Not Alone; The Journey Starts with a Step…

Many of my posts are a result of a thought that I had while working on an earlier post.   When I started the apologies post, I started thinking some more.  I remember family members who were in AA when I was growing up.  I remember them talking about making amends as part of the 12 steps, so I looked it up real quick and I wondered if those AA guys were onto something.   I don’t want to clutter up this whole post with the 12 steps, but you can check it out here if you are interested.

One of the early problems that Dan and I identified was that the 12 step programs are very religious.   This may be fine for some, but if we were going to capture something relevant to all veteran’s; then we would need something more universal.  It has been said that there are no atheist in a foxhole, but how many times has someone come to terms with God allowing a buddy to die in front of them?   Some veteran’s may have found religion, but some veteran’s just no longer believe.

Next, I wondered can you relate those 12 step programs toward everything or just to addictions?  Addiction?  What could I have been addicted to?  I could say that I became addicted to staying alive, but that wouldn’t be true either.   Sometimes you just give up that hope of making it home, but keeping your buddies alive that is something that you never give up on.   In that regard I could say that I became addicted to doing my job and keeping my Soldiers alive.

Then I realized that I also had to be aware of the stigma that may be associated with the word addiction.   PTSD already has enough labels and stigmas, I would have to find a way to accomplish this idea without adding another one.

A few days later I was surfing from one website to another, through the associated links and I found  It gave me a pretty good first impression.  They seemed to be attempting to do the same thing that the JollyRoger was established for: Veterans helping Veterans, a place for veteran’s and their families to feel comfortable talking about issues, and not standing idly by waiting for someone else to fix our problems.   I searched through some of Not Alone’s archives, and there I saw it…..The Steps…..Someone had the same thoughts as me…..Not only that but it looked like they nailed a 3 point ringer.

The Not Alone Steps:

By working the ten steps, we can move from being alone to finding a new normal after combat trauma. The new normal can bring richness to life beyond our experience before war, but it takes real commitment to get there.

  1. We resolve to do whatever it takes to improve our lives. We fix it. We are relentless. We never quit. We expect to win.
  2. After war, we continue to help each other overcome obstacles and achieve goals.
  3. We make our reactions appropriate to the situation at home, not the battlefield.
  4. We identify and break through negative ruts.
  5. We take a little ground every day, working a plan appropriate for us.
  6. We honor the past, but live for the future.
  7. We process stress in a healthy way.
  8. We identify our strengths, and we build on them.
  9. We achieve victory by partnering with a power greater than ourselves. Victory is feeling peace.
  10. We reach out to understand and become a source of strength for others because, together, we are not alone.

You ever read an article and felt that they were talking directly to you, or reading your mind?   They captured many of the things that I have been talking to either Dan or Mike about.

Step 1, Whatever it takes and letting go of control. “The strange truth about recovering from combat stress is that the real challenge is letting go, not pushing harder.”

Step 4, Negative Ruts and our inner enemy’s tactics:  “If I just go to work everyday and work my ass off, I can escape and avoid the enemy.”  Listening to Mike’s show was the first time that I had considered being a workaholic as a result of returning from war.

Step 10, “WE REACH OUT TO UNDERSTAND AND BECOME A SOURCE OF STRENGTH FOR OTHERS BECAUSE, TOGETHER, WE ARE NOT ALONE.”  This is inline with the JollyRoger’s purpose since its inception.

I contacted the editor of NotAlone about the steps, and they asked for my feedback.   First, I think I would recommend adding “Making a  decision” as the beginning of step one.  The first step should always be to choose.  Noone can make this decision for us.   Our families can only stand by our side being tolerant and supportive for so long, until we are willing to help ourselves.   If forced to get help by someone else we will only resent them for judging us, and not be committed to the process.   This realization, choice, and decision MUST be our own.   Then we can move into never accepting defeat as listed in Not Alone Step 1.

I would also add a “making amends” step .   This self reflection will help us to access our current state and how we got here.   We will appreciate those who have stood by us and recognize those we have hurt.   The attempt at making amends could begin healing broken relationships, in turn adding more support to us.  We would also be forced to consciously monitor ourselves for actions that may wrong others, allowing us to attempt to change our action/reactions.

