An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Scott »

Over the years in AA and CGAA, I have heard different ideas on what exactly is the "program of recovery" that works for people like us, and different stories on how it came about. I have wanted to write an essay on my experiences and what I've learned.

What is the recovery program of CGAA?

The recovery program of CGAA is the set of actions that our fellowship takes which helps us progress in recovery from video gaming addiction. What are the helpful actions that we can take? No two members will answer this question in exactly the same way, but if we ask many people, we will hear some of the same answers again and again. Here are some frequent ones:
  • Attending meetings.
  • Regularly talking with a sponsor.
  • Getting and using phone numbers.
  • Listening to stories of recovery and trying to identify rather than compare.
  • Striving for complete abstinence from gaming, one day at a time.
  • Working through the twelve steps formally with a sponsor.
  • Reaching out to newcomers.
  • Sharing experience, strength and hope with those still suffering.
  • Practicing gratitude and acceptance.
  • Reading recovery literature.
Is there a specific written list of such actions that members are required or expected to take? No. The one requirement for membership in CGAA is a desire to stop gaming. That's it—the beginning and end of the list of requirements. All suggested actions in CGAA are just that, suggestions.

If you attend meetings of a few different recovery fellowships, you will sooner or later hear someone say that the twelve steps are (i.e. encompass the entirety of) the recovery program, despite it being perfectly clear that the steps do not contain many of the actions that have helped members recover. The steps say nothing about meetings, sponsorship, fellowship, and abstinence—four vital foundation pieces for successfully recovering from addiction, all highly important in enabling the still suffering addict to get to a place where he or she can begin work on the twelve steps. Not only do the steps not encompass the entirety, they do not even comprise the foundation of a recovery program.

The steps have a specific purpose, to create connection to power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity and supply us with the additional strength and guidance necessary to overcome active addiction. The steps were not intended to be an exhaustive list of tools and suggestions. Eighty years of collective recovery experience have handed down a large toolbox of approaches that effectively enable addicts to abstain from active addiction in the short, medium, and long term and experience major improvements in all areas of their lives. The wide variety of effective tools and suggestions are communicated through recovery literature and the word-of-mouth program found in meetings and through sponsorship.

Since those of us who have worked the steps were unable to do so until we had achieved some length of abstinence, and since we were unable to abstain until we had the support of a fellowship, connection with other recovering addicts, mutual support, and abstinence comprise the foundation of recovery in CGAA, without which any further sustained progress seems impossible.

You might ask, if the steps do not comprise the whole program and mutual support fellowship is the bedrock of the program, why is it called a "twelve step program"? The simple answer is that a term coined for something new will invariably focus on one particular aspect that distinguishes it from similar things. When Alcoholics Anonymous started, support groups were not new; abstinence from alcohol was not new; fellowship was not new; holding meetings was not new. Of the several different aspects of AA, the distinguishing one was the twelve specific steps that outspoken AA co-founder Bill Wilson gave credit for solving his alcohol problem. Very naturally, when other mutual support fellowships began using the twelve steps, the public referred to them collectively as "twelve step programs."

Had the people of the 1940s and '50s coined the term "abstinence fellowship" to describe recovery fellowships, would that mean that abstinence comprises our whole program? Had they coined the term "meetings fellowship" or "sponsorship program" or "one-day-at-a-time program", would that mean that just meetings or just sponsorship or just the one-day-at-a-time approach comprise the whole program? Obviously, our program of recovery is not limited by the words used to name it. Labels are just labels.


To understand how an effective program of recovery from addiction developed, it helps to understand a particular genius of recovery fellowships, a dependence on addiction itself to weed out unworkable approaches. Combined with a lack of rules and an openness to guidance from higher power, each fellowship can allow complete freedom in how members attempt to stay abstinent, how groups carry their message to newcomers, and how sponsors guide newer people, trusting that any deviation from approaches that actually work will sooner or later die out as wayward members relapse and wayward groups disband.

