Mitchell Friedman The 12 Steps of Addiction Recovery Programs as an influence on leadership development: a personal narrative

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IJTR 2016; 3(2): Research Article Open Access Mitchell Friedman The 12 Steps of Addiction Recovery Programs as an influence on leadership development: a personal narrative DOI /ijtr
IJTR 2016; 3(2): Research Article Open Access Mitchell Friedman The 12 Steps of Addiction Recovery Programs as an influence on leadership development: a personal narrative DOI /ijtr received August 2016; accepted October 2016 Abstract: My participation in a 12-step addiction program based on the principles and traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been critical for my leadership development. As I worked to refrain from addictive behaviors and practiced 12-step principles, I experienced a shift from individualistic, self-centered leadership towards a servant leader orientation. I thus consider the 12-step recovery process, which commenced in 2001, a leadership formative experience (LFE) as it had the greatest influence on my subsequent development. My experience of thinking about and rethinking my life in reference to leadership and followership lends itself to a personal inquiry. It draws on work on the12 steps; self-assessments and personal journal entries; and memory of life events. I aim to contribute to the leadership development literature by exploring the influence of participation in a 12-step recovery program and posing it as an LFE, subjects that have received little attention. Keywords: Leadership; Leadership development; Followership; 12-step recovery programs; Personal inquiry 1 Introduction You can t stop a behavior. Nothing else is important. You re miserable. Your life is a shambles. You ve admitted you re addicted and cannot recover alone. So you ve decided to check out a 12-step program based on the principles and traditions of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). *Corresponding author: Mitchell Friedman, University of San Francisco, P. O. Box , San Francisco, CA I had arrived at the same realization when I attended my first 12-step meeting in June Now, over 15 years later, my life has changed for the better as it has for others grappling with the pernicious consequences of addiction to behaviors (e.g., smoking marijuana, gambling, compulsive eating, viewing pornography) or who are friends, family, or children of addicts coping with their relative s behaviors. One day at a time, I strive to abstain from compulsive behaviors while applying 12-step program principles to my entire life. I m more productive, engaged, and happier as a result. Kaskutas et al. (2014) differentiate between two types of recovery. Essential recovery involves learning how to be honest with oneself, handle negative feelings, and being able to enjoy life. Enriched recovery refers to a process of growth and development, reacting to life s ups and downs in a more balanced way, and taking responsibility for the things one can change. I ve long reflected on my enriched recovery, specifically the influence of participation in a 12-step program on my professional life. Within this domain I ve focused on how the principles and traditions of AA have shaped my leadership practice. Over the last several years, I have pondered the relative importance of influences (e.g., parents, work, graduate study in leadership) on my leadership development. I ve concluded that my recovery work has been the most significant. It fundamentally changed how I viewed myself as a leader and continues to shape related attitudes and behaviors. In other words, I consider my 12-step work to be a leadership formative experience without which I cannot imagine being leader I am today (Janson, Popper, Blyde, Markwick, & Ranatunga, 2008). Participation in an AA-related program has not been considered as an LFE, nor has leadership development in general been viewed through the lens of the 12-step addiction recovery program experience. How participation in a 12-step program based on the principles and traditions of AA has had consequences for leadership displayed by recovering addicts inside and outside the program, 2016 Mitchell Friedman published by De Gruyter Open This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. 16 Mitchell Friedman moreover, also has received limited attention (see Groves, 1972; Whiteside, 2013). My experiences in recovery over the last 15 years, presented in this personal inquiry, will address these topics. 2 Methodology This article challenged me to reflect on my self and experience at different times in recovery while embracing my own subjectivity, emotionality, and influence on my research. In the process I ve attempted to make 12-step work familiar to non-addicts, while melding personal narrative, traditional scholarly analysis, and connections to literature (Ellis, Adams, & Bochner, 2011; emerald & Carpenter, 2016). I draw on my work on each of the 12 steps; personal journals, leadership self-assessments completed as a doctoral student; and memory of life events. This effort enabled me to make meaning of my life from a new perspective. While I m anxious about making my 12-step experience known outside of program, I believe I m at a point in my life when I must. To deny the influence of this work on my leadership development would leave my story incomplete and less than what I consider authentic. I feel vulnerable but am willing to risk it. I ve opted to limit the focus of this inquiry to the experience of being a member of a program based on AA s principles and traditions, without disclosing my specific addiction. I m uncomfortable delving into these details. I feel such information could detract from more important messages I m trying to communicate. I also respect AA s tradition of anonymity, which urges members not to identify as alcoholics outside the room (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1981). I believe it supports my decision not to disclose participation in a specific 12-step program. That said, I speak for myself alone. I m not a designated 12-step program representative nor do I reflect the official perspective of AA or other 12-step programs. Finally, my reference to others perspectives on my leadership development is intentionally absent. My focus is intrapersonal. I draw on self-knowledge, self-regulation, and self-concept to attempt to make sense of life experience. While I retreated into my inner self to write this piece I knew I was not working in a vacuum. I recognized that leadership consists of leaders and followers so I constantly subjected reflections to experiences in these roles (Northouse, 2016; Shamir & Eilam, 2005; Sparrowe, 2005). 