Why Bother With 12-Step Groups?
Some people think that they can make it on their own in recovery. They figure that it’s their problem, their addiction, and they overcame it – went through detox, rehab and all that – and now they can just continue on with their lives without any outside help.
This is a huge mistake.
For one thing, no one recovers alone. If that were the case, there’d be no need for counseling, rehab and continuing care, or any type of self-help group such as 12-Step groups. The truth is that detox and treatment only prepare the way for you to get down and serious about living in sobriety.
And we all know that such a life choice isn’t without its difficulties.
Participation in 12-Step groups can help make your life in recovery easier, more manageable, and far less stressful. Who are these people who attend 12-Step meetings? They’re people from all walks of life. They’re people just like you who have made the decision and commitment to quit their addiction and live a life in sobriety.
What can they offer you? Besides being sympathetic and understanding, they offer ready support. The big differences between therapy and the 12-Step group is that this is totally free of charge, it isn’t treatment, and it has no time limitation. You’re free to come and go as you please, to attend any meeting anywhere at any time one’s available.
How 12-Step Groups Help You Overcome Bad Habits
You might well ask how 12-Step groups can help you overcome bad habits that are persisting – especially if they’re not treatment. That’s a very good question. Here’s the answer.
When you attend a fellowship meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (or Gamblers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and others), you’re in a room with other attendees. There’s usually a coffee or refreshment table and a number of chairs. Someone opens the meeting and there’s sharing of stories.
But these are not just any stories, they’re personal experiences filled with angst and hard-earned wisdom and a desire to pass along strategies and techniques that worked – or didn’t. What does this mean? While you never know what you’re going to hear from the participants who share in the rooms, you’re guaranteed to learn something if you keep your mind open to receive it.
On any given date in any 12-Step group meeting someone will relate a story of personal accomplishment in recovery, or how he or she came to be at this current milestone in sobriety. Very often, it’s possible to find yourself in some of what you hear. Even if what the person is saying is alien to your own story of addiction and recovery, meaning it didn’t happen to you, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something valuable that you can learn from the sharer’s experience.
For one thing, it takes courage to stand up in front of others and tell your story. Newcomers are advised not to share, for a variety of reasons. You’re still in the early stages of recovery. You have a whole lot to learn about how the 12-Step process works, even if you were introduced to it during rehab. You’ll need to get a sponsor to help guide you through the 12 Steps, to act as your go-to person when you hit a rough spot or need counsel (not counseling) on how to deal with things like triggers and coping with cravings and urges. After you have some time in sobriety, you’ll be invited to share – if you care to.
Maybe there’s a theme for the discussions on a given night or meeting held mid-day (or whenever). One person’s sharing may lead to the next person who offers his or her experience dealing with the same subject. This is how learning advances. It’s like a snowball effect, with the idea picking up speed and taking off.
Following the meeting or during break, members often interact with each other. If you’re new to the rooms, people will come up to you and bid you welcome. After all, they were once fresh to recovery themselves and they know what a scary and confusing time it can be.
Cutting to the heart of the matter, if you have a problem with your bad habits persisting, you need to be in the company of others who have committed themselves to sobriety. It’s through this type of group support that you will find what you need to go on with your efforts to be in effective recovery.
Aren’t 12-Step Groups All the Same?
Is any group of individuals the same as the next? The answer is no. Groups differ based on a fluctuating attendance by different members. You may, for example, attend a nightly meeting at different group locations in your community. You may go to a single group that you’ve selected as your home group and still find different people there each time. This is the freedom and flexibility that 12-Step group offer. The community is constantly changing, evolving, bringing fresh stories and ideas to share with others in the rooms.
Of course, the basic principles and operating philosophies of the groups will be the same, particularly if they’re all Alcoholics Anonymous groups (or Narcotics Anonymous, and so on). All of the fellowships follow pretty much the same format, although some adhere closer to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (adapted to their own use) than others.
The important point isn’t whether they’re all the same or not but how well you fit with the group that you select. Remember that you can change meeting locations and times any time you want. There’s nothing that says you have to go to a particular meeting location on a certain day or time. Go to as many as you want as often as you need. The 12-Step groups are there for you – and others like you who are serious about their sobriety.
What Is It About 12-Step Groups That Helps With Ditching Bad Habits?
Maybe the question is more what it is about your participation in 12-Step groups that helps with ditching bad habits. The fact is that when you are actively involved in doing something that’s completely focused on your recovery – such as regularly attending 12-Step group meetings – you’re being proactive in working to maintain your sobriety.
So, it’s more about you making 12-Step group participation a part of your overall recovery plan and putting stability and order into your life than the actual group itself. Of course, being an active participant in the group is also a key ingredient in helping you overcome your lingering bad habits – or bad habits that threaten to return at any time.
