World Mental Heath Day: Why 12-steps isn’t the only route to recovery
First things first, Gamblers Anonymous has carried out remarkable work over the 58 years since its creation in Los Angeles. The numbers of people the organisation has sought to help must run to several hundred thousand, and while attendance doesn’t guarantee recovery, its emphasis on confession, honesty and renewal has assisted vast numbers of problem gamblers.
With this being so, why the need to write an article about why GA isn’t for everyone? Hopefully a quick look at the organisation’s 12-step programme should provide sufficient explanation. Starting at the very beginning, the steps are…
1 – Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon GA unity.
2 – For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
And there it is; the big problem with GA, Alcoholics Anonymous and most every other group that uses the 12-step programme that Bill Wilson and Bob Smith formulated in 1938 – you have to believe in God.
Now, for a lot of people this is no problem at all. In the US, the vast majority of citizens identify themselves as following a faith. And depending upon the depths of one’s addiction, it’s understandable that a non-believer might be willing to sacrifice their point of view in order to receive much needed assistance.
But what about the die-hard atheist, the person who has dedicated considerable thought to the matter and, having weighed the evidence, finds the concept of faith wanting – should they be denied aid in the direst of circumstances?
The good news is that they needn’t be. However, if one’s first experience of recovery comes in the form of a GA or AA meeting, there’s every chance that the non-believer might walk away feeling even more helpless than when they went in.
At this point, it’s also worth pointing up that no two Gamblers Anonymous groups are the same. While some can be positively militant – dishing out what can only be described as very tough love to those who happen to relapse – others are extraordinarily patient and nurturing. Encounter the latter and you might well swap problem gambling for regular attendance. But the former? You can but wonder how many people have been driven away by a perceived lack of understanding.
So what are the deity-free alternatives? Well, in the first instance there’s GamCare, a charity created in 1997 to “provide information, advice, support and free counselling for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling”. Besides the gamecare.org.uk website and a national Freephone helpline – 0808 8020 133 – face-to-face counselling is available at a variety of venues courtesy of the GamCare Partners Network. And there’s no age limit when it comes to the people they’re keen to help – on the contrary, GamCare’s bigdeal.org.uk is aimed specifically at those teens for whom wagering has become an issue.
With their details freely available at all UK gaming venues – both physical and online – GamCare has done a great job of getting their very positive message out there. But while they seem to have most bases covered, if you’re looking for something different, there’s a good chance you might find it at your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Yes, the good old CAB can provide you with alternatives, especially if you’re looking for more localised assistance.
Your writer is especially well-qualified to talk about this particular matter for, amidst concern that my drinking might have become excessive, my local CAB put me in touch with Spectrum, a Hertfordshire-based charity whose help could hardly have been more appreciated or successful.
Having said all of this, we’d again like to stress that we’re not trying to denigrated Gamblers Anonymous or the fine work they do – you can interact with their UK website here. However, drawing again on personal experience, I know how desperate things can seem when you’re directed towards an organisation that you’re sufficiently familiar with to know that your atheism would prove a barrier to acceptance and recovery.
Which brings us to our – what might have seemed rather random – choice of picture. Perhaps best known for having been pastiched by The Pogues on the cover of their LP Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, Theordore Gericault’s The Raft Of The Medusa might at first look like a study of suffering and despair. Look closely at the painting, however, and you’ll notice that, amidst the cresting waves, there’s also the sail of a rescue boat. A better metaphor for help in a time of difficulty it’s hard to think of. No, the journey isn’t easy and its success is chiefly in your hands. But help is out there, and while it’s easier for those who have faith, those that haven’t don’t need to give up hope.