3 Leadership Formative Experiences (LFEs) Janson et al. (2008) observed that LFEs had potential to advance individual learning about leadership by encouraging reflection and discussion... (and) further sense making of the experience for leadership development (p. 20). The researchers attempted to shed light on inner reflective processes that contribute to the appraisal of certain types of experiences as formative. Those experiences were divided into categories: natural processes, when a leadership role was assumed; coping and struggle, which included an element of adversity; self-improvement, when a challenge was present; some evidence of being partly driven by a cause; a significant relationship with (real or symbolic) parents; and the prominence of role models. Study participants recalled self-improvement experiences first, although they were not necessarily viewed as formative when they occurred. Other findings suggest leadership learning material lay dormant within leaders and highlighted the potential for tapping into these experiences in ways not previously considered. Bennis and Thomas (2002) describe the process of making meaning out of difficult events, like Janson et al. (2008). They refer to them as crucibles that inspire individuals to cultivate their own distinctive leadership voice. The individual is transformed, changed, and created anew....the crucible is a dividing line, a turning point, and those who have gone through it feel that they are different from the way they were before (Bennis, & Thomas, 2002, p. 104). Like with LFEs, the individual determines whether or not an experience is a crucible. Most come about through naturalistic and accidental events, and are not deliberately planned (Kempster, 2007). The transformative quality of LFEs/crucibles resonates with my self-assessment of leadership development while participating in a 12-step addiction recovery program based on AA. The following narrative illustrates this point. 4 What it was like as a leader before I entered recovery During the initial phase of my career (1980s-2000) I had never doubted that I was a leader given experiences as a public relations consultant, officer in professional organizations, and university instructor. In fact, it was part of The 12 Steps of Addiction Recovery Programs as an influence on leadership development my self-concept (Kouzes, 1998; Shamir & Eilam, 2005). I believed I possessed leadership traits such as intelligence, determination, integrity, and sociability. I considered myself a trusted advisor, the individual clients turned to when an issue demanding immediate attention first arose (Maister, Green, & Galford, 2000; Northouse, 2016). In general, I was at this point a formal leader in title by virtue of my talents, energy, sociability, and hard work. I demonstrated skill in organizing groups of people for a common purpose, and a gift for connecting people with each other for their mutual benefit. I was learning to use the legitimate power vested in me by virtue of my roles, and was slowly developing my potential for referent power (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006). I also was energized by what I believed I could achieve as an informal leader, a feeling magnified by the positive feedback I received from clients and peers. Leadership was more about doing than being, however, and looking good was my paramount consideration. I used my intellectual and persuasive talents to this end. For example, I memorized Catholic Social Teaching while consulting with a faith-based organization. I recited it so passionately that some people believed I had converted to Catholicism. I basked in this positive attention. My subsequent 12-step work also illuminated a profound unease with the world that fostered self-centered, rude, and inappropriate behavior during this period in my life. I did not understand emotions, and felt unable to regulate my own as a person more sensitive to emotional intelligence might attempt to do (Schutte, et al., 1998). I remained oblivious to my impact on others, moreover. I didn t care about other people beyond their role in completing a project. My goal was to complete a job quickly, well, and be recognized for it. From a more positive perspective, I was fully committed to being all I could be and making a difference (Shamir & Eilam, 2005). I also struggled to deal with supervisors who I felt oversaw my work too closely, were unforgiving of mistakes, and obsessed about seemingly unimportant details (White, 2010). More importantly, I believed they were less capable than me and constantly wondered why didn t they recognize my superior talent. In short, I felt my career and life had stagnated as I approached my 40 th birthday in I felt acutely alone and had very few people I could call friends. I was frustrated, depressed, bitter, and angry. I seemed to be in a consistently foul mood that adversely colored my interactions and decision-making (George, 2000). I generally felt lethargic and believed I would never to be able to pull myself out of rut I was in (Friedman, 2016). I held dearly onto the belief that outcomes in my life were primarily the result of luck and fate, moreover. I consistently felt like a victim despite a belief in my superior intellect and good intentions (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013). I felt powerless to change. 5 What happened In short, I couldn t figure out what was wrong much less how to change it. Perhaps that realization allowed me to begin to grasp the magnitude of certain behaviors that had become central to my life during the late 1990s. They were increasingly compulsive, consuming, and demoralizing. Moreover, these behaviors threatened to upend the longterm relationship with my wife as she had grown tired of surly demeanor and emotional unavailability. This growing realization led me to admit to myself I was an addict for the first time in late I struggled to cease my addictive behaviors until my wife confronted me on February 2, That s the day I first admitted I was an addict out loud. I felt a deep sense of relief, yet feared what would happen next. I began attending meetings of a 12-step program based on the principles and traditions of AA a few months later. For the first two to three months I believed sharing the nature of my behaviors with others would suffice. It hadn t yet occurred to me that there was more to membership in a 12-step program than talking and listening. The 12-steps were intellectually appealing yet little more than that at this point. While I had ceased my addictive behaviors, I remained angry, negative, and critical of others. Then I had what I later learned was a spiritual experience (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001, p. 567). As I listened to addicts speak at a Saturday morning meeting, I felt the power of a voice that no one else could hear. It cried out, Mitchell, you need to work the steps. I didn t know whose voice it was. I didn t even know what was involved in working the steps. I recognized, however, that I was powerless over the addiction. I knew what I had to do. I would work the steps, not simply memorize them, to recover from addiction (Dossett, 2013; Valerde & White-Mair, 1999). To paraphrase AA s core text ( The Big Book, ) I was ready to act myself into a new way of thinking, not think myself into a new way of acting (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). 