Step 9, “WE ACHIEVE VICTORY BY PARTNERING WITH A POWER GREATER THAN OURSELVES. VICTORY IS FEELING PEACE.”   It begins well.   The first things I think of are the mission and my men.   Those will always be something greater than me.   When a friend is lost, I do not give up and quit.   My conviction becomes stronger.   He did not die for nothing, we must see this through.   Step 9 moves on to state; “Believing in God was incompatible with living the horrors of war. And so we stopped believing.”  As I already stated though, some never believed to begin with.   Religion will always be a beacon of hope and give strength to those who believe, but others never have and never will.   Some may eventually return to the flock, and others may find religion.   But when we start preaching many who never or no longer believe will tune us out as irrelevant.   They are not listening.  This needs to be universal.   What happened-happened.  There is nothing we can do about it now.  It was not God’s fault.   Blame it on fate or luck or inches and seconds.   It just happens.  We must accept it and move on.   We should realize that we are not insignificant, but there are things that are bigger than us….but importantly we are a part of them.   We may be a part of God, and his plan.   Or we may be a part of something else.   How about our community?   Lets give something back and heal through service.  Through church, working with children, working with other veterans, volunteering, a neighborhood watch, community service, or through a forum or blog.

Also, the steps may appear to some as a rigid and inflexible process.  We should recognize that this is a war and not a battle.  Sometimes the enemy may win a battle and we will have to give up some ground.   This is our time to reconsolidate and reorganize.   The enemy showed us his new tactic, and now we develop our TTPs to counter theirs.   We get up, dust ourselves off, and charlie mike.

Next we need to get this integrated into a group setting.   Places in cities, like the VA Vet Centers and other veteran’s organizations.   Places online, like NotAlone, the JollyRoger, and other blogs and forums.  We must come together to support each other, and in places where we feel comfortable due to our shared experiences.

Another critical piece that I think we all need is Sponsorship.  A sponsor/sponsee relationship would be a “one on one” personal relationship of shared experiences focused on working on the journey.  A battle buddy, a fire team.   The sponsor would be a more experienced person who guides the less-experienced person through the journey.  Sponsors would share their experience, strength, and hope with their sponsees… A sponsor’s role would not  be that of a therapist offering some sort of professional advice.  A sponsor would simply be another person in the group who is willing to share his or her journey.  When battling depression the sponsee would know that someone is there to help, someone who cares, someone who understands.   There is someone to discuss a nightmare, flashback, trigger, or relationship issue with.  Someone to cross talk ideas and compare notes.

Once we put this all together, we may have the place and resource to help ourselves without waiting for so called doctors and the government to figure it out for us.

You can read more about each of the steps in the Not Alone library.











By Bryan H. Reed, Army Veteran OIF 07-09


3 responses to “Not Alone; The Journey Starts with a Step…

  • Jayne

    Hi, I’m Jayne, and I’m the site editor over at Not Alone. I just wanted to say that we are really grateful for the thoughtful feedback, and we’ll seriously consider these suggestions. Although I should say, while we put together the steps, we don’t think of ourselves as “owning” them. They are “owned” by whoever uses them, and thereby helps to make them credible and relevant.

    We have a lot of experience with the AA 12 Steps at Not Alone, and while it’s hard to overstate how many people AA’s 12 Steps have helped and how effective the program has been, we did make a conscious effort to differentiate our steps from AA’s. For example, our Step 1 is almost the opposite of the AA Step 1. Instead of admitting you’re powerless, we resolve to be strong and relentless. We try to make everything we do come from a position of strength and determination. In our experience, that works better for most veterans.

    We still have work to do when it comes to refining the steps, and, like I said, we really appreciate this feedback. If anybody else has suggestions, questions, or comments, feel free to email us at

    And thanks again, Bryan!

  • Domenica

    One of the challenges will be is the combat vet has to want this for himself, not because they are doing it for family members who are pushing it on him. I know in my case I would have to “plant the seed” then step back and allow my husband to make the decision for himself. The harder I press, the harder he will push back.

    I’m not saying every family is going to try and emotionally blackmail their vet into these steps, but as the ex-wife of an alcoholic, every time he went to re-hab “to make me happy” he relapsed within months of completing his treatment.

    I know there are many vets out there ready and willing to embrace this philosophy for themselves, for their own mental health and wellbeing, and to improve family life. I applaud you for getting the word out.

    It is an awesome program, and if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

    Stepping out of the battle and onto the road to recovery is going to benefit not only veterans but their family members and the wider community of which they are a member.


  • Jon Christensen

    You give honor with the work that you are doing. Finding and following steps given by those who have gone before, to point a direction is just part of our human history,u and a message of support that says you are not alone, and although this is new territory for you, it has been traveled before. Many times before, and the path is well worn and checked for mines. As I look at these steps, I see the energy of the universe, and the message is that everything is as it should be. Light or dark, joy or pain, it is part of what is. Our task is not to judge it, not control it, but embrace it.

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