Alternatives to AA/12-Step Program - Are They For You?

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Why 12 Step May Not Be For You

Why are so many people looking for AA alternatives?


The answer is pretty simple: the 12 Steps don’t work for everyone.


12-Step programs have been a lifeline out of addiction for many people. AA currently estimates just over 2 million members worldwide. That’s a lot of people being helped.


However, the recovery success rates suggest that the 12-Step process isn’t working for everyone. 


Perhaps you’re someone who really wants to recover from an addiction. Maybe you’ve been to AA meetings, or tried a 12-Step rehab program. And you relapsed, or it didn’t stick.


What if the problem isn’t you? Maybe 12-Step is just the wrong approach for you.


Let’s look more closely at the core assumptions of the 12-Step approach, and see how well they do – or don’t – align with your core beliefs about life, addiction and your unique personality.

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Is recovery really a one-size-fits-all process?

Addiction impacts many lives and behaviors in similar ways. That’s why we resonate so deeply with the stories told by others in recovery. How could you know that about me? I always collapse in that situation! Those are exactly my thoughts! Oh yeah, I recognize that kind of lie. Yep, that’s my emotional trigger, too.


But not everyone comes to addiction from the same root causes. There are a million different stories. Different parents, different failures and successes, different betrayals and shortcomings, different bodies and biologies. Each of us has lived a unique life.


A good doctor wouldn’t prescribe the exact same protocol for every patient.


Maybe you need a program uniquely designed for you, from the best and most effective solutions now available. Maybe there’s a 13th step, or a 42nd step, that you haven’t heard of yet.


Maybe you need a carrot instead of another stick.

What if you don’t believe in God?

Deep down, some people believe there’s a God. And deep down, some people really don’t.


Faith in God, a Higher Power, or the Innate Goodness of the Universe isn’t necessary for successful recovery. Sure, it can help. But it’s not the only way home.


Many AA alternatives leave religious belief completely private. There’s no uncomfortable peer pressure. 


This can be a huge relief for everyone.

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  • Nonjudgmental, label-free environment
  • Skills-based program
  • Holistically-based treatment
  • Secluded, relaxing setting

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Are you really powerless?

In the 12-Step program, you must admit you’re powerless when it comes to abusing drugs and alcohol. It’s right there, in Step One.


This is a humbling confession to make. It blows up any denial we may have about our out-of-control lives. Until you admit you have a problem, there’s no looking for a solution.


But assuming you’re powerless can have unintended consequences. 


Hey, if this problem is out of your control, how can it be your responsibility? Bad genes, bad luck, I just can’t win, why bother?


For some people, feeling powerless triggers hopelessness. Or guilt and shame.


Surrendering to a Higher Power to save you is a humbling and powerful experience for some.


For others, it’s disempowering and disconnecting. 


Some of us need to take responsibility, in a healthy way. And learn how to hold ourselves accountable for changing our behavior, regardless of our religious beliefs.


Many AA alternatives emphasize that personal power.

Not everyone is motivated by shame and fear of relapsing.

Society judges addiction harshly, and that toxic judgment applies double to those they brand “addicts”. So it’s not surprising when we internalize that guilt and shame. It’s easy to start labeling ourselves as chronic losers, broken, damaged, or just plain bad.


The problem here is that negative self-judgments often trigger relapse. If I’m no good, why bother trying? 


Some people can motivate themselves with guilt and fear. But some are already so overloaded with toxic shame, that piling on more just drives them back to using.


You may need less negativity and more love, sweetness, appreciation and understanding to get out of bed in the morning.

Not all sponsors are a good fit.

One of the solid cores of the 12-Step approach is a buddy system called “having a sponsor.” If there’s the right chemistry between you and your sponsor, you’ve got a valuable mentor for life. They’re a role model, someone who intimately understands what you’re going through, holds you accountable for your actions, and can be there for you every step of the way.