Let’s look at a common scenario. Individual A has just come home from rehab. It’s hard for him to sleep at night since he’s frequently awakened with overwhelming cravings and urges. Still fatigued during the day, he finds himself thinking maybe just one drink will be okay, that he can take the edge off, quit thinking about all the stresses for just a bit. Instead, he decides he’ll take his therapist’s parting recommendation to heart and gets himself to a 12-Step group meeting in the neighborhood.
Feeling a little lost and definitely out of place as he walks through the door, he’s quickly greeted with warm smiles and a friendly welcome. He grabs a cup of coffee, all the while scanning the room and wondering if he should stay or go. Then someone calls the meeting to order and he’s invited to sit.
One by one, people come up to the podium to talk about their experiences in sobriety. They call it “sharing,” and it’s kind of intriguing to individual A, who finds himself fascinated by what he hears. Here are people, ordinary, everyday people, standing up and talking about things he never thought he’d hear in public. Okay, so it’s not quite public. It’s a 12-Step group meeting. And it’s completely anonymous.
Individual A starts to think that there might just be something here for him and decides he’ll attend a few more of these meetings. As a bonus, he suddenly realizes that while he’s been here in this meeting, he hasn’t been thinking about having that drink. He’s gotten a little different perspective on what being in recovery means. If all these people (in the room) can do it, maybe he can to.
Let’s take another common example. This is Individual B. She’s a woman who’s been in recovery for about three months and is approaching her 90-day sobriety milestone. Just when she thought she had the whole trigger thing knocked, she finds that she can’t get over the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach every time she hears ice tinkling in a glass, sees a commercial for booze on TV, or hears the sound of her neighbors laughing and having a good time during a backyard barbeque – knowing that they’re drinking. All she knows is that this is intolerable and she’s afraid that she’ll relapse.
Individual B galvanizes herself to step up her attendance at 12-Step meetings. She finds an Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets early in the morning and schedules her day so that she can attend before work. She locates another she can go to at lunch, and still another she can stop by on her way home from her day’s activities. She immediately feels comforted in the knowledge that she’s got her day covered. She also makes a point to contact her sponsor and talk about what’s going on with her. Together, these strategies add up to helping Individual B better cope with triggers. She’s able to overcome the temptation to drink, feels a little better about her abilities, and is really looking forward to receipt of her 90-day sobriety chip.
Now, for one last scenario, let’s look at Individual C, a long-time 12-Step group member who’s been solidly in recovery for several years. Recently, Individual C had a crisis in his life that caused him to reel back on his heels. He lost his job, which then threatened his financial security as he became unable to pay his bills. His family needs him to be the breadwinner and times are getting really tough. Individual C was at the point of thinking about becoming a sponsor to a newcomer and now he finds that he’s teetering on the brink of relapse. What does he do? He has some in-depth conversations with his sponsor, doubles up on his 12-Step meeting attendance, and throws himself into adapting his most time-proven coping mechanisms.
Individual C finds that the rough patch seems a little less grim than it did before. With the support and encouragement of the 12-Step group, his sponsor’s constant presence, and his own persistence, he’s able to weather out the crisis and begins to see some light at the end of the tunnel. He manages to maintain his sobriety during this time of stress and even feels more strengthened as a result. All this solidifies in his mind the importance of the support of his fellow 12-Step group members and his sponsor in his ability to deflect bad habits seeking to force themselves back into his life and to keep firmly on the path of recovery.
Encourage Loved Ones to Attend Family Groups
As everyone in recovery knows who has loved ones and family members, it isn’t just the person in recovery who needs support and understanding. If you’re having a little bit of a rough time trying to deal with persistent bad habits, besides your own attendance at 12-Step groups, encourage your loved ones and family members to attend 12-Step family groups.
You should be familiar with these by now, but in case you’re not, there are family group offshoots of the major 12-Step groups. There’s Al-Anon/Alateen, for the loved ones and family members of Alcoholics Anonymous members (where Alateen is for older teen). Nar-Anon is the family group component of Narcotics Anonymous. Gam-Anon is for the family/loved ones of Gamblers Anonymous members.
What do family members and loved ones get out of participation in these 12-Step Family groups? In short, they, just like you, receive understanding and support from their fellow group members. In the case of family groups, it’s more about living with a person who’s in recovery and also gaining a better understanding what they can do to support you in your recovery efforts.
12-Step Groups: a Win-Win Situation
Bottom line, participation in 12-Step groups is a win-win situation for all concerned. Look at the plusses: it’s free, always available (somewhere, at convenient times and locations, even online and over the phone), offers nonjudgmental support and encouragement, has no time limitations (you can go for years without any ending date), and helps you strengthen and solidify your recovery.
It really doesn’t get much better than that. After all, where else can you find such ever-ready support? So, if you find yourself with bad habits persisting, do yourself a favor. Step up your recovery efforts with 12-Step participation.