Some people say…

weasel_words_propagandaUgh. A pretty visible blogger resorts to the some people say tactic to advance a pet theory that slanders 12-step groups. 

It’s worth noting that he’s acknowledged elsewhere that he’s had next to zero direct exposure to 12-step groups. His knowledge of 12-step groups and theory are based on internet comments. Ugh. Ugh. 

The 12-step approach has been said (by some ex-members) to put a freeze on emotional development. For those who believe that people can develop out of addiction (like me, for one), this is not an optimal solution. Twelve-step groups are notorious for convincing members that, even if they’ve been clean for a while, their addiction is out there waiting for them, waiting to sneak up on them in moments of weakness. So they have to remain constantly vigilant: Any slip, even one drink or one pill, will be the first step on a journey that inevitably leads to full-scale relapse. Twelve-step groups want you to keep coming back, to help gird your loins against the hazards of relapse, and they encourage you to define yourself as an addict – for life. In other words, not only the way you govern your life but your whole self-image is frozen in place. This is what you are, and if any change occurs, be warned: it’s going to be a change backward – back to being out of control.

A reader of my other blog suggested that the net effect of the scare tactics used in some 12-step groups is to induce a kind of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). People with PTSD live with continuous anxiety, denial and avoidance mechanisms, intrusive thoughts, and more, about what happened to them, whether it was a serious accident, a mugging, physical or sexual abuse, rape, or getting wounded in a war. PTSD is in some ways an adaptive emotional response to trauma. It’s one way to stay clear of danger. After getting mugged or raped, you won’t go strolling through city parks at night, you’ll stay inside when the parade comes by, you’ll avoid people of a certain type, you might avoid eye-contact with strangers altogether, but you’ll continue to see yourself as a victim or a loser. This is a static state; obviously it’s also an unhealthy state, at least compared to normal, flexible, spontaneous functioning. It maintains anxiety rather than relieving it.

According to him, millions of us are voluntarily submitting ourselves to and “unhealthy state” of frozen emotional development, chronic manufactured anxiety, PTSD and a life time of seeing ourselves “as a victim or a loser.” He adds that 12-step groups are a poor choice for “those who do have the capacity to continue growing.”

Hate to say it, but tossing in that this describes “many (surely not all) 12-step programs” does not get you off the hook.

10 thoughts on “Some people say…

  1. Oh dear. Given that AA, NA, CA etc, are full of folk who, because of the transformative experience of recovery, choose to go on to develop themselves through therapy, education, meditation, mindfulness etc. it seems peculiar that this should be reported as the polar opposite.

  2. It’s remarkable how a scientist like Dr Lewis, who presumably has a respect for science, takes a suggestion from a disgruntled ex 12-stepper that the process behind 12 step is induced PTSD and combines this with some theorising about 12-step based on not on his own experience or observations (one meeting apparently) but from the flood of “nasty stories I’ve heard from 12-step drop-outs” who have complained to him since his sympathetic and quite moving description of his first and it seems only visit to a meeting.

    1. Yes. It’s not enough to question or criticize 12 step groups, rather he characterizes members as so damaged by their participation that their report is invalid and the only self-reports worth considering are those of people who have tried it and have “nasty stories”.

      It’s a little like 12-step members dismissing anyone who doesn’t go to meetings as dry drunks.

      I expect some of this kind of petty character assassination from lay people. You’ll find that behavior where ever you find people.

      However, I’d hope for a little more from someone speaking from their post as a scientist.

  3. As a scientist who researches addiction AND an alcoholic who is sober through AA, I am as sympathetic as anyone to this post. It’s easy to get defensive about something that WE have actually experienced. Still, it is necessary for our own serenity to recall some of the most prescriptive words in the Big Book of AA:
    “Some day we hope that Alcoholics Anonymous will help the public to a better realization of the gravity of the alcoholic problem, but we shall be of little use if our attitude is one of bitterness or hostility. Drinkers will not stand for it. After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to!”(103)

    1. Good reminder. As a recovering person, I don’t really care about this stuff. As a professional, I get riled when I see other professionals engage in this kind of behavior.

      Thanks for the comment!

    2. I don’t think you need to enter the realms of bitterness, hostility or defensiveness to speak out against poor science. Saying nothing might just affect one’s serenity too.

  4. You’re absolutely right, David. I can only speak for myself and what I felt over the post. I just happen to identify with the writers of the BB so frequently that I often (perhaps mistakenly) take their words to be prescriptive, when really they’re only meant to be descriptive.

    In my experience, most of my “speaking out” emerges from wanting to be understood, rather than trying to understand. And this strategy almost never adds to my serenity, even when it’s in the name of “science” or the “12 Steps” or whatever.

    People like Dr. Lewis just seem to have “no” in their heart about one thing or another, and they seem to use “science” as a scepter to command respect for their opinions. Unfortunately, the scientific community is full of these types of people–that is, it’s full of people–and no amount of arguing for what eventually only amounts to MY own opinion ever quite gets me what I really want: peace of mind.

    This has just been my experience.

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