But not every sponsor “speaks your language.” Yes, they may know addiction inside out. But some sponsors, with the best intentions, use shame and fear to try to save you from yourself. Most are focused on your behavior, not your feelings or thoughts or self-image. 


Does your sponsor know psychology? Can they help you heal your childhood wounds? Do they understand how neurobiology can sabotage your choices?


Like a well-meaning parent, big brother or sister, they may care about you. But that doesn’t mean they know how to raise you up or help you become your best self. In these mentoring relationships, one size does not fit all.

Making amends can backfire.

Admitting our mistakes is incredibly powerful. 


But not everyone is up to that monumental task while they’re still struggling with sobriety.


Some people re-activate their negative programming if they face too much shadow at once. They start hating themselves, attacking themselves, collapsing in pain. It’s too easy to believe they’re bad to the core, worthless and irredeemable.


This can be aggravated by the people on the receiving end of the amends conversation. They’re often angry and wounded by what happened, and throw gasoline on the fire.


It takes a great deal of strength, sobriety and wisdom to admit mistakes and make amends. Doing this too soon can easily trigger a relapse, just to blot out the pain.

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Proudly offering an alternative to 12 Step in the Pacific Northwest

Don't think about the pink elephant. Don't think about the pink elephant. Don't think about the pink elephant. Don't think about the pink elephant.

You thought about the pink elephant, didn't you?

Constant focus on addiction can sabotage recovery.

Don’t think about pink elephants. Do NOT think about pink elephants. Try not to think about pink elephants.


Go ahead, don’t think about (insert your drink or drug of choice here.)


12-Step programs focus on controlling your addictive behavior. But the addiction is always front and center.


The story that’s repeated, multiple times in every meeting, is about struggles with pink elephants.


Some people do well with all that constant pressure and reminding. Fear keeps them sharp and focused.


For others, it’s too much pressure on the nervous system, too many attempts to manipulate themselves with fear, to override their impulses with logic and reason. 


Boom! They start using again – just to forget about those heavy pink elephants.

Is your addiction a symptom of deeper issues?

AA and the 12 Steps focus on your actions in the external world. Control your behavior, stay sober, abstain.


This is obviously important. You can’t recover if you continue to use.


But abstinence alone won’t eliminate your pain.


In the eight-plus decades since the 12 Steps were written, there’s been an explosion in our understanding of psychology, trauma, mindfulness, and neurobiology. 


Often addiction is rooted in deeper issues. 


To change an addictive behavior we also have to address the mindset that produces anxiety, shame, self-hatred, and fear. 


Or else, these root causes will continue to sabotage our best intentions.

Changing behavior is only part of the solution.

The 12-Steps focus on behavior. Fair enough. But if I believe I’m broken and hopeless, there’s not much strength or motivation to continually resist temptation. It’s an uphill battle that never gets easier. “One day at a time” may reduce some pressure on you, but it always leaves you at the starting line. You never get any momentum.


Maybe, in order to fight this battle, your body needs more sleep, gentle exercise, and plenty of good nutrition. Maybe you need to feel genuinely seen, heard and felt. Maybe you need to better understand yourself and the addiction cycle. Maybe you need to feel there’s a greater purpose to your life, beyond continually fighting to stay clean. 


Does your behavior matter? Yes. Absolutely.


But so does taking care of your body, mind, heart and soul. 

Maybe, for you, power comes from within.

One fifth of the US public – and a third of adults under age 30 – are now SBNR: Spiritual But Not Religious.


There’s a whole spectrum of beliefs in this “Spiritual” category. Including, for some, an inner “self” that’s naturally resilient, beyond the reach of life conditioning and social programming.


Learning how to connect, and stay connected, with this resilient inner “self” can change how we function. For some, it’s enough to resolve substance abuse without the constant struggle of controlling behavior.

Moving away from something negative is not the same as moving toward something positive.

The gold star in AA is sobriety. 


“How long have you been sober?” is a common introductory question.


