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Can You Find Recovery Outside of the Twelve Steps?

photo: David Goehring on flickr

photo: David Goehring on flickr

Dear Meli,

I have been in recovery from drug and alcohol use for five years. I have been going to Twelve Step programs for most of that time. Recently, though, I have been having trouble with meetings. It seems that everyone is so focused on their identity as an addict or alcoholic. My spiritual practice is teaching me that there’s a lot more to me than that. I’m starting to feel a call to leave my Twelve Step group, but I’m also scared because I don’t want to relapse. Any advice?

Tired of Twelve Steppers

Dear Tired,

First of all, congratulations on five years! You are a miracle!

I have had this exact experience in my own recovery from drug addiction.

There are three things I want to share about this:

1) My personal experience indicates that it’s possible to remain clean and/or sober without attending meetings, after some years of working a strong recovery program.  My continued spiritual practice has allowed me to remain clean and sober 25+ years, after having not attended a meeting in well over a decade.

However, there is an imperative key. I have an agreement with myself that if I ever begin to have thoughts about using, I know who to call and where to go. I don’t allow myself to be lulled into thinking that maybe now, after all these years, I could have just one glass of wine, or any such substance. I am definitely an addict (alcoholic).

I don’t allow myself to head down the road of debating the possibilities of non-addictive behaviors miraculously becoming possible for me.

2) I did take a break from meetings (which I am still on). But I attended a meeting once since making that choice.

It happened when I was away visiting a friend. He suggested we go to his ‘home meeting’ and explained that it was a meeting for those at least 5 years clean/sober. I hadn’t known such meetings existed! The meeting had a very different tone, and I think if I lived in that town, I might have started to attend it regularly.

There might be a meeting available to you where you wouldn’t have the same experience you’re having now. If you’re unsure about your choice, you may want to explore further, to be sure this isn’t a possibility.

3) If you don’t feel good about the idea of skipping meetings, I wouldn’t do it. If, however, you make this choice out of love for yourself, and it feels like the right choice for you, then feel free to check it out!

But if you are going to judge yourself as you head down this path (or any, for that matter), I’d definitely reconsider.

May your road of recovery continue to bless you, whichever way you walk it!

Blessings and Love in all you do,


Have you experienced recovery in – or outside of – Twelve Step meetings? Share your comments below!

Have a question for Meli? Interested in a private session (in person or Skype)? Contact her at meli@ohmygodlife.com

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20 Responses to Can You Find Recovery Outside of the Twelve Steps?

  1. Karen September 22, 2015 at 7:16 am #


    I love the insights that Abraham-Hicks offers about recovery. “Your attention to where you are or how you got there keeps you from what you want.” Abe recommends: Instead of “I am ___,” we would change it to “I have been ____.”

    “Focus yourself into your future.”

    • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

      I, too, love the insights and infinite wisdom of Abe, Karen! I DO find that it serves me to remain clean (and sober) to remember that I am not one of those “normal people” who can use drugs or alcohol in a non-addictive way…but I also agree that allowing it to remain behind me – and seeing it as behind me – is most powerful, kneed. :-) Thanks so much for all of your wonderful sharing of Abraham-wisdom…always a welcome thing. <3

    • Nathan September 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

      I simply refer to myself depending on the meeting as a recovering ——. I heard the A-H talk as well and feel for someone without a good foundation can easily fall into a trap of making exceptions for their behavior. I appreciate your comment.

      • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

        I love that “I am a recovering…”! I used to throw in “gratefully recovering…” and that is so true. :-)

        What is “the A-H talk?”

        • Nathan September 23, 2015 at 9:41 am #

          The A-H talk is an Abraham-Hicks Mp3/video on YouTube referring to where Esther gives the advice of saying ‘I used to… (be an addict/alcoholic).’ I heard it and feel that can water down a persons conviction to the point that without current stability and focus and outlook that one can more easily fall prey to old behavior. I like the notion of it yet I’m not familiar with any current support groups in which that is accepted as the norm. It feels most are all or nothing. I pride myself in the fact that Science of Mind helps me be stronger in my recovery. The 12 steps aren’t my life but I wouldn’t have a life without them.

          • Melissa Phillippe September 23, 2015 at 10:31 am #

            Hey Nathan,
            Thanks for the clarity (A-H). I, too, wouldn’t prefer to say only “I used to be…” as it makes it sound like I’m not an addict any more. I am not a using addict, but I know the truth about whether I could ever be a “casual user” or anything…and I also agree that it sounds good for many people. I also love the 12 steps! Everything about them, actually. They (and the rooms I found them in, and the people I find there) saved my life, for sure!

