You’re Eligible Too (YET): A Trauma-Informed Challenge to 12-Step Slogan

Early in my journey of recovery I often heard people in 12-Step meetings say, “You’re Eligible Too” or YET. The phrase often invoked when a person at the meeting shared something like “I’ve never had a DWI” or “I haven’t lost my house due to my addiction.” Members of 12-Step fellowships use this phrase as a warning sign that addiction can cause us to lose more if we do not change our old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. As a person in long-term recovery and as an addictions specialist I have been guilty of using this slogan to warn people what they can lose. I agree not changing old patterns can create more damage in our lives. However, I feel this recovery slogan needs challenged. The way YET is used in the 12-Step communities shames people. The phrase is often used to tell recovery-seekers that there exist worst outcomes in their future if the person is not careful or steadfast in their recovery. The slogan creates fear that bad events may continue to happen. Withdrawal from any addictive behaviors already cause enough anxiety. we do not need to pile on more anxiety or shame.  Promoting a fear of the YETs hinders progress in recovery. Long-term recovery cannot be sustained through fear. 12-Step programs saved my life and I am forever indebted to recovery for the fullness of life I have today. Unpacking trauma and wounding within the framework of 12-Step spirituality necessitates that we revisit slogans and other pearls of wisdom.  

 We need to promote hope in recovery. 

I never thought in my wildest dreams that recovery would relieve me of my suffering. Recovery is about sharing our experience, strength, and hope with another person. Hope grew inside me from listening to other recovery seekers. When I first began my journey, I thought active addiction would consume my life to its bitter end. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. In my addictive mindset I was destined to die in a state of hopelessness of mind and body. As I listened, however, to the pain and the transformation shared in 12-Step leads I began to see that if I did my emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual work that I too would be eligible for the reprieve from active addiction. Recovery is an active verb. It requires us to heal old wounds, to look inside and confront what might be uncomfortable, absorb wisdom contained in every experience, and forge a path toward a more adaptive lifestyle. I began to witness that I was eligible for and deserving of this transformation.

EMDR therapy in combination with 12-Step work, sponsorship, and putting the program into practice in all areas of my life helped me see that I was eligible for good things recovery had to offer. Being a survivor of complex trauma, I was skeptical if someone said I could experience good things in life. I recall a disconnect at meetings when I watched people smiling and experiencing the gifts of recovery. The adaptive information processing model, a central paradigm of EMDR therapy, helped me make sense of why I could not connect to the positive aspects of recovery that I watched in others. The wounds I endured early in life which continued well into recovery were unhealed. In order to connect to positive beliefs or emotions I had to clear out the old images, sensations, thoughts, and emotional disturbances connected to past emotional wounding.

Through EMDR reprocessing I was able to move from a survivor of wounding and traumatic events to a thriver who embraced the fullness of life. With each memory that we processed I felt lighter and freer. I felt that I could live what Jon Kabat-Zinn often called the full catastrophe living. No longer did I see the phrase “you’re eligible too” as shameful. I began to see it as an opportunity for growth. Recovery from addictions and trauma are not linear processes. There is no one manualized way to find recovery. I began to trust the process. I relied on a power greater than myself which at times was a 12-Step meeting, an EMDR session, the universe/G-d/Creator/Buddha to guide me through the healing work. Clearing each memory channel allowed me gain perspective. No longer did I have to carry old information and ways of thinking about myself into the present moment. I could see those events as historical facts and ones that shaped my life’s course. In healing the past, I was able to discover a clear vision of what I wanted in life. It was no longer acceptable to me to be on the sidelines watching life pass me by. Recovery and therapy guided me into action.

I remember being given instruction once that we are the company we keep. I took YET to mean if I surrounded myself with people who were growth oriented than I would open myself up to new opportunities. I have choices today thanks in part to EMDR therapy and programs of recovery like SAA & AA. I can choose to look at the YET slogan as a negative (waiting to find the next trap door) or a positive (more will be revealed if I do the work).  

Wounding and addiction are often paired together. It is important for recovery communities to consider the impact of trauma and wounding when conveying a message. Carrying the message forward to the next person who seeks recovery is powerful. We have choices on how to deliver that message in ways that will inspire and motivate each seeker to continue their journey. Remember fear hijacks the brain. Slogans which perpetuate fear have no place in recovery. In my journey of healing I can see a shift in how I no longer live in a state of fear. From this place of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness I can speak about what life used to be like, what happened, and what it is like now in a way that shows others that they are eligible for a meaningful and purposeful life and long-term recovery. 

When we work with others whether as treatment providers or people in recovery, we must consider the words we speak and write. Language is powerful. If what I have written stirs something inside you, take some time to sit with what has come up. Consider the fear-based message heard, if any, when you first started your journey of recovery and its effects on your mind, body, and spirit. Take a few moments to inventory the ways fear has invaded your daily life. Perhaps you can identify specific people who instilled hope in what positive things you can achieve in recovery. Identify some characteristics of what drew you towards them.

2 thoughts on “You’re Eligible Too (YET): A Trauma-Informed Challenge to 12-Step Slogan

  1. Michael I really appreciate your posts. It really speaks to me. When I finally got sober 30 years ago those slogans were treated as gospel. I came in with a whole lot of baggage from abuse and those slogans at times reinforced the abuse. There are so many examples but one of my favorites was “fear is lack of faith”. Because I lived in fear I never thought I had faith. I had lack of fear when I was hanging out in the South Bronx in the 70’s shooting dope. (Now I know that wasn’t lack of fear – it was just crazy). Then I come into recovery and of course I had fear. Rather than learning that was a healthy response to pay attention to, I judged it as something being wrong with me.

    I have a great program of recovery, except that there was always that part of me that was still buying those old judgements. It was not until I heard other people openly talk about all the ghosts that I could really honor my own experience. When I got sober, after multiple traumas, I was told that I could work on the trauma “later”. That just reinforced the parts I had and the shame. I am glad you are writing about this. We really need more open discussion. Despite all this it is a beautiful journey!

  2. Lauraine Alice Peterson October 13, 2020 — 7:03 am

    Wellness is a conscious decision to change, with lots of small steps that develop healthy behavior and coping skills. Along the way we need a friend who you can lean on for support, unconditional and tough Love.

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