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A Sufficient Alternative to The Original Twelve Steps

by | Apr 1, 2024 | ACA Toolbox, ComLine

To me, the purpose of ACA recovery is to heal from the effects of trauma related to family or caregiver alcoholism/dysfunction while reparenting ourselves with love. This trauma, inflicted through abuse or neglect, can have situational and/or developmental aspects, tends to be multi-generational, and creates adaptations and traits which leave the adult child in a state of unresolved or “stuck” grief. In a 1991 talk at the 7th Annual ACA Convention in Orlando, ACA co-founder Tony A spoke of feeling like he was often on the verge of tears from unresolved grief.

Marty S., who many consider a “wise elder” highly involved in the development of some of ACA’s cornerstone literature, stated that what the adult child suffers from is not a disease, but a result of ongoing traumatic conditioning. Marty often pointed me to page 621 in Appendix A of the ACA Big Red Book where it says, “what can be learned can be unlearned even though reversing learned helplessness and neophobia [fear of the new], and the effects of developmental trauma is an exacting process.” In a personal telephone conversation with Marty, he said our fundamental task is that “we need to heal the broken heart of our inner child”.

Dr. Charles L. Whitfield, who wrote the best-selling book “Healing The Child Within”, has been considered a leading expert on healing adult child trauma. Dr. Whitfield was invited to write “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the ACA Big Red Book. He described the three stages of recovery for adult children of trauma as: 1) stabilization period of addictions/or bottoming out emotionally; 2) realizing the “true self”, grief work, needs work, and ongoing inner core work; and 3) relationship refinement work.

There is an alternative set of 12 steps that addresses Dr. Whitfield’s three stages of recovery. In my last conversation with him, Dr. Whitfield totally embraced and endorsed that set of steps for the purposes of healing the effects of trauma on the inner child. In order to ensure that this set of steps would meet the traditions and spiritual principles of the original 12 steps, they were sent to attorneys for the Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Intellectual Property Administrator for review. They indicated that this set of steps is a “sufficient alternative to the original 12 steps”, for uses other than AA’s singleness of purpose.

I agree with Dr. Whitfield and the AA Intellectual Property Administrator that this alternative set of 12 steps have been written as close as possible to the structure, spiritual principles and traditions of the original steps, while addressing the complexity of trauma recovery, emotional sobriety, and relationship issues. These steps are guidelines written from lived experience and reflect the concepts, language, and principles of our ACA literature.

I believe one of the eight alternative sets of steps currently being offered for consideration by the ACA fellowship in the recently posted survey on the ACA website, fits those criteria. I encourage all ACA members to please take the time to review all eight sets of steps in the survey, and provide feedback on the alternative set that accurately describes the process of recovery from the effects of trauma for adult children as outlined in our literature and lived in our daily experience.

In my experience over the past 47 years in 12 step groups, the recovery process seems to be cyclical and ongoing as long as I continue to do the work. I can identify with the metaphor of recovery as peeling an onion one layer at a time. I have also heard of recovery being compared to ascending a spiral staircase with the same old or new issues, feelings, traits, defenses, or defects/assets being presented to me as I grow and change on this wonderful pathway forward. I no longer have to trudge the road of happy destiny. I actually enjoy walking the path of emotional sobriety and healthier relationships, while lovingly reparenting my inner child and embracing my true self.

As ACA co-founder Tony A expressed on various occasions, I personally need a set of steps whereby the inventory and amends process address not only the role of perpetrator, but also the role of victim. I need loving and trauma-informed steps that continue to unfold with me, and wisely guide me in addressing the complexity of what “The Laundry List Workbook” refers to as “the complete picture” of recovery for adult children of trauma.

Mike S

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