Should one study the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and related “12-STEP” programs, the inclusion of Judea-Christian and Eastern principles become obvious. Written specifically as a prescription for alcoholics in 1939 by “the original 100,” AA has remained a refuge for literally millions of people throughout the world who, otherwise, might not be able to abstain from their dependence on alcohol. In fact, when the tenants of AA have been tailored for those with other substance and behavioral “addictions,” the sheer numbers of people given an opportunity to benefit from these programs is nothing less than staggering. Although these programs do not lay claim as the only path to recovery, they appear unmatched when followed as prescribed.
After being introduced to a 12-step program myself and having the experience of “working the steps,” I became acquainted with another program. Originally an amalgamation of “mental health treatments” and eastern philosophies and practices, this approach to living came to be known as Constructive Living. In fact, in 1984 a concise description of this was written in the form of a text, Constructive Living, by David Reynolds, 1984.
Constructive Living is a term coined by David Reynolds, PhD. Dr. Reynolds has held a faculty position at the University of California’s Medical School, Department of Psychiatry. Trained initially as an anthropologist, Reynolds lived and studied eastern philosophies and the practice of psychiatry and psychology in Japan for more than three decades. CL is his attempt interpret and bring the “Western” version of this treatment approach to both professionals and “patients” alike.
To tailor CL to those familiar with the principles of 12-Step recovery, I have distilled the essence of this discipline with this brief article. I would add I continue to experience CL both as a “teacher” and “student.” To be clear, CL offers a complementary piece to what existing 12-step programs bring to the table. CL’s tenants are intended to be congruent with the existing principles of recovery and serve as an “add on” rather than replacement strategy. CL is intended for all who wish to experience this “life-way” and seek to build on a life worth living.
THE SIX PRINCIPLES OF CONSTRUCTIVE LIVING
- FEELINGS ARE UNCONTROLLABLE DIRECTLY BY SELF WILL
- FEELINGS MUST BE RECOGNIZED AND ACCEPTED “AS IS”
- EVERY FEELING, NO MATTER HOW UNPLEASANT, HAS A PURPOSE
- FEELINGS CHANGE OVER TIME UNLESS RE-STIMULATED
- FEELINGS / THOUGHTS CAN BE INDIRECTLY INFLUENCED BY BEHAVIOR
- WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT WE DO NO MATTER HOW WE FEEL
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT FEELINGS…
- Feelings cause us to do what we do.
- We must “fix feelings somehow in order to get on with our lives.
- We have hidden [unconscious] feelings lurking in our psyches.
- Getting in touch with hidden feelings and letting them out is possible and necessary.
- “How do you feel about that?” should be the basic query in psychotherapy.
- “Working through” an issue / feeling, etc. is necessary in order to change [recover].
- Feelings must change to be motivated to change behavior[s].
- MAXIMS – ADDICTION
- MOST, IF NOT ALL ADDICTIONS, ARE ABOUT ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL OR MANIPULATE FEELINGS…
- MOST, IF NOT ALL OF RECOVERY, IS ABOUT CULTIVATING THE DISCIPLINE OF TRANSCENDING FEELINGS AND THEN DOING THE NEXT RIGHT THING…
- RECOVERY BEHAVIOR IS ABOUT DOING GOOD AND NOT ALWAYS FEELING GOOD
- ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR IS USUALLY ABOUT OUR DEMAND TO FEEL GOOD OR AVOID DISCOMFORT RATHER THAN DO GOOD
- RECOVERY AS IN LIFE, WE MAY BE DOING GOOD AND FEELING BAD, AND CONVERSELY, DOING BAD AND FEELING GOOD AT THE TIME.
- FEELINGS TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES OVER TIME
CL AND 12-STEP PROGRAMS- SIMILARITIES
- “Judged by our actions and not intentions” – What we do has priority over “fixing” how we feel
- Living in the solution rather than the problem…
- Acceptance of reality [“radical acceptance” of self and others]
- Doing the next right thing despite feelings [fear, anger, jealousy, etc.]
- Responsible for what we do and the consequences [good or bad]
- Graditude [Naikan from CL]
- Knowing what we can change and what we cannot change
- Mindfullness [living in the present, each moment a new one]
CL PRINCIPLES AND 12-STEP RECOVERY
- MAKING AMENDS [NAIKAN – “WHAT HAVE I TAKEN, WHAT HAVE I GIVEN BACK, WHAT TROUBLES HAVE I CAUSED”]
- WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR FEELINGS
- WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE OUR THOUGHTS EITHER
- WE ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR OUR ACTIONS
- GETTING AWAY FROM SELF-FOCUS – APPROPRIATE DISTRACTION
- RESTRAINT OF ACTION [TOLERANCE, PATIENCE] – [FEELINGS FADE OVER TIME UNLESS RESTIMULATED] – “RESTRAINT OF TONGUE AND PEN”
- NEITHER A 12-STEP PROGRAM OR CL IS A FORM OF “THERAPY” – RATHER BOTH ARE A DISCIPLINE AND LIFESTYLE
- CL PRINCIPLES AND 12-STEP PRGRAMS
- MEDITATION / REFLECTION [STEP 11] – [Naikan Approach]
- BOTH RECOGNIZE SELF WILL AND RELIANCE ON A SOURCE OTHER THAN SELF
- TO FEEL GRATITUDE, LOVE, HEALTHY, ETC., ONE MUST DO GRATEFUL, LOVING, HEALTHY BEHAVIORS.
- REFLECTION / MEDITATION LEADS TO “RIGHT BEHAVIOR”
- BOTH ENCOURAGE DOING POSITIVE DEEDS WITHOUT SEEKING ACKNOWLEDGEMENT [GIVING ANONYMOUSLY]
- FEELINGS FADE IN TIME / “WILL NOT REGRET THE PAST” [AA BIG BOOK]
- SELF-ESTEEM NECESSITATES DOING ESTEEMABLE THING
When practiced as a discipline, the benefits of constructive living are understood rather than being a forgotten intellectual exercise. It is often said, to read something will be quickly forgotten, to see something it may or may not be remembered, to do something and experience it is likely to result in understanding it.
The basic premise of CL is to put “right action” in front of fixing feelings. It is to accept reality as it presents itself, to place our energies as to solve problems and minimize dwelling on circumstances [people, places, and things] we find unacceptable. Another aspect of this lifeway is in the form of gratitude and mindfulness. Although not given ample space in this summary, it stems from another aspect of Eastern philosophy – namely we are given to default into what we lack rather than what we have, what we have been given rather than what we have given back to. Known in CL as Naiken philosophy, it suggests we ask ourselves three basic questions: 1. What have I taken from…, 2. What have I given back to…, and 3. What troubles have I caused… In brief, these concepts underscore the principles of gratitude, acceptance, and service suggested as cornerstones of both 12-step and CL programs.