I mentioned once that Òsecular groups donÕt really use the
ES&H concept,Ó and someone asked me to explain that. So I thought IÕd talk
about it a little here. My intent isnÕt to start an argument. But IÕve come to
realize that this approach is often in conflict with, or reflects a different
thought process than, most secular approaches. It has certainly been a problem
at times when discussions are perceived as criticisms. The idea of criticizing,
analyzing, or debating the principles and practices of various programs seems
antithetical to the spirit of ES&H.
ES&H stands for Experience, Strength, and Hope: the
book Experience, Strength and Hope: Stories from the First Three Editions of
Alcoholics Anonymous is an approved World Conference publication. A Google
search of the phrase turns up dozens of web sites devoted to sharing personal
experiences overcoming addictions, all of them 12-step.
(A couple of examples:
One 12-step adherent probably summed the concept up best
in the midst of a forum discussion by asking (IÕm paraphrasing) Òwhy canÕt we
just share what worked for us and not criticize other programs?Ó ItÕs probably
important for folks in AA to realize that ES&H is strictly a 12-step idea,
and that to suggest that others use that model for sharing may seem alien
because we donÕt think that way.
I find this idea similar to the testimonial process common
in organized religions. Christian Scientists, for example, meet every Wednesday
evening for group discussions which include individuals sharing how their
prayers healed or helped them during the preceding week. ItÕs a process of
psychic reinforcement, provides peer support, and creates group identity. As
such, it can be very useful. Unfortunately, I believe the testimonial approach
can, if over-emphasized, stifle inquiry. And itÕs not uncommon for skepticism
to be met with hostility or condescension.
Coming from a strongly scientific background, I have an
innate skepticism about personal testimony. ÒI did this and it workedÓ doesnÕt really tell me anything.
After all, placebos Òwork.Ó Moreover, I tend to want to know if a practice or
principle is broadly applicable, so itÕs important to know how it works. So
when I look at Women For Sobriety, for example, I see a program which
emphasizes strong affirmation and self-esteem.
Since we donÕt take things on faith, folks from secular
programs tend to look at the underlying principles in more detail, to discuss
and analyze what others may simply accept. Telling us this is inappropriate, or
that it might be confusing to newcomers, is like telling us not to think. In
fact, when I was a newcomer to recovery it was exactly what I wanted. Some
people want to explore the causes of substance abuse, look at efficacy rates,
explore what has been shown to work and what hasnÕt. ThatÕs part of the process
by which we make our own path. And since non-faith-based programs emphasize
changing from within, that makes sense to us.