At 12-Step meetings, you’re not a lawyer or a mother or a dancer. You’re an addict, in everyday struggle to stay sober. The rest of your life doesn’t matter. Your dreams don’t count here. Only your addiction and behavior.


Avoiding the temptation to drink or use is worth celebrating, but that alone does not make a life worth living. What are you going to build on that foundation? “What is it you plan to do,” poet Mary Oliver asks, “with your one wild and precious life?”


Moving away from something negative is not telling you what to move towards.


How will you activate a sense of passion, creativity, and joy? 


When you’re sober, what will get you jumping out of bed in the morning, happy to greet a new day?


Many people are more motivated by pleasure and purpose than by pain and willpower.


AA doesn’t always give them a lot of room to grow. An AA Alternative may offer them what they need to truly thrive.

Meetings may help. And also hurt.

Gathering together in community with people who share a common goal. What’s not to like about that?


AA Meetings are a lifeline for many. Instead of going to the bar, drop by a 12-step meeting, virtually anywhere in the world. Instead of sinking into depression, or going down a paranoid rabbit hole alone – go to a meeting! Get support.


There’s no need to pretend you’re not hurting. Everyone here understands.


Gabor Mate has a powerful insight: Addiction is caused by isolation, by disconnection from society.


So what’s the downside?


12-Step meetings can be cathartic for the speakers confessing their shame and pain and relapses. But people have different tolerance levels for hearing about lives destroyed by drugs and drink, for rehashing past mistakes. 


When you leave a meeting, do you feel uplifted or overwhelmed? 


At what point does reliving the past keep you from moving forward?


What might change if you were hanging out at a different kind of meeting? At AA alternatives, with people who reflect new aspects of yourself, who share your new interests and passions, whose lives aren’t revolving around relapse and recovery?

Maybe you need a more nuanced and multifaceted recovery program.

The 12-Steps have helped millions of people.


And they were written in 1935.


There’s an element of Tough Love in them that works well for many people. A balance of carrots and sticks, rewards and discipline.


But now we know so much more about addiction and how to support complete recovery. 


Now there are viable AA alternatives.


Non 12-Step programs are exploring new facets of recovery. Nutrition, biochemistry, massage, neuroplasticity, mindfulness, experiential therapy, trauma work, CBT, personalized psychotherapy.


If the 12 Steps haven’t worked for you, don’t give up.


If you’ve experienced any of the issues raised here, please know that there’s still hope for you.


There are AA alternatives that work – for more and more people every day.


They can get to the roots of your addiction, and help you find your own road to recovery.

How Avive la Vie Is Different

Here at Avive la Vie, we offer one of the most innovative and experiential rehabs in the country.

Holistic Services

Addiction is more than the physical behavior. It affects mind, body, and spirit. For this reason, we offer a holistic approach to addiction recovery.


We offer a combination of services to combat your addiction from all sides. A few of our holistic services include:


  • Nutritional therapy
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Meditation/Conscious Breathing
  • Nature & beach excursions

Luxurious Environment

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  • Reside in a relaxing private estate
  • Enjoy being surrounded by nature
  • Stay in a private or shared bedroom
  • Enjoy gourmet, nutrient-packed meals

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Unique Experiential Therapy

We believe to create real change in your life, you have to experience and practice a new pattern of behaviors.


After being trapped in a cycle of addiction for so long, your body is naturally going to want to revert back to those habits when you become anxious. To combat this, you need to build up new default responses that you turn to instead.


In our program, we arm you with many different new ways to cope with your fight-or-flight response, including self-regulation skills like Conscious Breath, Mindful Inquiry, and EFT tapping.


By consistently practicing these skills while you’re with us, you are re-training your body and mind to react in a healthier way to stressful situations and triggers; this is what will ultimately lead to a new, sober life for you.

Finally Take Back Your Life

The 12 Steps aren’t the end-all answer to addiction. Different things work for different people, and we’re confident that our skills-based, experiential program can help you create the long-term change and sobriety you deserve.


Give us a call to learn how we can help you today. 541-887-4045