When it comes to effectiveness, the most important factor is not that an approach must conform to the ideas of the earliest members of recovery fellowship. It is not that an approach must be found in the first known book about an anonymous recovery program. It is not that an approach must be contained within the twelve steps. For the suggestions of an effective recovery program, the overriding important factor is extremely simple. They must work. They must produce good results in abstaining from active addiction and turning one's life around for the better.

So what is the recovery program of CGAA? It is the collection of approaches that our members have found to work effectively over the short and long term in abstaining from active addiction and turning one's life around for the better. What is the brief, bullet-pointed, official CGAA description of this collection of approaches, this program of recovery? While some suggestions are made on the CGAA website, there is nothing that claims to outline the entire program. In time, we will try to capture much of our recovery program in a book of many pages, but not even a lengthy, unanimously approved basic text book will exhaustively describe our program.

Each of us will communicate our program differently as we speak at meetings, guide sponsees, and support each other. We will focus on some aspects at certain times and other aspects at other times. Our collective set of approaches will grow and evolve over time, same as it has in Alcoholics Anonymous over the past eight decades, with the guidance of power greater than ourselves adding helpful practices along the way and the harsh reality of addiction weeding out unhelpful approaches.

Let's look at a bit of history to better understand the relationship of the twelve steps to a recovery program. The twelve steps were written by one man, AA co-founder Bill W., who had just three years of recovery himself in a tiny fledgling fellowship with no experienced AA mentors to guide him, no decades of group experience to inform him, and no foretelling of the ways that AA would evolve, grow, and succeed in the future. He did his best to encapsulate within twelve steps what he currently understood to be making the difference in keeping him and his newfound fellowship sober. Had he waited to set down in writing the AA program until ten or twenty years later with the collective experience of a much larger fellowship to draw upon, he would have written the AA Big Book and the steps differently. Had authorship been collectively handled by all recovered AA members at the time, then too would the writings have been very different. (See "A Brief History of the Step Writings" at the end to learn more about AA authorship.) Maybe there would have been more or fewer steps. Maybe the steps would have included some of the actions we take and adjustments we make on our way to becoming ready to work Step One formally and admit powerlessness and unmanageability. The steps would not have been written exactly word-for-word as they are now. Bill W's written description of step work changed from six steps to twelve steps over the course of a few years. How much more would they have changed if more revisions had been made and if the AA fellowship as a whole had taken a hand in the writing?


Humans seem to have a tendency toward dogmatism, especially with writings and teachings from an earlier romanticized age and from people who have gained mythological status over time. This is a very natural tendency that makes good sense from the view of human evolution. For hundreds of thousands of years, human tribes and cultures handed down their collective wisdom and survival knowledge from generation to generation through stories, mythology, teachings, taboos, and tribal laws. For countless millennia, it had been in the best interest of the next generation of humans to accept without question the codified wisdom of its elders and ancestors.

Sometimes our inborn disposition toward dogmatism can make us closed minded and short sighted. We sometimes seem to have an innate desire to believe that the beliefs of wise deceased elders is infallible, that the generations of humans alive today are incapable of such wisdom, that old teachings can never be improved upon, and that the best attitude is unquestioning acceptance.

Early members of Alcoholics Anonymous did not revere co-founder Bill W. as a saint or his writings as gospel. Many of them had major issues with his book and the wording of his steps. As much as they loved and respected him, they were Bill's peers and knew him to be one drunk among many with one set of opinions among many and one set of experiences among many. It was only after the passage of some decades that AA members began to elevate this one alcoholic man to sainthood and infallibility, and to consider his writings to be official undisputed Divine Truth.

Bill himself wrote, "Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little." Later he lamented, "As time passes, our book literature has a tendency to get more and more frozen, a tendency for conversion into something like Dogma, a human trait I am afraid we can do little about."

We do not need to be trapped by this somewhat natural tendency. We can see that the recovery movement has grown and evolved over time. As one might expect, recovery fellowships have learned more over our eighty-plus years of existence than we did in our first few years. From the collective experience of thousands of groups and millions of members over several decades, we have learned much that the few earliest members were not capable of seeing from their vantage point. We can choose to humbly admit that every one of us has our strengths and weaknesses, that we are all capable of insight from experience, of connection to higher power, of wisdom, of discerning higher principles, and of communicating the lessons learned in a variety of ways that speak to a variety of people.

