EPISODE 4: The 12 steps are probably not working for you

Oct 13, 2019

Artwork for podcast Overcome Pornography: The Self Mastery Podcast

I started attending 12 step meetings in 2007.


I also went to meetings sanctioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member.

Those Church sanctioned meetings were full of guys that were pretty similar to me. No one had committed a crime (I don't think) in pursuit of their sexual desires, but none of them seemed able to overcome their pornography use either.

So every week for a number of years I would sit in the meetings, I would say, “My name is Zach, I’m a porn addict, it has been x number of days since my last relapse.”

If you have ever been to these meetings, the people are earnest, the topic is serious, and the goal is the same for everyone.

12 step programs are the most recognized and ubiquitous type of sobriety focused recovery systems in the country. Judges assign people to attend them. Families swear by them.

I found a list here of 32 programs in addition to Alcohol Anonymous. Five of these had the word sex in them.

So why, according to Lance Dodes, MD and the Sober Truth, do these meetings only have a 5% success rate?

Now, granted, the Sober Truth is targeted specifically to Alcoholics Anonymous, but the “12 Step Program” has been taken and morphed to work with narcotics, pornography and food addictions. I don’t have data for those programs, but I think it is safe to say that the data is likely to be similar for similarly structured programs.

For me, I worked the 12 steps as best I could, in concert with my bishop and stake president, and had regular meetings with a counselor. All of the world was pulling for me and I was pulling in the direction I was told I should go.

Once I had been going to meetings for a few years, I thought, I should be able to go longer than I am. I should have more sobriety. I shouldn’t be relapsing like this.

I felt completely alone.

The truth was, that even though I, like hundreds of thousands, even millions of people before me, had gone through the steps, worked each of them to the best of my ability, apologized, asked for forgiveness, shared the program, done it all, I was still doing what addicts call white knuckling it.

I was still living in a place where I was not succeeding to my definition of success. Maybe I wasn’t using as much as I once had, but each time the urge came, I was still bearing through it with all the pain that comes from having a kidney stone. I was always just on the verge of going back.

Back to pornography, back to lying to my wife, back to hiding from my church leaders, back to buffering my life away with my drug of choice so I didn’t have to deal with my feelings.

Some of you might be saying in your minds, “oh, then you did it wrong” or “then you really weren’t sober” or some other version of blaming me for not getting it right because I wasn’t doing it right so I have no right to complain. That’s not an atypical response from those dealing with addiction and advocates of the 12 step program.

In fact, Dr Dodes talks about this in the Sober Truth. He quotes AA’s Big Book saying, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program…”

Dr. Dodes concluded, as anyone might, that “the program doesn’t fail; you fail.” Emphasis his.

So how could anyone who has gone through a 12 step program ever step forward and say, “um, sorry guys, this just isn’t helping me”?


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