Originally published in 1994, “A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps” is considered a landmark book in the addiction field. It has sold more than 300,000 copies.
What makes the workbook so successful is the down-to-earth yet enlightening way in which its author, Patrick Carnes, writes. His approach is realistic and practical. His wisdom and knowledge are seemingly unparalleled.
In the latest edition of his classic text, he adds worthwhile information, while keeping what has made the book so important.
“One of the hallmarks has been that anybody can use it. It works for all kinds of addicts; it works for co-addicts; it doesn’t matter what fellowship you are in. Each edition of the book provides a concrete, structured way to implement what the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous discovered and described in the 1930s. It gives readers a focused path for integrating the Twelve Steps into their lives in a practical, doable way. With each new edition, my goal has been to make that path clearer, more helpful, and more profound.”
What distinguishes the latest edition from its predecessors is new information about addiction discovered through neuroscience research. Inserted before the first chapter is an essay titled “The Neuroscience of Recovery,” it gives a brief yet detailed overview of how addiction affects the brain, and what can be done to reverse any damage.
Many of the exercises and discussions from previous versions have also been expanded upon in light of this new information. The basic premise is essentially the same. It is only the level of understanding that has changed.
As Carnes writes: “Thanks to recent developments in neurology, radiology, and genetics, we now have a clear picture of how addiction takes hold in the human brain. We also have solid scientific evidence that working a Twelve Step program literally rewires our brains for recovery.”
After the initial essay, he writes a little about the program and what to expect. He also discusses why people are addicts and how they can learn to take control of their lives. The key is no secret: the famous “Twelve Steps.”
The bulk of the book is devoted to Step One, admitting powerlessness. Since this is without question the hardest step for any addict, it’s sensible and appropriate that he devotes so much space to it. It is important to set the groundwork and make sure everything is in order before moving on. After all, for most addicts, this is the biggest decision of their lives.
Most of it is interactive, with Carnes providing some preliminary orientation before asking the reader to supply his personal information. Some of the things he asks for from the reader include:
* Meaningful, personal affirmations.
* An inventory of the consequences of the habit.
* A family tree of addiction.
* Personal history of addiction.
* Reflections on the habit.
After going through a litany of necessary exercises, Carnes writes a bit before moving on to Step Two:
“The most important element of recovery is the ability to choose. Addiction robs much of our power of choice by hijacking our brain, over and over, until we become powerless over our addiction and our life becomes unmanageable. But addiction does not take away every choice from us. In Step One, we choose to acknowledge our powerlessness and admit what our life has become. We accept our limitations and the realities that addiction presents to us.
“This Step connects us to memories that show us how our addicted brain has seduced and hijacked us. These memories help us wake up to how cunning addiction is. We can look back and see that many of the decisions our addicted brain made were harmful ones. Only then can we begin to recognize the stinking thinking that is part of our addiction. Only then can we begin to know what wise decisions look like.”
“A Gentle Guide Through the Twelve Steps” is not really a book for educational purposes. Yes, it is written by an expert and it is certainly informative.
However, its primary purpose is to be used as a workbook or a guidebook. In this way, it’s meant for people currently going through, or thinking about going through, the twelve steps.
And for those who do make the leap, there probably isn’t a better place to start.
A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps: The Classic Guide for All People in the Process of Recovery
Patrick Carnes, PhD
Paperback, 340 pages
Hazelden, Third Edition published May 2012