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12 Steps not the only way

The hallowed 12 Steps no longer are considered gospel truth.

Groups such as Rational Recovery Systems, Secular Organization for Sobriety and Women for Sobriety object to the 12 Steps' emphasis on spirituality and admission of powerlessness to begin recovering from alcohol abuse. Their theme, instead, is self-reliance.

A new book by Minneapolis psychologist Charlotte Davis Kasl confronts the mystique that has grown up around the 12 Steps _ the backbone of Alcoholics Anonymous _ and questions their relevance to those who use them to grapple with issues from co-dependency to racism to homophobia.

Be forewarned, however: In the course of reworking the 12, she came up with 16.

In Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps, Kasl has developed 16 Steps that emphasize helping people to rely on themselves for guidance and strength. She also takes exception to the male perspective that she believes is represented by the 12 Steps.

"As women," she writes, "we are hungry for words that speak to us and name our experience."

Kasl looks at addiction from a political viewpoint, contending it is interwoven into sexism, racism, homophobia, drug abuse, homelessness and child sexual abuse.

She doesn't trash the 12 Steps, believing that their creator, Bill Wilson, could not have known how central these issues would become when he developed his alcoholism recovery program for white, middle-class Christian men of the 1930s.

AA takes a neutral stance on the alternative methods. "We in AA, we're all amateurs here. We take no position on anyone else's approach," said a spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services in New York.

Kasl's interviews cut across a wide swath of society: American Indians, blacks, rural women, New Age adherents and poor people.

"If there is anything I learned and relearned, it's that people heal and grow in immensely different ways and there is a great deal to be learned through listening to others tell their stories and share their beliefs," she says.

The book stemmed from her own frustrations with the 12 Steps' emphasis on humility and submission. "What was lacking was any idea of a strong, healthy ego, an affirmation of talent and strength," Kasl said. "That may have been useful for working with privileged white males to break down an inflated ego, but this is not what a battered woman in poverty needs to hear."

She is careful not to encourage reliance on any one program, which is her major complaint against Alcoholics Anonymous: "It postures itself as the one and only way. Zillions of people get well without any 12-Step ropes.

"Some very nice people have a hard time maintaining sobriety and some very disagreeable people stay sober. So much of it is in thinking for yourself. Empowerment is about finding your own voice, which we need to do in this culture so we're not blown around by slippery rhetoric and political speeches."

She encourages people to use her 16 Steps only as a guide and to personalize them.

For example, her Fourth Step is, "We examine our beliefs, addiction and dependent behavior in the context of living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture."

One man personalized this to be, "Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of who we are, and understand the symbolic meaning of each of the four directions."

The more people feel that the steps fit their lives, she said, the more successful they will be at addressing their problems.

"We don't need gurus here. We need a bunch of empowered people.'