For over forty years I have been aware of Twelve Step programs. Initially they began as Alcoholics Anonymous. However, as the years went by they evolved into other types of anonymous programs. In those early days I was intimately involved in AA and also Recovery. A twelve step program, based on the AA model for people with mental illnesses.
Today AA has morphed into, as well as AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous); CMA (Crystal Meths Anonymous); GROW (formerly Recovery); OA (Overeaters Anonymous); Sex Addiction Anonymous; etc , the list is too numerous to mention here.
My early days of AA involved supporting members in countless AA groups. These were often held in smoke filled rooms where people shared their stories with each other. I was always really impressed because people in these programs, to me, seemed to get their lives reasonably in order.
Thirty years ago there was a knock on my door one Saturday morning. A woman, Barbara, stood there. “I’m doing Step Four of the AA program”, she said. “Step Four is a fearless moral inventory and I have decided that you are the one I want to do my fearless moral inventory with”.
For the next three hours I sat with Barbara while she forensically told me her life story. Barbara was an alcoholic and had lived quite a tumultuous life. I sat stunned and marvelling at the way she shared with me everything she had done, the good and the bad. I remember thinking “My God, this is bravery”.
I half learned from that the immense value of facing your own “dirty little secrets” and sharing them. Somehow by fearlessly sharing the good and bad of you decreases, within your own mind, the power these secrets have over you to hold you where you are and prevent change from happening. I know we all have these secrets and it is amazing how they paralyse us.
Fast forward thirty years and I am rung by a woman Jessica, an alcoholic who asks me if I could show a film called The Anonymous People. I readily agreed and my life was changed forever by the showing of it.
The film, The Anonymous People, tells the stories of those former addicts who decide to step out from the anonymity surrounding their addiction recovery to encourage others to join them. This film shows how the media is fascinated by addicts when they are acting out (Charlie Sheen is a classic example) and then drop them like hot cakes when they start getting their act back together as they are no longer regarded as newsworthy. Usually this is because they go into a program such as AA and disappear.
To me The Anonymous People really builds on the learnings of positive psychology. What The Anonymous People movement does is give addicts the words to describe where they are at when they stop using.
We all know the scenario. An alcoholic who has stopped drinking and is in a rehab program is offered a drink in some social situation. The person does not know what to say and so says something like “I have an illness so I can’t drink at the moment” or some other excuse. But there is a feeling of lostness in how to deal with the situation. The Anonymous People give them the words “I am a person in recovery”, they can proudly say.
Being a “person in recovery” gives the words for people like Charlie Sheen to say so ordinary people can see there is life after addiction.
In Western society about one in seven people are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. It is a huge social problem, probably the largest social problem we have. Because of the anonymity movement, it has meant many people in addiction are unaware there is hope and a way out.
The purpose of The Anonymous People is to bring all those people together who can proudly publically say “I am a person in recovery”. There is hope after addiction thereby giving hope to addicts who feel trapped in their situation.
Many times this year I have sat with people in recovery. Their honesty, humility and integrity have literally changed my life and I try very hard to live like them. I now know for a fact how debilitating it can be to live an unexamined life. This process is continual and continuing and it is a pathway to much healthier living. What I have learned is that if someone stays in recovery for five years by then they are more stable, more psychologically healthy, in happier relationships and more content generally than people who have never been addicted to anything in their lives before, ever.
In other words, these twelve step programs are a good code to live by. To me they are deeply spiritually at their heart and as a minister of religion remind me of many spiritual programs and disciplines that have come and gone in my lifetime promoted as codes to live by.
On Sunday, September 14 at 11.30am we are holding a march of people in recovery who are prepared to come out and speak. The march will go from Circular Quay to the Sydney Domain. It will stop at Parliament House where speeches will be offered. We have t-shirts, flags as visible ways of encouraging those in addiction to join us.
Although not being a person in recovery from addiction myself I have been immensely honoured by being asked to be a sponsor of this march. It is something I proudly proclaim. To me it means more than all the honours I have ever received, even my Order of Australia (AM).