12-Steps in Addiction Treatment – Limelight Interview

12-step limelight glass window


What role does the 12-steps play in addiction treatment and recovery? At Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers we incorporate AA and NA 12-step meetings into the curriculum. And because it is sometimes intimidating to go to a meeting on your own – especially when new to recovery, we load all our clients into vans and take them to a meeting every night. Today we interview Mike Gillen who facilitates a weekly 12-step group for men at Sanford.


12-Steps in Addiction Treatment

Sanford addresses a full range of needs: medical, psychological, spiritual and social. And we utilize the best available research, clinical expertise and proven treatment models. Our program also incorporates 12-step methodology, whole-body wellness and the vital role of the family in its approach to treatment.


12-steps in addiction treatment

New York Mike talking 12-steps in the front room – Sanford House at John Street for Men


My philosophy on recovery? Don’t drink or use and go to 12-step meetings … Mike Gillen


Limelight: Mike Gillen

We meet Mike Gillen in the front group room, Sanford House at John Street for Men. And “New York” Mike has probably never met a stranger. He is a warm and embracing fellow, quick to tear up, laugh and nod encouragement. The kind of guy you might call “an open book”. And he’s a nice man, 37 years sober from an alcohol use disorder and an “old timer” at AA.


1. Hi Mike. What is your role at Sanford?

I put the skin on the 12-steps for the guys here. Every week I cover three steps. And the following week I review the previous steps for the new guys and go on from there. I got an MSW in June of 1973. And it came in handy in my work for 32 years as a probation and parole officer and a substance abuse counselor. Plus I’ve been in recovery 37 years so I draw from experience. I also use Gorski, Richard Rohr and the Joe and Charlie App as resources for my group.


2. How often should someone in early recovery go to 12-step meetings?

As much as their schedule allows, but at least once a week. And 90 meetings in 90 days is great if you aren’t too busy working. But it has to make sense with your lifestyle. I love seeing people recover – the miracle of recovery – the emotional thaw … And AA or NA may not work for some people – but if you don’t find a meeting helpful, try going to another until you do.


3. What is the key to success in recovery?

The 3rd Step. “Make the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.” At least it works for me. But you have to be careful with this step and ease it in, because you don’t want to lose someone who equates it with religion. For me it was hearing the voice of my higher power. I’ve always loved you Michael. Love yourself. And it just clicked. I got my spiritual rebirth when I was 8 years sober. At that time I asked God to remove my anger. I couldn’t believe all I had to do was ask.


4. And the pitfalls to recovery?

Stay out of the lion’s den unless you’re a lion tamer … Mike Gillen

I think you have to find a balance. For me, if I’m around drinking for three days I get angry. So, I think you have to know yourself and protect yourself. I keep God in one hand and AA in the other. As a counselor, I pray for our clients and let them know I’m there. But they have to be invested in their own recovery.


12-steps in addiction treatment

In the limelight – Mike Gillen in the group room at John Street


5. What do you enjoy about teaching 12-steps in addiction treatment?

First of all, I am sure when guys arrive at Sanford they are loved. The victory is that they are here. I love working with all the different ages of men. Especially the younger guys with their whole lives ahead of them. They can be anything they want to be. You know, all I wanted was to quit drinking. I didn’t even think of all the benefits that would come from being sober. My children and grandchildren want to be with me. I fell madly in love with my wife again.


6. What kind of books do you read? All 12-step?

Patterson, Connelly, History, Civil War Histories.


7. What is your favorite journey?

Laughs – how about a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie? My wife and I have “tea time” every day. Or waking with my two littlest grandchildren – girls 6 and 3. The little one thinks she’s Tinker Bell.


8. Now that you are semi-retired, how do you give back to the AA community?

I am active at the Alano Club of Kent County. And I agree with anonymity to a certain degree, it is not my favorite thing to be interviewed or to get awards – but if it helps an organization that helps … I am a sponsor. And I chair meetings – I participate in the 12-step community.


9. What is your most marked characteristic?

Compassion I think. And I am open and honest – always have been.


10. What is your motto?

Treat people the way you want to be treated.


11. I’ll bet you have some “classic” phrases you use to get a point across …

Get off the elevator anytime you want, there’s no guarantee when it hits bottom it will have springs.

It’s okay not to drink.

It’s the first drink that gets you drunk …


We’ll leave it at that. Thanks Mike. SH


We can help.


Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.