“The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction,” by Darren Littlejohn

The 12-Step Buddhist, by Darren Littlejohn

Title: The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction
Author: Darren Littlejohn
Publisher: Beyond Words Publishing (March 2009)

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step Program offers a path of escape from the cycle of dependency, but it’s a path that’s heavily reliant on belief in a deity. Can Buddhism provide an alternative approach to addiction? Buddhist and incarcerated drug-offender Rich Cormier investigates “12-Step Buddhism” as outlined in a new book by Darren Littlejohn.

Traditional 12-Step programs involve a God-based spiritual approach. The “12-Step Buddhist” emphasizes that it is important to develop a strong spiritual foundation for any attempt at recovery to be successful, and points out that addicts who are resistant to the customary system because they don’t believe in God are forced to adapt or make do in order to find support.

Darren Littlejohn offers an alternative spiritual path that works in conjunction with the 12-Step process: a path that is aimed not only at Buddhists but at anyone interested in a non-theistic approach to recovery. His experiences with addiction, recovery, and Buddhism provide those seeking to overcome addictions with a number of tools that can be used to enhance existing recovery strategies. The book, however, can be of benefit to a wider audience. We’re all addicted to something: “Because of the numerous forms of addiction in our culture, very few of us are left unaffected by the disease,” Littlejohn explains.

Because the development of spiritual principles and virtues is essential in recovery, we sometimes have to employ different strategies in order to reenergize our disease and focus. When our tools get dull and need to be sharpened our replaced, it is imperative that we gain a fresh perspective.

Littlejohn asserts:

“Anyone who’s been in 12-Step programs for years knows that recovery can get stale. As an unconscious alternative to digging deep, we easily switch to less obvious addictions. We do fine with our compatriots in 12-Step meetings, yet remain crippled with unresolved family, financial, relationship, psychiatric, and spiritual issues.”

 The addict within us is doing what’s necessary to survive…  

The 12-Step Buddhist takes each of AA’s Steps, relating and comparing it to Buddhist teachings. The author does a particularly good job of making these connections clear. For instance, AA’s Step One states, “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and our lives had become unmanageable.” By comparison, in Buddhism developing the principle of acceptance is vital. Similarly, the popular expression of “being in denial” refers to our inability to accept our situation, while in Buddhism delusion — an inability to face reality — is seen as our root problem. As Littlejohn puts it, “The addict within us is doing what’s necessary to survive, and we suffer from delusions about the reality of our situation.”

An ability to “live life on life’s terms,” as AA puts it, seems elusive to those of us who become dependent on any substance. In order to help us overcome denial and develop acceptance, Littlejohn guides us through a meditation which allows us to recall our predicament of being trapped in a cycle of dependency without becoming overwhelmed by despondency, fear, and anger. Through reflection and meditation we can come to realize that our beliefs are delusions, and ultimately this allows us to change our views and behavior.

In addition to meditative techniques, a reflection method called Aspects of Self encourages us to speak to the addict within. This allows us to more fully understand ourselves, considering from all angles the obstacles we face, and helping us to see our situation more objectively, without the distortions imposed by emotional reactions. I found this tool to be rewarding.

 This book is designed to be used as a supplement to existing 12-Step programs…  

Littlejohn’s Integration Exercises combine 12-Step and Buddhist strategies, bridging the gap between the two systems perfectly.

This book is designed to be used as a supplement to existing 12-Step programs. The similarities with Buddhist practices and 12-Step work help in the transition. It is important to note that Littlejohn recommends that traditional resources be employed: qualified teachers, therapists, sponsors, etc. This manual is not designed to be a replacement for existing recovery programs.

Those familiar with Buddhism and 12-Step recovery models will immediately discern the value of undertaking a comparison and synthesis of the two models. At times the reader may find the abundance of Buddhist teachings somewhat complex. Even with ten years of experience with Buddhism, I found some of the material confusing, with references to teachings from Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, the Theravada, and also western models such as behavioral psychology. Unfortunately much of the “heavier” material comes first, and this could be off-putting for some readers. I would recommend that for many people reading Part Two before Part One would be a beneficial approach, giving people the “meat” of the 12-Step Buddhist model of practice before introducing the theoretical underpinnings.

Buddhism is a rich resource with a multitude of wisdom and plentiful tools for self-examination. The 12-Step Program is a powerful and time-tested approach to issues of addiction. Littlejohn’s 12-Step Buddhist demonstrates that the two models together form a very compatible alliance.

Richard Cormier is an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. Addiction ultimately led to his incarceration and since then AA and Buddhism have had a positive impact on his life. He has been practicing Buddhism for ten years, gaining an understanding of spiritual values and their significance to recovery.

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • John T. Marohn
    June 10, 2009 12:41 pm

    Wonderful to have found this site. We’re on the same page. Just finished launching my new recovery website, https://arecoveryjourney.com/

    I am currently reading Trungpa Rinpoché….I love his analysis of the world of forms and solidity. …would love to keep in contact…john@arcoveryjourney.com

  • Dorothy Hurkett
    March 5, 2010 1:45 pm

    I am grateful to find an alternative to the “god will save me” attitude of AA. It is my main hardship with the program…and it is not advised by “old timers” to state a non belief in the god idea. So I stopped meetings. I am not drinking but miss the meetings. This book may be just my ticket back in.

  • wow… the god thing has always been my problem with the 12 steps… I am truely greatful to have this information available to me. thi is the answer to my working the program

  • I am a Buddhist AA man. God is an entity that cannot be understood but you can open your heart to it. To give it a name gives the illusion of understanding. Better to leave a space and let it be filled by ….what? A healing power for sure. It takes work to be open. This is my practice. Build a space and It will come.

    • Yes, openness, wonder, receptivity. These are all crucial qualities. Putting names on our experiences (“God” etc) can be a way of shutting down again.


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