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An alternative perspective on Steps

September 14, 2012
by Nicholas A. Roes, PhD
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Road to Recovery


 The way my family fights sometimes, you’d never guess how much we love each other. A similar dynamic in the addiction treatment community sucks away our energy and keeps us from focusing on our common goals.

I have learned that it is not within my power to keep my family—or the treatment community—from fighting. But I also have learned there are some things I can do to make it better: focus on common ground, and always be respectful of others’ point of view. It is in that spirit that I offer this column.

The 12 Steps can facilitate, and have facilitated, miraculous changes in people’s lives. For others, they barely make an impression. For this second group, there are plenty of alternatives.

For example, Women for Sobriety ( has a Thirteen Statement program that is gender-specific. Secular Organizations for Sobriety ( is designed for those who dislike the religious overtones of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

SMART Recovery ( has a four-point program that it calls “incompatible” with the traditional Steps. Rational Recovery ( goes further, advising addicts to avoid recovery groups and substance abuse counselors, who it sees as part of the problem. LifeRing ( simplifies things with just one step: Don’t drink or use, no matter what.

Pantheoretical steps

In our field, few topics cause such heated discussion as 12-Step vs. other kinds of recovery. Presented below are Pantheoretical Steps designed to promote discussion and move toward reconciliation. They are designed to focus on our common ground, and to be respectful of a wide variety of approaches:

1. I refuse to let my relationship with alcohol or drugs define who I am.

2. I am capable of taking charge of my life, and creating something better than I have now.

3. I am making a commitment to use all the resources at my disposal to achieve a better life.

4. I’m increasing my self-awareness by taking a close look at myself, my environment, and my goals for the future.

5. I’ve identified the personal and external resources I have at my disposal to achieve these goals.

6. I forgive myself for all the poor choices I have made in the past.

7. I am ready to accept the help of others when I need it.

8. I’ve made a list of big mistakes I’m never going to repeat.

9. I’m ready to celebrate life without the use of alcohol or other drugs.




Personally, I'm a huge 12-step fan, since the program helped me change my life, over 30 years ago. During that time, I have seen many come and go for as many different reasons as there are people - yet they left the program still suffering. Now I'm an addictions specialist, and celebrate all the options available - whatever floats one's boat or gets you to the other side.

For those within the profession who need to be "right" and make another choice "wrong," I hope they can take a good look at themselves, but they may choose not to. But alas, this is not in my control.

Natalie Gold