What if I can’t escape the pull of a 12 step program?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 28th, 2010 - Last updated: September 19th, 2019
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Further Reading

Dear Stanton:

Thanks to you I was recently able to write in my journal that “I am recovering from my ‘recovery’ “—and leave 4 years of intense OA involvement with which I was increasingly disillusioned. (ie long enough there to see members generally gain more weight than they lost) I’ve read both The Diseasing of America and The Truth About Addiction and Recovery. Was very inspired and on track for many weeks. Now I find I’ve run out of steam and the issue of greed keeps rearing its head. Unfortunately, I have been thoroughly indoctrinated in 12 step thinking and can not seem to help myself at this point. What would you advocate using your personal-values approach?

Dear May:

Thank you for telling me my work has been helpful. I want to make sure you succeed in your “recovery from recovery.” But I may need more information. What do you mean about “greed”? Is this a separate problem you have, or is part of your (overeating) problem?


When you, say “unfortunately,” you have been “thoroughly indoctrinated in 12 step thinking,” are you saying that you are tending to believe once again in the 12 steps? If you find one approach helpful or truthful to your internal experience or beliefs, then this is usually the best system for you to follow.

You said you were disillusioned with the 12-step approach (and people don’t read my work unless they are already disaffected with the standard approaches). Are you perhaps between the two theories? That is, do you find some things of value from your 12 step days (group support, abstinence from some foods)?

You can create your own “May” system, borrowing what you find valuable from each. Committing yourself to 12 steps when you have nagging doubts, on the one hand, while ignoring pulls from that approach that really resonate with you, are both equally unwise and unnecessary. Of course, one problem is 12 step groups don’t like personal, “hybrid” approaches, and often you have to keep them secret from your cohorts.

There are often periods of retrenchment in fighting addictions and bad habits. Life is more or less a series of advances and retreats, but hopefully the positives accumulate and predominate. You can never expect any one system to be your salvation. Sometimes, moderation of and realism in your aspirations are the critical elements in life improvement.

Best wishes, Stanton

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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