The Steps to Recovery
In your Nov. 1 issue, in the article “Stepping Away from the 12 Steps,” Dr. Harold C. Urschel III states: “If you were diabetic, would you go to meetings to talk for an hour a day about how not to eat sugar? People chuckle, but that’s essentially what we’re doing now.” Dr. Urschel is referring to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or other 12-step meetings in this article; that people go to these types of meetings and spend an hour talking about how not to drink or use.
Neither I nor any one person is a spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous. However, I can speak from my own experience as an alcoholic who has attended, on average, two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week since my sobriety date of March 22, 2005. I can attest that this is not the purpose of meetings. In fact, in the 12 steps, the word alcohol is mentioned only in the first step. Steps 2 through 12 suggest a design for living. The book Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), on page 28, states that “a new life has been given us or, if you prefer, ‘a design for living’ that really works.”
Furthermore, Alcoholics Anonymous encourages the coexistence of medicine, psychology and spirituality to restore body, mind and spirit: “But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. … Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward” (Big Book, page 12).
In addition, the article states that “Dr. Urschel … thinks that although [Alcoholics Anonymous’] famous 12-step program is a valuable piece of the puzzle, its famously low success rates (which are almost impossible to verify but have been pegged at 30 percent by one multistudy report) can be vastly improved using breakthroughs in medicinal and behavioral research from the past two decades.” If the success rate of a program is almost impossible to verify, then how can anyone prove that they can improve upon it? What are the criteria for this success rate? No quantifiable criteria have been presented in this article to prove a 12-step program’s success or failure, so why would it be suggested to step away? And if it is “a valuable piece of the puzzle,” why would you want to “step away” from it?
As a member of a worldwide program that has restored sanity to me and to countless millions of people around the world based upon the principle of one alcoholic helping another alcoholic, I submit that this doctor’s medicinal and behavioral methods may coexist with a spiritual 12-step program, which provides “a design for living that really works.” Why would it be necessary to choose one or the other?
Thank you, Mr. Pitluk, for your kind consideration to the facts and to my experience. I invite you and Dr. Urschel to join me for an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to see what we really talk about for an hour.
Virginia (last name withheld by request), Dallas, Texas
ADAM PITLUK RESPONDS: Thank you for the very personal note, Virginia. I certainly appreciate your passion and support for Alcoholics Anonymous. I can’t speak for Dr. Urschel, but I indeed recognize the importance behind these meetings and groups and how they’ve supported and fostered sobriety in millions of people. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the outside looking in, but I didn’t get the sense that Dr. Urschel condemned the 12-step program but rather suggested that there is another alternative based in science. But that’s my read. I’ve never been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, so the story may very well say something different to me than it does to you. So as not to be a hypocrite, I will take you up on your invitation and see what these meetings — which I concede are very helpful, as I know people who have successfully completed the 12 steps — are all about. Let me know where and when.
Two Good Issues
I want you to know just how much I liked your Oct. 15 issue. I loved the article on Curaçao. This will definitely end up on our destination list. I especially loved the article on the Galápagos Islands. This has been one of my dream destinations. Your article was so vivid I could easily put myself there. The story had much information that I had not known before. Makes discovering the islands for myself even more appetizing. Thanks for putting this magazine together. Makes the dreams seem possible.
DENISE Weddington, Eufaula, OKla.
ADAM PITLUK RESPONDS: Thanks so much, Denise. You made my day because you commented on not one but two issues: The Galápagos Islands story was in the Oct. 1 issue, and the Curaçao story was the cover of the Oct. 15 issue. I haven’t yet been to the Galápagos, but Karen Leland did a fantastic job bringing the islands into clear focus, as did photographer Susan Stahl Gordon. As for Curaçao, I have a soft spot for that island, and I highly, highly recommend it. Let me know how your trips turn out when you go!
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