Of all the possible ways that various combinations of various members from various times, fellowships, and places could have written descriptions of the program of recovery from addiction, is it reasonable to think there should or could be exactly one version that is "the right one"? It seems clear that to the extent each version represents the honest understandings of recovering addicts sharing their experience in what transformed their lives, each and every version is valid. Each version contains value for newcomers trying to learn from those who have found success in escaping the ravishes of active addiction.

For illustrative purposes, here is an attempt to describe the honest understanding of a recovering addict sharing his experience in what transformed his life, based on his twenty years experience of seeing and hearing what worked well for others and discovering what worked well for himself. To be clear, this list of "steps" is not meant to be a replacement or improvement of the twelve steps. It is not meant to be exhaustively complete. It is not meant to be the "one right way" to communicate our program of recovery. It is simply meant to illustrate that valid and useful descriptions of our program can be written in many different ways.

Step A: We attended our first meetings and learned we were not alone.
Step B: We listened to the stories of other addicts in recovery and heard thorough honesty about their gaming behavior, its effects on their lives, and the attitudes that perpetuated it.
Step C: We became aware of our own denial around our addiction, saw how our problems were linked to our gaming behavior, and realized that maybe we were fooling ourselves when we said, "I can stop or cut back any time I want."
Step D: We became willing to abstain from gaming, one day at a time.
Step E: We attended meetings regularly and put in the time and effort necessary to prevent a relapse into active addiction.
Step F: We made social connections, at first in the meetings and later outside the meetings, with other people in recovery.
Step G: We became open to trying out the things that had worked well for those with long-term abstinence, and to emulate those who had turned their lives around in ways we found inspiring.
Step H: We got sponsors who could share their experience in working a program of recovery and guide us through step work.
Step I: We started formal written work on the twelve (numbered) steps with a sponsor.
Step J: We learned the value of serenity and the use of gratitude and acceptance to cultivate a sane, serene, useful, game-free life.
Step K: We took on group service positions, helped run meetings, and freely shared our experience, strength, and hope.
Step L: We helped create literature, extend outreach to professionals, build local fellowship, and find other ways to carry the message to those who still suffer.

Again, this description is not complete, not exhaustive, not the best possible wording, and not the best possible list. The point is that this description is a valid and useful sharing of experience that can guide those who come after us. It also contains many of the extremely helpful actions often suggested in our program that are not found within the twelve steps.

Why is it important to understand that the twelve steps are neither the entirety of the program nor the foundation of the program? What is the harm in believing or stating that the steps are our program of recovery, as long as we continue to use and advocate additional approaches like meetings, sponsorship, and abstinence?

The problem is that such a statement misleads the newcomers as to what solutions are available and suggested, by implying that no other solutions, tools, approaches, or suggestions exist in CGAA. It implies that someone who is not ready to start the steps by admitting powerlessness and unmanageability cannot work our recovery program. It implies that if you're not willing to work the twelve steps right now, then CGAA has nothing to offer you. These false implications cause real harm. A newcomer who might have been greatly helped by abstinence, meetings, fellowship, stories of recovery, overcoming denial, and feeling understood instead hears that CGAA is only for people who work the twelve steps. As someone who hasn't reached the point in recovery of readiness to do twelve step work, he or she can hear the message, "You're not one of us and we have nothing to offer you," and continue on his or her way down the spiral of self destruction in addiction.

For the good of the newcomers and the future generations of gaming addicts who seek recovery, and for our own good of building around ourselves a large and vibrant fellowship, we should do our best not to create additional obstacles to recovery. We need to help newcomers along at whatever stage they happen to be at, with whatever meager suggestions they might be ready to take, to maximize their chances of putting together days of game-free living and maximize our chances of planting seeds that may sprout in the future.

