one hand I had idiots who believed in (12 step) magic and woo; on the other I had family members who thought that NA meetings actually had some value. They don’t.

Consider the first step, from memory because I couldn’t be bothered to search for such bullshit now: I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction; that my life had become unmanageable.

When you’re desperate, when you’ve fucked up your life completely, it does feel like you’re powerless. So it’s easy to get sucked in to believing in nonsense. But if you take a mental step outside yourself and really look, it isn’t so…

To admit powerlessness is to deny responsibility for your choices. It’s the easy way out. It is much easier to say that you continued using drugs despite horrendous consequences because you were powerless to stop. “I just couldn’t help it. I was out of control. I’m a victim.” Well, that’s a crock of shit. The difficult way, the only way I could make this work in the end (although I hadn’t figured it out back then) was to admit to myself that I was always in control. Addiction is a choice, but not a single choice; rather it is thousands of choices to use, get more drugs, and continue using, because that’s what you want. I evaluated my situation, considered how bad things were, and decided to use anyway, because I loved being high. I was never out of control, but instead I was personally accountable for every horrible thing that happened to me, and partially responsible for what happened to my ex and my son. I did nothing to stop it when I should have. For me, facing this reality is important. I reject the twelve steps out of hand because the very first step is bullshit. I’m not going in to the rest of the steps today, but suffice to say, anything with a foundation that doesn’t hold up, is nonsense. (And they do get worse. They involve asking a higher power to fix you, effectively moving even further away from you taking responsibility for your own life and poor choices.)

Of course I didn’t know this back then. For a while, I tried to follow the twelve steps even though I didn’t believe in them. They not only didn’t work for me, but without something to hold on to, I relapsed after nine months and continued using meth for nearly three years. This is why I hate 12 step programs, and hate that they are still the accepted way for addicts to clean up.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Retelling the story of my initial attempt at recovery as an atheist

  1. Sal says:

    Brilliantly said Jerome, I agree with you 100%. I actually told my boyfriend today that I do not blame him for the bad things that happened between us when he was using, and neither of us has any idea at the time that it was substance induced psychosis BUT that doesn’t mean he is not accountable for them now that he’s off the drugs.

    Liked by 2 people

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