My latest book, Everyone’s an Addict, is many things. It might be seen as a good cop/bad cop approach to treating addiction in the sense that it is spiritual and comforting on one hand, yet very real – like a tough sponsor – on the other. It is a 12 step almanac forming a guide to the steps. And Everyone’s an Addict is much more than a daybook with 366 daily inspirational entries.
The book is essentially a bucketful of practical tips for treating addiction and it is aimed at anyone.
It tackles one step a month. It also includes pages on the Traditions and Concepts towards the end of each month. There are references to every 12 step fellowship and program. It comes from an atheist/agnostic perspective (atheist since the Big Bang and agnostic before that) but it includes the traditional 12 steps as well as some rewritten god-free ones. In this respect it offers a unifying approach for traditional 12 steppers and agnostic/atheist ones.
The book has a secular stance – supporting freedom of religious belief, or none, for all. And, in line with the UN’s ideas, anyone should be able to change their beliefs at any time. So it suggests that people who attend meetings primarily address their addictions and keep the meetings non-religious. There are plenty of opportunities to practice religion, atheism and agnosticism elsewhere. 12-step meetings are nominally non-religious, so they should aim to help members with a cross-section of beliefs, too.
Not everyone addresses addiction through a twelve step meeting, though, and those that choose an alternative route will find Everyone’s an Addict equally helpful to them, whether they attend a clinic or choose another method.
A word on AA. Though this book aims for universal appeal, it can’t help but be 90% AA because that is the largest 12-step program and the daddy of them all. So much of what is in other programs derives from AA. However, it tries to give all other programs a fair shake. So about 90% of what is in the book applies to them, too. The context just depends on which way you look at it.
Everyone’s an Addict is aimed at everyone. The hypothesis is that we’re all addicts. If not to the major league isms, alcohol, drugs, food, gambling and sex; or the second division clutter, hoarding, shopping, video games and work; then to the minor league smoking, sudoku, TV shows and the like – something. Addiction robs us of time that would better be spent in improving our own lives and, as a byproduct, other people’s. Even those who think they are not addicted but would like to improve themselves, can benefit, too, as well as families and friends of addicts who want to understand what addiction is about and how they might help.
The book asks the question: are you an addict? For the inquisitive drinker asking the question ‘Am I an alcoholic?’ the question is: Do you have trouble stopping drinking once you have started? If so, you are most likely an alcoholic. Is it the same for you with drugs, eating, gambling or violent behavior? Did you indulge in it when your intentions were dead set against? Do you have other disorders around eating, like bulimia? Is sex something that preoccupies you unduly? Do you have behavioral problems in other directions such as anger, over-dependence on other people, hiding away from the world, lying, bullying and so on? Sometimes it is a multiple problem and the prime addiction needs to be identified.
The book explains that in Twelve Step programs these disorders must be self-diagnosed and the stepper must be a willing participant. Simply, it is anyone with a desire to stop doing whatever is causing the problem of addiction. Members hope that when potential newcomers reach their rock bottom they will have a moment of clarity and turn into a willing, or at least inquisitive, customer before it is too late. They hope the existence of these programs will come to the prospect’s mind at the appropriate time, maybe due to the seed planted by information in a school talk years before, or through information passed on through doctors, magistrates, police, and the press.
For those who don’t feel their behavior is obsessive or addictive, if they are interested in this book to make a general improvement in their behavior, it is suggested they ask themselves questions similar to the ones above. Have you behaved badly towards someone when you had not intended to, or perhaps your behavior was over the top? Do you ratchet up an argumentative situation rather than try to take the heat out of it or walk away? Are you determined to have your way for the sake of it when there are many suitable ways to go? Are you controlling of other people or a compulsive helper?
The book says the results of 12-step programs include: the relief of identifying oneself as an addict or someone with problem behavior after years of denial; the pride of being honest with oneself and the beginning of building self-esteem; knowing oneself better and accentuating the positives. Then there is further self-improvement in the calming influence of meditation. Finally there is the task of helping other addicts and people at large because the programs are bridges to normal living.
Let’s look at some of the ideas this book puts forward. For example, learning to live in your emotions and develop your spiritual side is a way of avoiding the debating committee in your head. But all aspects of the program take time to get a handle on. Most newcomers in the early stages are numb emotionally and spiritually.
Some entries in the book equate self-will with the head, mind or brain of the addict and assert that it is no good trying to treat one’s disease of addiction from that angle. It is a deep-seated spiritual and emotional disease, it says. That is why so much importance is placed on spirituality in 12-step programs. Indeed, the Big Book says alcoholism could be an illness that only a spiritual experience will conquer.
The emotional side, which has been frozen by the addiction, needs a lot of patience. We need to get in touch with our feelings so that we are ourselves – in other words not a phony. You are much more relaxed and happy if you are presenting your true self rather than a mask. Some people smile from the teeth out. Some put on a mask for the sake of their careers. How can you be happy in a work role where you must pretend to be something you’re not?
It takes a while for the emotions to unfreeze. When that begins, the work is in identifying what the emotions are, and dealing with them. Most people start with anger, which derives from fear. When your receptors are working properly once more there will come the joy of family or nature – whatever does it for you. Living in your emotions can also put you in touch with the state of health in your body.
Because addiction is a spiritual and emotional disease, to tackle it we sometimes need to keep the head out of the loop. Rational thought will eventually return, but when we start in a program we need to abide by the simple set of suggestions that does your thinking for you. For example, don’t go to places where there will be a temptation to relapse.
The author says he wishes newcomers could switch their heads off to avoid their addictions worming their way into their minds. ‘Just one won’t hurt’. ‘Don’t be silly – you don’t have an addiction’. If meditation came earlier in the program than Step 11 it could be a great help. Meditation allows a member to switch off the head. Otherwise, early on, one has to challenge these thoughts. Tell them to f*** off. The fact that these excuses will arise and need to be challenged should be front of mind. If they are recognized when they occur, then they can be dealt with.
Under the heading ‘more than a program’, the author says that a 12-step group is a fellowship. “That’s not the same as friendship – you don’t have to like the whole group, but you should love them and help them. I was going to add that it’s a bridge to normal living, and so it may be for a time, but beyond that it’s a bridge to extraordinary or exceptional living.
“I’ve heard people say: ‘it’s not a social club’”. But it’s almost impossible not to make new friends. It’s as much of a social club as you want before and after the formal part of the meeting. But don’t go over the top. There was an Al-Anon group that became a weekly plant sale.
“Someone who seems unfriendly may just need bringing out of their shell. It might be a good project to ask shy members what problems they face, do they need any help with the steps and so on.”
For more information about the book, you can check out the website: Everyone’s an Addict.
And it is available at Amazon USA.
Vince Hawkins, the author of Everyone’s An Addict (2018), went to work at 17 and became a financial journalist. By age 27 he was freelancing for nationals such as The Times, Telegraph and Financial Times. He became an investment analyst for stockbrokers and wrote reports on companies’ share price prospects. (Shades of Bill W?) But his career spiraled downwards until he renounced the demon drink. Then he turned self-employed, editing business reports and writing for trade magazines – able to work from his laptop and roam the world. Now he is on a hedonistic journey of authorship and chasing bucket list dreams. Vince is a pen name. As David K he has been sober since 6 October, 1998. Working the 12 steps has affirmed his belief in secularism. Vince has also written An Atheists Unofficial Guide to AA (2011), An Atheists 12 Steps to Self-improvement (2012) and a debut novel, Trader Bob (2016).
You can learn more about the author here: Vince Hawkins.