Does this mean that we should mostly keep quiet about the twelve steps or downplay them? Absolutely not. As with every single other suggestion of the program, we share our experience when relevant and make a suggestion when appropriate. If a brand-new newcomer contacts us and we suggest listening in on some meetings, we are not hiding the steps or downplaying them. We are simply making an appropriate suggestion to a particular person in a particular moment.

So, when is it appropriate to suggest step work? As with making any suggestion, that's a call each of us needs to decide. For me, no amount of hearing the steps read or seeing them on the walls or being told to work them helped me make one bit of progress on step work. What helped me was going to meetings, listening to others' experience, feeling understood and accepted, overcoming my denial, finding hope, deciding to try complete abstinence, taking it one day at a time, making some buddies in recovery, hearing about other people's positive experiences with the steps, and getting a sponsor. At that point, I was ready to take the suggestion to work the steps. At that point, it was appropriate and useful for my sponsor to suggest we formally start on Step One. So I too suggest the steps to sponsees and newer members when they reach the point of readiness. Until then, I suggest the tools that will help them become ready and I share my experience, strength, and hope from a life transformed by working our program of recovery.
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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Scott »

A Brief History of the Step Writings

The earliest account of the steps is of their use in the Oxford Group, a Christian group of the early 1900s. At the time that AA co-founder Bill W. was exposed to them, they consisted of about six steps that he later described as:

  1. Admitted hopeless

  2. Got Honest with self

  3. Got honest with another

  4. Made Amends

  5. Helped other without demand

  6. Prayed to God as you understand Him

After a few years of trying to help other alcoholics work the steps, as Bill said, "we had gradually evolved what we called the word-of-mouth program. Most of the basic ideas had come from the Oxford Groups, William James, and Dr. Silkworth. Though subject to considerable variation, it all boiled down into a pretty consistent procedure which comprised six steps. These were approximately as follows:

  1. We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.

  2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.

  3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.

  4. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.

  5. We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.

  6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts."

In 1939, Bill Wilson wrote the manuscript for the book Alcoholics Anonymous. He decided to expand the six steps into more detailed steps and wrote the first draft by himself in one sitting. From "Bill W." as written down by Robert Thomsen:

"When he had finished, he counted the steps he had outlined; there were twelve in all. For some reason this struck him as a significant number, and he added the steps to the opening section of Chapter Five.

"He was frankly pleased with what he had written, and was in no way prepared for the violent reaction when he read his twelve steps to the group a few nights later... There was far too much God talk in the steps. And why twelve steps? They'd been doing all right on five or six. If he wanted to talk about the spiritual, okay, but religion, never! It would only scare drunks away, and besides, the missions did the God bit and everyone knew missions always failed with alcoholics."

When asked about writing the twelve steps, AA co-founder Dr. Bob said, "I didn't write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them."

In speaking of the ensuing "battle over the book," Bill W. stated: "All this time I had refused to budge on these steps. I would not change a word of the original draft, in which, you will remember, I had consistently used the word 'God' . . . We [four people, one being the non-alcoholic secretary] finally began to talk about the possibility of compromise. Who first suggested the actual compromise words I do not know, . . . In Step Two we decided to describe God as a "Power greater than ourselves." In Steps Three and Eleven we inserted the words "God as we understood Him." . . . Such were the final concessions to those of little or no faith."

Over the next fourteen years, Bill worked a thorough recovery program and continued to grow, mature, and learn. At the 1953 General Service Conference of AA, old-timer Bill had this to say about the twelve steps written by newcomer Bill in 1939. From the GSC report:

Bill said he proposed to consider "whether this program of ours is frozen as solid as an ice cube, or whether there is any elasticity in it, whether we are going to get into this business of insisting on conformity, whether we are going to get into the business of creating an authority that says: 'These steps and traditions have to be this way.'

In one country, the Steps have been altered somewhat in phrasing and reduced to seven. "Do you think we should tell those people: 'You can't belong to Alcoholics Anonymous unless you print those Twelve Steps the way we have them?' No. They are merely going through the old pioneering process we had to go through ourselves."

