Safety in Numbers: How 12-Step Groups Help Keep You On the Right Path
The reality for many of us, however, is that one of the loneliest times we're likely to encounter is the first few days, weeks and months of recovery. It is also at this juncture that we're most vulnerable, most prone to falling back into our addictive ways.
Is there a way to help ensure that we'll be able to stay on the right path? There is, and it comes in the form of 12-step recovery groups.
What is a 12-Step Recovery Group?
While many drug and alcohol rehab programs incorporate 12-step group meetings into the recovery program, not all of them do. And you may have a process addiction, such as workaholism or compulsive shopping or an eating disorder and don't believe that there is a 12-step group that fits.
Maybe you're in recovery from gambling addiction or compulsive sexual behavior. Maybe you've gotten treatment for alcohol addiction or drug abuse but didn't have your co-occurring disorder treated at the same time.
Most people are familiar with the most famous of the 12-step or self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. But there are dozens of other such groups that have been formed after these first two. The granddaddy of them all is Alcoholics Anonymous, which originated the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions and the Principles of Recovery. Other groups have adapted these same concepts into their own programs.
Here are just a few of them:
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Debtors Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Methamphetamine Anonymous
- Overeaters Anonymous
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
- Sexaholics Anonymous
- Sex Addicts Anonymous
- Sexual Compulsives Anonymous
- Workaholics Anonymous
Why are they called 12-step groups or self-help groups? These are all comprised of individuals who have committed to recovery and to helping others with a sincere desire to maintain their sobriety s well. The fact is that being in the same room with other like-minded individuals provides a strong base of support and encouragement for newcomers like you.
12-Step Groups: A Pillar of Recovery
You may have heard already that 12-step or self-help groups comprise one of the pillars of recovery. Why should participation in a 12-step group be a pillar of recovery? One very basic reason is that recovery is an ongoing journey. It's not a straight-line path and there are no short-cuts to success. It takes constant management, working the steps, being cognizant of what can cause relapse and taking appropriate action to overcome the temptation to use when cravings and urges recur.
When an individual is in recovery, he or she needs the support, understanding, and encouragement of others who have gone through or are now going through similar circumstances.
See if any of this sounds familiar. You're awakened in the middle of the night with nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, or overwhelming cravings and urges. You find yourself in situations where you feel ill-equipped to handle stresses and triggers that may precipitate relapse. You've had to figure out your way through the minefield of hundreds of daily decisions (should I take a different way home from work, what should I say to my friend who wants me to join him for a drink after work, am I taking too much on my plate so soon after treatment, and so on).
Your fellow participants in the 12-step groups have been there, just like you, and can offer the benefit of their own experiences. What worked for them may work for you, the newcomer. Or it may be something that can be adapted to better fit your own particular circumstances.
In any case, being with and listening to what others in recovery have to say, just having the recognition that these are people just like you who are genuinely working their recovery, is one of the best things that anyone who's serious about staying sober can do. It's a true pillar of recovery.
The Importance of a 12-Step Sponsor
Besides the interaction with other 12-step group members, it's critically important that those new to recovery find a sponsor that will work with them on the steps. A sponsor is someone who has committed to being available to the newcomer and is the first one that should be called whenever there's a problem working the steps, when a crisis occurs that may threaten to derail sobriety, when there are anxieties or concerns about doing the right thing to maintain recovery.
At first, newcomers may select a temporary sponsor. Later on, they may transition to a more permanent sponsor. A sponsor is not a counselor, however, and does not take the place of or fulfill the role of a counselor – nor should they be asked to do so.
Choosing a Sponsor
Once you've attended a few meetings and have had a chance to get the lay of the land, one of your first priorities should be to get a sponsor. This isn't like getting married, however, and it's important to recognize that sponsorship isn't a permanent or forever relationship. Still, you may feel a bit uncertain about how to go about choosing your sponsor. There aren't any hard and fast rules on what to do. In fact, there aren't any rules at all. But recovery experts and 12-step members have suggested a number of things that may help. Here are some tips:
- Look for someone who has been clean and sober for a minimum of one year. Beyond just being clean and sober, make sure that you choose someone who is stable.
- The best person to be your sponsor is also someone who understands your particular situation or needs. If you are struggling with a certain addiction or multiple addictions, it's better to have a sponsor who is familiar with and understands co-occurring recovery.
- Do not select someone as a potential sponsor with whom you have a romantic or sexual attraction or relationship (or one that feels that way toward you).
- Choose someone who is working on a recovery plan and will provide a model for you to use in your own recovery journey.
- Look for someone you feel you can trust, and someone with whom you believe you can develop a meaningful relationship (note: not romantic or sexual).
- You should look for a sponsor who will always challenge you to keep moving forward and to always be accountable to the truth. This does not mean that you necessarily have to feel comfortable with the sponsor. In fact, being a bit uncomfortable is probably a good thing, in some respects. What you want is someone whose recovery example you admire, a person you think will challenge you to develop your own personal and healthy program of recovery.
- Find someone to be your sponsor that has the energy and the time to take you on as a sponsee.
- Finally, make sure that your potential sponsor lives, acts, and talks the steps and principles. In other words, make sure he or she isn't just "talking the talk," but is actually "walking the walk."