“I admit that I am powerless over heroin.”

Admitting this is a first step in a twelve step recovery program for heroin users.  It is the step that my brother is struggling with in rehab.

Through his attempts to get clean, my brother has told me that he believes that personal will and commitment is the key predictor of whether someone will stay clean.  In that regard, he doesn’t believe that anyone is powerless to their addiction.  It takes real power to stay off drugs, to change your life, to commit to overcoming your life’s biggest obstacle.

I don’t think he’s wrong.  Admitting powerlessness does not seem like a strength-based approach to recovery at all.  How is that inspiring or motivational?  “I’m powerless, but let me work these steps because somehow that might do something to improve my situation,” I think sarcastically.

I know that there are people that believe in the 12 steps, and there are people that have used that as their tool to live a life in recovery.  Good for them!  It’s certainly not an approach for everyone.

Months ago, in recovery between heavy heroin binges, my brother was attending several Narcotics Anonymous meetings each day in his attempts to stay clean.  I went to a few of them with him, always afraid to let him out of my sight.  They were fascinating.  I sat there listening to people’s stories of hitting rock bottom and finding hope and new lives.  It made me totally relate to the character in Fight Club who became addicted to attending group meetings as a “tourist.”  Now, were the meetings helpful?

Reminders that people get clean and stay clean are great.  Seeing hope in the eyes of those still struggling with addiction in the meetings is powerful.  Following the 12 steps?  Prescriptive.  Dated.  A bad fit for atheists.  Probably not the most effective tool.

I’ve read about some alternatives to 12 step programs that are out there, but the options seem fairly limited.  Many of them are just variations of 12 step programs tailored for atheists or Buddhists.  Very few group programs seem to deviate from the core model.  Let’s face it…the twelve step model was developed nearly a century ago.  The heroin epidemic we face now is unprecedented.  We need more and better tools to help people fight addiction with science-based, person-centered,  and strength-based approaches.  If you know of any supports like that that I can share with my brother, please comment below.  My search continues for new and better ways to think about recovery…