Author Dan Griffin on his book, A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps, his curriculum, Helping Men Recover, and his mission.
1. Why do you do this work?
I have been in recovery for almost 20 years, and I have watched men struggle with some very powerful demons in their sobriety. I have watched them question almost everything that they thought was true about them and their lives. What I see many men running up against– whether it is while they are in the throes of their addiction, early in recovery, or after having been sober for many years–are the scripts they follow about being men. Those are some of the most powerful scripts we have to follow as human beings – the ones that tell us how we are supposed to act as men and women.
A lot of men do not see the scripts – they think it is simply how they are. I have sat in rooms all around the country and listened to men of all ages and from all walks of life share openly and vulnerably about who they are. And, who those men are and how they share themselves and live their lives as men in recovery is so different from how most of our society thinks about men. That is a story that needs to be told and I am privileged enough to be one of the men to help tell it. I got sober just before my twenty-second birthday and I did not have a clue about how to be in recovery or how to be a man. The men of the Twelve Step community gave me guidance and continue to show me the way. I wanted to share what I have learned and tell this amazing story about men in the Twelve Step culture.
2. What do you want men to get out of your work?
I want men to truly choose how they want to live their lives as men. The scripts for men tend to be narrow and we do not view most of the “rules” for being men as made up. Men are dying every day from addictions – every day – and they are destroying the lives of those around them along the way. First and foremost, I would like more men to get sober, stay sober, and have incredibly fulfilling lives. I want men to feel utter permission to be themselves regardless of what other people think or what they think other people will think about them. I am convinced most of the problems of this world are caused by people trying to be something they are not because they have turned their back on themselves. When men realize that they really can define who they want to be in this world the “rules” that they follow become less important – or at least less obligatory. My hope for men – as well as myself – is to experience life as fully as possible and discover the joy of being ourselves – regardless of what the “rules” say. Many of the men I interviewed for the book spoke of how much freer they feel to be themselves now that they are in recovery. Recovery has given these men – and those who love them – the greatest gift of all: themselves.
3. How do you see your book and your curriculum achieving this goal?
The two work together very well. The curriculum was written for men in treatment. It is designed to help professionals better engage men in the treatment process and provide them more effective skills for achieving long-term quality recovery. The curriculum, while written for drug addiction, is being used for treating men with sex, gambling, and other addictions as well as for working with sex offenders, domestic violence programs, father’s programs, and even church groups. The
curriculum is an interactive experience for men to undertake in treatment–though he doesn’t have to be in treatment. But it usually works best with the supervision of a trainer or counselor at the treatment center.
The book is written for men in recovery and those who love them – after they have come out of treatment. It’s organized as guide through the steps, how men are uniquely challenged in each, and quotes of the 22 men I interviewed. It is the first ever trauma-informed book written for men in twelve step recovery. This books serves as an excellent additional resource for men working the Steps of recovery and engaged in the Twelve Step culture.
I have the honor of going around the country and training counselors and giving talks at conferences about how we can improve services for men and more effectively deal with men’s trauma. At the end of the day it is all about giving men a better chance at staying sober. And when we do that we give women and children a better chance at having good, happy, and productive lives.
4. Where did you first get the idea for your book?
I began studying gender toward the end of my undergraduate career pretty much as a fluke. Then, I got sober right before I graduated from college. When I first got into recovery I heard men talking about their inner lives in a way that I had never experienced before. While I knew all of the different emotions, doubts, insecurities, and struggles that I had I did not really think other men experienced them as well. I had learned early that one of the “rules” is that you keep those things to yourself. But in the Twelve Step culture men were publicly admitting to feeling scared, confused, or even hurt. They opened up about their struggles and doubts. I saw men hugging men because they cared about each other! I also saw men exhibiting what is best about traditional masculinity: honesty, integrity, accountability, and responsibility.
The longer I stayed sober and immersed myself in the Twelve Step culture the more I became convinced that there was something special happening. I made the subject the focus of my graduate work and as I interviewed men in recovery for my thesis it became clear to me that masculinity in the Twelve Step culture was different – whether men recognized it or not. It was then I decided that this would be the first book I wrote – a dream of mine since a child. It then took me another ten years to truly be ready to write a book like this. I had a lot of work I needed to do as a man, first.
5. How could your work help men struggling with addiction?
Many men have conversations inside of them that they keep as secrets from themselves as well as others. Addiction fuels those secrets. The longer people sit with secrets the easier it is for them to believe those secrets. I want men to see themselves in my book and in the curriculum and to read about ideas and challenges with which they are constantly struggling but keep to themselves because of how they have been trained to be men. I would like for men to let go of the secrets and experience freedom from their addictions. I want to give words to what so many have difficulty giving words to – so that more men may find the incredible gift of recovery, not just sobriety.
6. How can your work help men already in recovery?
Men in recovery are the perfect group to read my book because they are predisposed toward talking about their inner lives. They would also get a lot out of going through the Helping Men Recover workbook by themselves or as a group. It is an expectation in the Twelve Step culture that men learn how to talk about their feelings and that, and many other expectations that break the rules for being a man, help prepare men to have tough conversations. But, the Twelve Step culture has been surprisingly quiet about men’s anger, abusiveness, sexism, homophobia, general immaturity, sexual confusion, unaddressed grief, and general relationship struggles. I want to raise the bar, end the secrets, and put everything on the table that is limiting the recovery of so many men. There is nothing more powerful than a grown man living his mission in this world and the Twelve Steps are incredible tools to help men grow up – if they use them and are challenged by other men to do so as well. Both of my books do just that!
7. Why is work like this important?
Men are suffering and many of them do not realize that they do not have to suffer. I had a voice inside of me for a very long time telling me that I was “not man enough”. What I have come to learn is a lot of men have that same voice and many of them do not distinguish it as a voice but rather they live with it as a truth about who they are. And so they spend a lot of time trying to get rid of the voice by proving that they are “man enough.” They do it by following the rules regardless of the costs. They live with that voice long into their recovery. A lot of men yearn for fuller and deeper connections with other human beings but they simply do not know how to do it or think they do not deserve them because of all of the pain they have caused others. I want men to know that they are not alone in their suffering and that the Twelve Steps can liberate them far more than they may have ever thought.
8. What do you want women to get out of your work?
I want women to experience the men -husbands, lovers, brothers, fathers, friends, and co-workers – that they know their men can be. My experience is that women are very patient with us and forgive much of our immaturity and even inappropriateness because they can also see what is best about us. The work that many brave women, like Dr. Stephanie Covington who wrote A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps, have been doing over the years, especially in recovery, will always be limited if we, men, are not doing our work too.