Self Help Does NOT Work

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More times than I can count, I’ve heard reference to the text books of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as being “self help literature”, as well as the 12-step Community being described as the “self help community”. I don’t find it that surprising when people who have never used either text or ever darkened the door of a 12-step meeting to refer to them as “self help”, as they have no experiential knowledge of what either is about.

That being said, it has always interested me when people who have used the text(s) and participated in the meetings reference it in this way. It has caused me to question: Is it said due to a lack of understanding to what the words “self help” actually mean? Or is it something else that creates a need to feel that the freedom attained in recovery has somehow come from the “individual” themselves? (Don’t get me wrong, each individual certainly does play a role in their recovery…but there is a difference in playing a role in ones recovery vs. having the personal power to achieve and maintain recovery on ones own strength.) I don’t have the answer to that, because obviously that is a question that can only be answered by each person.

What I will expound on is my own observation and yes…it is my own opinion which is in stark contrast to the line of thought that would declare “self help” as having anything to do with true recovery from active alcohol and drug addiction.

The words “Self Help” are defined as:

  • The act of providing for, helping or the ability to provide for or help oneself without assistance from others
  • Self guided improvement
  • The action or process of bettering oneself or overcoming one’s problems without the aid of others; Especially coping with one’s personal or emotional problems without professional help

These definitions are a total contradiction of what the 12-steps, the 12-step community, (and for that matter the off chute faith based recovery communities and literature), represent to the millions of people impacted either directly or indirectly by them on a daily basis. In each of the aforementioned the premise for success is very basic ~ The individual alone is powerless in this area of their life, but lifelong recovery can be achieved by:

  • Accessing “Power” outside of themselves
  • Focusing daily on “service to others”, as opposed to focusing on “self”

For those that would favor the idea that 12-Step or “spiritually based recovery” and Self Help are intertwined, I would have to disagree. My reasoning beginning with simply the first half of the first step, in which the individual determines within themselves that where chemical use is concerned they are “powerless”. I want to look at two words in making this point:

  • Powerful: Having or exerting great power or force
  • Powerless: Lacking power, strength or effectiveness

One can not be “powerful” and “powerless” at the same time in the same area. Either an individual does have the power to remain clean and sober or an individual does not have the power to remain clean and sober. Again, the answer to that has to be determined by each person themselves. However, for those who have perhaps run through various attempts to either control their chemical use and/or quit all together, they eventually either acknowledge what their experience has given them ~ the realization that in this area of their lives…they are not powerful, but rather admit experiencing a powerlessness; OR…they simply, (and for their own reasons), stubbornly continue to practice the same actions of exerting their own power, expecting different results.

The dilemma being faced in the concept of Self Help vs. Spiritual Help is this: Our ideas, abilities and knowledge are limited. While the smartest person in the world can hold the honor of knowing more than any other person on the planet, no matter how much they know…they will never know everything. To the wealthiest person in the world who has more money and possesses more possessions than anyone else in the world does…they will never possess everything. To the healthiest and most vivacious person on the planet, who possess greater health, stamina and physical fitness than anyone else in the world…they won’t live forever. The reality faced by every human being is that we are finite.

  • Finite: Having definite or definable limits. Having a (limited) nature or existence
  • Infinite: Subject to no limitation or external determination (limitless)

Blaise Pascal said, “The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice.”

For many, the road to recovery is quite difficult, as in our finite power we attempt to go toe to toe and battle against an illness with which we can not out think it and lack the power to control it. But for those so blessed to reach the end of that well fought battle and survive long enough to hear about an illogical design for living that enables them access to a power source that is Infinite ~ the old ideas surely do pass away, to be replaced by principles (divine in nature), that enable one who seemed so hopeless…to experience not only lifelong recovery, but freedom from the “fight” and experience true happiness.

In closing, Albert Einstein had this to say:

Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.

© Rebecca Balko 2012