It's Transformational: In Praise of AA

AA is not for everybody, only those who want it.

It's a great time to be alive as the modern neuroscience of addiction and the wisdom and principles of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous align seamlessly.

I'm looking forward to the new documentary, Bill W., http://www.page124.com/about/ to learn more about what this remarkable man offered the world as a direct result of the transformational process of addiction recovery-available to everyone who wants it.

Imagine the millions of addicted people out there, each of whom has a world improving gift wrapped in their recovery. Imagine...

My first encounter with AA on that May Day in 1986 was less than an epiphany as I could not reconcile how to find my way into a group of people who seemed inordinately happy about the simplest things. And that holding hands and hugging thing? Nope, not for this kinda sorta alcoholic and maybe prescription drug addict. There had to be another way.

One of the platitudes in AA is that it gets weird and then very weird without surrendering to what is and committed, consistent treatment. It got very weird trying to live in two worlds and I spent the ensuing eight years on the fence.

Then something happened on another May Day in 1994 when a wise older man looked me in the eye and said, “Herb, you are full of–allow me to use a euphemism–# 2.” I’d heard it before but I was listening this time–right on time. There is another way.

Each of our ways is a little different but to have the backdrop of a program, a process to take a look at how I’m taking a look at my life was and is, nothing short of life saving. This man, Bill Wilson, unwrapped the gift of AA that enjoyed freedom from cultural, religious or political ties. A template for living for those who have the honesty, openness and willingness to try. 

The 12 Steps are a simple and straight forward process to do what the aforementioned brain science has revealed: Addicts can and must re-write crucial brain circuitry or be relegated to a life of relapse or bouncing from one destructive behavior to another.

And this takes time. An addicted brain cannot take a pill or decide to change overnight. Addiction is one of the diseases that says you don’t have it. It takes time. 

Working through a thoughtful, progressive and compassionate algorithm, one step at a time is how new circuitry is formed. Repetition reinforces a new, more healthy brain more amenable to healthy thinking. Many other things can be done to help but nothing is more effective and lasting to reorganize the brain, the target organ of addiction, than these time honored and proven steps.

There is no mistake that the 12th Step is a deliberate effort to help others recover once having this epiphany, once having written new brain circuitry. Deliberate because it further reinforces the changes that will revert to old behavior without daily diligence and discipline. The good news is that the new way of life, the improved lifestyle delivers all the innately healthy brain chemicals I had been looking for in the first place.

What I had been doing all along was looking for a way to heal myself in all the wrong places. Alcoholics Anonymous is simple, elegant and nothing short of genius. To be delivered from a potentially, and often fatal brain disorder and disease is nothing short of miraculous.

While recovering addicts also need to re-learn how to eat well, move well and think well, AA is a foundational program for it all to happen–right on time. 

AA is not for everybody who suffers from the disease of addiction, only those who want it.


Dr. Herby Bell is owner and director of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to addiction treatment in Redwood City, California. For more information please call 650 474 2121 or email:herbybell@me.com 

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