            I recently came to another big “aha” which was that drugs actually saved my life too. There was a time in my life when I did NOT know I was an addict, and life was really too hard for me. Drugs allowed me to get through those years. This was a brand new revelation for me – though for all I know I’ve had it before and this was a new level of it…anyway…just grateful for it all! And SO grateful for recovery! I never would have made it long enough to find Science of Mind, or even have a relationship with Spirit had it not been for Bill W and all his friends.

            Thank you so much for chatting with me here, and serving this conversation with your wisdom, strength and hope.

            Overflowing Blessings!

  2. Becka September 22, 2015 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks for the post, Meli!

    I enjoyed learning about other styles of 12 step groups. Like William Larkin’s UpSpiralLife Group: http://appliedneuroscienceblog.com/the_upspiralife_12_step_group_a_new_12_steps_for_a_new_millenium.

    • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

      OOH – I LOVE that Group too! He spoke here in Santa Rosa and I was blessed to be the guest musician that day – I still sing his ‘Gratitude’ song regularly and find it really uplifting indeed…of course, the artists isn’t him on that but they worked together and it’s a part of his thing. :-) Thanks for reminding me (and telling others) about his great work! <3

  3. michael Frank September 22, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Here is a great opportunity for additional support either on-line or in person. I work at Interlink Self-Help Center and we provide Smart Recovery classes and sessions for the individual and we just started a family and friends group to support the loved one seeking assistance. We also allow cross-talk,
    self-empowerment and lived experiences to share. Hope it helps.


    • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

      This sounds wonderful, Michael! Thanks for adding this resource to this post/page! SO awesome that there are more ways than ever for people to find support in improving their lives…one of my very favorite aspects of the internet! Blessings to you in your work! <3

  4. Carol September 22, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    I agree there are inumerable ways to have uninterrupted abstinence and as many ways to learn how to live sober. Therefore, I can only share my personal experience which clearly is not the only way. The “right” way is whatever works.

    I have been sober and active in AA since August 19, 1972. An early mentor, Chuck C., introduced me to the Science of Mind in 1975 and I have been active in. Ith since that time. Chuch was a friend of Ernest Holmes, as well as a minister and also have many years of sobriety. Chuck spent 10 hours a month for 8 years teaching me SOM Principles of living.

    I am a Pratitioner and I love living the Science of Mind. However, I also love Alcoholics Anonymous. After I was sober about 8 years, I said to my mentor, Chuck, “I am so sick of those meetings; I am not getting anything out of them and I am tired of hearing the same old stories!” He said, “well, listen to you miss high and mighty. Maybe it is not just about you and wht younare getting. Maybe it is time for you to give back.” Ouch! So I still go because I learned it is not all about me and hat I am getting and I am active for two main reasons: 1) In gratitude to the people who were there for me (what if everyone left after getting a few years) and I have may have experi nce to,shre. 2) It is like schools – I continue to learn new ways to live sober and always r mthe nders that I am my problem. Knowing no matter what, my reaction is about me and my baggage. That is what 12 step meetings do for me. Butm that is just me. A gave me a life and led me to SOM and paved the way for all the good in my life. I live AA and never could repay for my life.

    • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

      Ooh, Carol! This is SO good!

      Thank you for this reminder! Hah – and I was JUST talking about this with Z this morning…how sometimes in Science of Mind communities, I find what’s missing (for me) is the message of service…not service to the individual centers! Service to those outside in greater need. It’s not usually in the messages…(I include myself in this)…and I sometimes miss it. It’s such a great way to deepen our own healing, to provide a healing space for others…. And nothing is as fulfilling to my soul as giving, supporting others in the improvement of their life.

      So THANK YOU for this reminder in this context! AWESOME! And YAY YOU for both all of your years in recovery and service, and for your wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it here! VERY cool! :-)

  5. Nathan September 22, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    I find it difficult to endorse leaving any support group that has helped you and not return the favor, meaning if someone took their time and energy to love you until you could love yourself and guide you thought the steps the least one could do is the same thing for someone else. I wish I could just put a dollar in the basket and be good. At least two of my friends got clean (& sober) and got “lives” and drifted away, both married and with kids and that’s it.

    I know people fall into the trap of either complacency or ‘know-it-all-ism’ once they’ve recognized they have a problem. In the opening readings of NA it says, we sought help through medicine, religion and psychiatry but it wasn’t sufficient for us. What that means is by itself they aren’t enough. I was in recovery prior to becoming a religious scientist. There are many similarities. However where else can I go to talk about wanting to use or drink or hurt myself because I can’t live with or without substances? It’s my belief that Spirit doesn’t always do for us what we can for ourselves… when I try to affirm my way out of a jam and it ain’t working I’m calling my sponsor.

