What is Secular 12 Step Recovery?
The original 12 Steps (not shown) were published in 1939 by Bill Wilson (Bill W, but not the Bill W above) in the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book). That book, now in its 4th edition, still serves as the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA started out as an offshoot of an evangelical society called the Oxford Group; Wilson and many of the 100 founding members were active Oxford Group members. Accordingly, 6 of the traditional AA 12 Steps make specific references to God (or a generic Higher Power). Those Steps suggest that alcoholics and addicts turn over their will and their lives to God so that He can restore them to sanity and remove their defects of character.
Unfortunately, this wording promotes two contradictory goals within the 12 Step framework: a practical program for achieving sobriety AND a generically Christian salvation of the newcomer. Secular adaptations of the 12 Steps have a singular focus on the practical “here and now” solution to alcoholism and addiction (from this point on I’ll simply refer to both as addiction). Yet anyone using secular versions of the 12 Steps can freely add their religious or philosophical beliefs onto the simplified framework. This universalization of the literature more readily accommodates the diverse perspectives towards religion and spirituality found within the fellowships of AA and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Secular recovery is grounded in a biology-based understanding of addiction, and it emphasizes an active role for the addict (or alcoholic) in a structured recovery process. Secular recovery evolves; it is a gradual process of learned and earned freedom from addiction.
In truth, the skeptic and the believer alike come into AA or NA at a point when the consequences of addiction finally force us to seek another way to live. Almost without exception it is the motivation born of crisis and desperation that push us through our first months and even years of sobriety. Common sense tells us that the newcomer needs to be presented with a workable plan that is simple, accessible, and effective. Since the beginning two pillars of 12 Step programs have protected the secular path of recovery: the only requirement for membership is a desire to get sober (clean), and the 12 Steps are suggested as a framework for personal recovery.
We can’t do it alone, so an important part of this initiation into recovery is to get honest, and to reach out for the help of those who have previously built a successful recovery of their own. Together, we can do this.