18 Mitchell Friedman 6 My participation in a 12-Step Addiction Recovery Program So I began my 12-step journey. I worked to abstain from addictive behaviors while redirecting every aspect of my life with each of the 12 steps in mind. These 12 steps of AA are: 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable; 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him; 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves; 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs; 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character; 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings; 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all; 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others; 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it; 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out; and 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001, p. 59, 60). I came to some powerful realizations about my prior life as I started to work the steps with a sponsor, an addict like me who had worked all the steps. First, I had cultivated beliefs that left me unhappy and incapable of making progress towards my goals. I delineated these beliefs and underlying assumptions as part of my first step work. In my words, (A)ddiction has been about the following: a feeling of moral, intellectual, and social superiority; withdrawal from others and life based in part on these feelings of superiority; a feeling of not being worthy, especially intellectually and socially; self-pity; anger; always having to be right; the need to control people, places, and events in my life; living small; avoiding risk or uncertainty; not spending money on myself; impatience and intolerance of others shortcomings; using humor and other techniques to avoid dealing with difficult subjects and/ or talking about myself; indecisiveness; self-centeredness; no real sense of boundaries in relationships; not standing up for myself and stating what I wanted; and an overwhelming feeling of being scattered, unfocused, and out of control socially, intellectually, and professionally (May 28, 2002). Building on these realizations, I committed in steps 2 and 3 to stop trying to control people and events by turning my thoughts, words, and deeds over to the care of a Higher Power of my understanding. That meant that even as a leader I would no longer be in charge; any efforts to try to control people or events would be futile. Step 4 asked me to list and analyze my resentments, or feelings of bitterness or anger towards a person, place, institution, or condition. The effort took over a year to complete the first time and consisted of 87 single-spaced pages. Here are two examples of resentments I identified. Resentment: Gossip Cause: People not talking about themselves; negative, catty, and petty. Might be talking about me if they re talking about others. Affects My: Willingness and ability to talk about myself. Focus on the positive and what s right as opposed to what s wrong in others. Being in the present and with people. Exact nature of my wrong, defect or shortcoming: Wanting to control what others do and fear of what others will think/say about me, about which I also have no control and need not concern myself with. Taking things personally. Resentment: San Francisco Board of Supervisors Cause: Support legislation inconsistent with key day to day issues in the city. They re idealogues. Political correctness matters most. Affects My: Interest in city affairs and politics. I view them as a lost cause. I remain uneducated and uninvolved. Exact Nature of My Wrong, Defect, or Shortcoming: Trying to control others. Wanting things my way. Black and white thinking they re wrong, I m right (April 10, 2003). I presented these resentments to my sponsor during 2 four-hour sessions. This effort constituted the fifth step. The most striking conclusion that I drew from this experience was the extent to which anger had dominated my life. I felt foolish realizing how trivial matters had consumed so much of my energy. I left my sponsor s home exhausted after completing this fifth step. Yet as I approached my car I felt an incredible sense of relief, like 20 pounds had instantaneously been lifted from my body. Countless sources of anger, bitterness, and frustration had been excised. I felt lighter The 12 Steps of Addiction Recovery Programs as an influence on leadership development and happier. I sensed my worldview was changing for the better. The next two steps offer a means of identifying and letting go of what blocked me from being useful to others, my Higher Power, and myself (Pittman & Weber, 1992). My initial effort on step 6 led me to identify 25 character defects, or things in myself I found objectionable (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001) that accompanied my addictive behavior. These included waiting for things to happen; wanting things my way; wanting to control things; thinking endlessly and exclusively about the future; self-pity; perfectionism; and having to be right on all occasions. I came to see how these and other defects had (and still have) severe negative consequences. My defects have kept and continue to keep me alone, isolated, angry, shut down... and unwilling or unable to engage others. My defects are a black hole for my energy, leading me to become trapped in a spiral of anger, bitterness, and frustration. I end up leading a life that s conservative, safe, and small... My defects have contributed to a sense of hopelessness... They ve kept me from being present, fully engaged, and av
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