Bill told of his surprise when he was presented with a proposed draft of revised Steps to be used in working with seamen who, he has been assured, "were not going to take the Twelve Steps the way they are written." Examining the revision, he was amazed to note that they corresponded, number for number, with the six steps in the original AA word-of-mouth program!

"Where variations of the traditions are concerned, we've gone up and down like a window shade. We even have a tradition that guarantees the right of any group to vary all of them, if they want to. Let's remember, we are talking about suggested steps and traditions. And when we say each group is autonomous, that means that it also has a right to be wrong.

"My feeling is that the more we insist on conformity, the more resistance we create. But if the traditions and steps reflect accurately what our experience has been, the alcoholic, no matter where in the world he may be, will eventually adopt the principles that will work the best for him. If our principles are correctly stated, he will adopt them. If any improvements are to come, who can say where they may come from?"
Last edited by Scott on Sun Aug 11, 2019 4:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Jeff »

Hear, hear.

It's hard to find something to add to this.  Very clear, Scott, and right on the money.  Let's all keep sharing our experience, strength and hope.
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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Alec86 »

Thank you, Scott. This was well-written and thorough. The piece validates my struggles with some aspects of the steps, and that CGAA worked for me before I even started working the steps: went to meetings, got a sponsor, got phone numbers, listened to and read others' stories, etc. In the face of dogmatism and rigidity I become resistant, defiant, and needing to control: thinking patters that lead me to addiction. A program that is flexible is the program that works for me, as I can meander in my own way towards the principles this program teaches.
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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Jeff »

I did think of one thing to point out here.  As I have continued in the program, I have been struck by the similarity between many of the principles we talk about (via the steps and the slogans that we use) with ancient wisdom from many sources.  I think not only of the Christian Bible (as Scott outlined, the connection there is obvious), but also about Eastern philosophy or religion, such as Buddhism or Taoism, and about the philosophy of the Stoics (I consider Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" to be an excellent example of "program literature that predates the program" and in fact, predates it by over 2000 years. 

In thinking about this, I am reminded that many of the early AA members (and probably the Oxford group as well) were influenced by the Theologian Matthew Fox, whose writings are quite progressive and were almost certainly influenced by D.T. Suzuki, who first brought Zen Buddhism to the U.S. in around 1900.  Thus the progressive "Christian" ideas of the time were in fact already being influenced by Eastern philosophy/religion.  

This helps me understand why I find so much of the "wisdom of the ages" in the program.  Addicts have created it to help ourselves recover, and it does, but in large part it seems we are re-inventing the wheel to do so.  It's not bad to do that--it works for us--but knowing that just helps me understand why sharing our experience strength and hope AND paying attention to "the program," in all its diverse incarnations, brings us around again to timeless and powerful lessons about how to live a good life. 

I have even found that people who aren't members of our fellowship, don't like the 12 steps, etc. and recover in a "different" way, actually (if you listen carefully to their story) tend to be using many of the principles we talk about and try to use here.  It seems to be the case that if you want to recover, you need to do some things that at least generally resemble the principles we follow, even if you use different language and do things in a different way.  

So I don't worry about the (seemingly) Christian origins of the program--underlying those origins is actually something both deeper and broader.
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An essay on the CGAA program of recovery

Post by Jeff »

One more thing. Here is a 1960 quote from Bill W. in an AA publication. This is when he had over 20 years in recovery. It's worth reading carefully. I have put one sentence in boldface; otherwise, the quote is exact:

"Newcomers are approaching A.A. at the rate of tens of thousands yearly. They represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable. We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion. In A.A. we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering. Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive; let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of A.A., so long as he or she so declares."

The publication is called "Many Paths to Spirituality" and can be found here: ... uality.pdf

I am glad that way we have expressed the steps in CGAA takes this more inclusive approach. If anyone reads this who has not read our statements of the steps (they are not different steps, just differently worded), they can be found here:

Last edited by Jeff on Sat Nov 02, 2019 7:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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