    The beauty of the 12 steps is that they are a pathway to a Higher Power. Just don’t forget where you came from. Some slogans never get old. You may have another relapse in you, but you may not have another recovery.

    God Bless

    • Melissa Phillippe September 22, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

      Hi Nathan,

      Thank you SO much for your voice here! I agree about giving back and believe that is one of the very best aspects of the 12-step paradigm! I would go as far as to say that the giving back may have blessed me more than my original receiving (although my recovery is the BEST thing I ever received…). Giving is like that. 😉 This is why I continue to chose a life about giving back…to addicts and non-addicts alike. Best thing going, in my opinion. :)

      However, that after some (more recent) research and education, I’ve heard about some other paradigms/approaches that work better for some people than the 12-step approach. I am eternally grateful for the 12-step model. It worked for me and continues to do so. It has blessed my life immeasurably! But I am also aware that there are some for whom other methods work for them. For me, I’m happy to celebrate whatever really works for people.

      I admit, too, that I shy away from any program or religion that touts being the only way…for anything…and this (in addition to the more recent studies I’ve read about, mentioned above) does inform my openness to other means to the same sober end. That said, I say “yay you” for finding what works for you, and sticking with it! SUCH an awesome thing! And thank you, again, for your wonderful and thought-provoking message here.


  6. Marilyn September 22, 2015 at 8:43 pm #


    Thank you for sharing on this topic. Lately my spiritual path of recovery has felt more challenging than usual. I believe this is due, in part, to walking through some major life changes. In addition, my path had become increasingly lonely, as I was not hearing or seeing my current internal experience reflected back by other sisters. That changed today when I read your post, which teaches me (again) a couple things: how important it is for us to share honestly to better be of service, and how important it is to listen for guidance. Sometimes it’s harder to hear that message when I have a set idea of where and when it needs to arrive. That’s why it’s of vital importance to practice patience and keep showing up for life. We never know who or what will carry the message we need to hear. Thanks again for speaking your truth !

    • Melissa Phillippe September 23, 2015 at 8:53 am #

      Dear Marilyn,

      Thank you so very much for connecting here! I am so grateful that you found this post, and that it supported you! THIS is why I do what I do…in hopes of this. So I thank you for letting me know that it served you. That serves me! And on it goes… :-)

      I’m also grateful for that seemingly ever-illusive reminder (smirk) that we never know where answers will come from, and that they often don’t come upon command – when or how we think they will or should. 😉 Always a wonderful reminder!

      All the best to you as you travel this path, being the reflection to your sisters that they need… :-) Thanks for that here… Hugs.

  7. Sara Nichols September 30, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    Thanks, Meli, for this rich discussion– as a science of mind minister who is literally flying to a 12 step convention right now, I can report that what keeps me coming back after 9 + years of abstinence That hasn’t been mentioned here is that don’t know a better system of support for keeping me rigorously honest. Nowhere in CSL do I see a systematic commitment to honesty (though some ministers have found other ways of keeping themselves honest). If I’m not working the steps, the resentments, the fears, the dishonesty creeps in and then Here come other addictive thoughts that seem more and more compelling–that and my primary addictions are “process” addictions which I think is what you call things like food and codependency and work to which I’m addicted. In other words, I can’t stop eating. Working or being in relationships the way someone might stop drinking or drugs. It’s MUCH harder for me to not creep back into active addiction

    • Melissa Phillippe October 12, 2015 at 11:41 am #

      Thank you SO much, Sara, for this additional point so well-made! Rigorous honesty is a must for recovery, but also for any of us on a spiritual path…we can’t grow what we don’t know.

      Please accept my sincere apologies, too….I thought i had replied to you some time ago, and just discovered that – alas – I had not! :-(

      THANK YOU for the wonderful insight…

  8. Cindy November 16, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Also, check out CSL’s Rev. Carol Wilke’s http://www.HeartMindSpiritRecovery.com Focus Ministry – I recently attended her first ever Recovery Conference at Breckenridge with Rev. Carol and Dr. Ras Smith was VERY helpful. I believe Rev. Carol is planning to hold them annually. Mile Hi church also has a Spirituality in Recovery group, led by Rev. Dr. Ras.

    • Melissa Phillippe November 17, 2015 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks, Cindy!

      There are SO many ways and places to join together in spiritual practice! Thanks for letting us know about one of the good ones. :-)

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