People in recovery from substance use often form close bonds over their shared struggles, but for outsiders, their healing process can seem a bit foreign.
There’s talk of 12 Steps, Dr. Bob and Bill W., the “big book” and anonymous meetings. Not surprisingly, newcomers to treatment can be overwhelmed by the recovery journey, too.
Carver Brown tried to demystify the 12 Steps as the featured speaker Nov. 7 at the first Rosecrance Alumni Reunion. About 85 alumni, friends, family and staff attended the event at the Ware Center in Rockford.
Brown, who works as the alumni relations coordinator at Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Mississippi, took the audience through the 12 Steps during the morning and early afternoon, and then participants attended breakout sessions about sponsorship, youth in recovery, family relationships and spirituality in recovery. Rosecrance alumnus Robert K. capped off the evening by sharing his powerful story of overcoming addiction. Brown led alumni and family through an 11th-step meditation the next morning at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus.
Alumni arrived Saturday morning to find miniature editions of the Alcoholics Anonymous “big book” basic text on their chairs, along with pens and highlighters. Brown jumped around within the text, reading different passages aloud and explaining their meaning.
The format is inspired by Wally Paton, archivist for AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith. Paton found documentation from the beginner AA meetings in the 1940s that allowed for participants to take the steps quickly and often, and he wrote a book about his findings called “Back to Basics.” Meeting formats changed in the 1950s to spread the steps out over a longer period of time.
“It’s easy and it’s simple, and we’re way overcomplicating it,” Brown said of the 12-Step process. “The way they did it in the 1940s, they would read the passages of the big book together (and) take the steps together. We’re gonna get better together.”
Brown, himself an AA member, said there are more than 300 anonymous fellowships that practice the 12 Steps. As part of his presentation, Brown led audience members through a moral inventory; people individually listed others who’ve been harmed through addiction and identified their own character assets and liabilities. Participants also wrote letters to themselves that described where they’re at in their lives, where they want to be six months from now and a prayer asking their higher power to help achieve those goals. They addressed envelopes to themselves, and Rosecrance Alumni Coordinator Missy Garrison plans to mail the letters in six months.
“We’re not a religion, those of us who go to these 12-Step meetings. We don’t get involved in science, politics or medicine. We’re just a bunch of people trying to be helpful to those who got what we’ve got,” Brown emphasized.
Part of Brown’s message encouraged alumni to pray, go to meetings and share their stories every day. Rosecrance alumnus Robert K. shared his personal struggles with heroin and crack-cocaine addiction that started when he was a teenager. He spoke passionately about the importance of the 12 Steps and understanding “what works for you” in recovery.
What finally clicked for him was coming to understand that he had a mental obsession for drugs and alcohol and how that obsession affected his decision-making in life.
“I’ve only stayed sober because I trusted God, and I put somebody before myself,” he said. “It wasn’t easy; I’m not perfect. But I made it work. God made it work. He’s given me opportunities I never thought I’d have. And every time I’ve gone back out and messed up, there’s always been an opportunity on the other end. I don’t know how or why, how every time I walked in from a relapse, I’ve had a golden opportunity that I’ve thrown away every time. This time I don’t want to throw it away.”