What to Say When You Have to Go to a 12-Step Meeting

If you’re in recovery, you know the importance of regularly attending your 12-step meetings. It’s something you first learned about and likely participated in during treatment – if you had formal treatment. If you never went to treatment, but are trying to maintain sobriety on your own, 12-step group meetings may be all you have. While it’s certainly not treatment, the benefits of 12-step group meetings can go a long way to helping you achieve your abstinence goals.

That said, the times when you really need to go to 12-step meetings may be inconvenient, impossible to schedule, or otherwise unavailable to you. People around you, those you work with, even friends and family members, may not understand or appreciate or even tolerate your frequent absences from where they feel you’re supposed to be in order to attend your meetings. What you say at those times may make the difference between your peace of mind and, frankly, your job, your family, and your friendships. So, what are some things you can say when you have to go to a 12-step meeting?
Here are some suggestions.

If the Meeting is Already Agreed Upon

There are, of course, different situations to consider. Let’s take the fact that your employer, for example, is well aware of your history of addiction, treatment, and your recovery efforts. He or she knows that attendance at 12-step meetings is crucial to your being able to sustain your sobriety. Whether it’s mandated as part of corporate policy through the human resources department (for ongoing employment following treatment for alcohol or drug abuse), or just good business practice on the part of your boss or supervisor to keep you productive by permitting attendance, it’s in the best interests of the company that you do regularly attend your 12-step meetings.

When you really need to go, however, may conflict with your work obligations. You may need to miss a meeting - even one you called – or postpone a business trip or client presentation. You may need to come in later, take more time at lunch, or leave early. Other employees will undoubtedly notice and may carp to your boss, their supervisor, among each other, even to you. It’s not fair. You’re not pulling your weight. They’re tired of picking up the slack or covering for you. The litany of complaints is common. Still, you need to attend your 12-step meetings. How should you handle it?

• Schedule a time to discuss it with your boss. – First things first. You need to schedule a meeting with your boss or supervisor at a time that’s convenient for him or her in order to discuss your situation.

• Lay out your case. - Don’t just go into the meeting demanding that you be allowed to go to your 12-step groups. That will only jeopardize your chances of reaching an equitable compromise. You need to lay out your case in practical terms. You need to give your boss reasons that will make it easier – even a no-brainer – for him or her to give the go-ahead. In other words, you offer solutions that he or she really can’t say no to. At the very least, you will give your boss something to think about and maybe from there you both will be able to reach a mutually-agreed upon compromise.

• Strive to reach compromise. - While every situation is different, let’s say, for example, that your home-base 12-step meeting – the one you attend on a regular basis and feel most comfortable with – occurs in the morning. It may be at 7:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. or anywhere in-between. If you need to take an hour to attend this meeting, and factoring in the amount of time it takes you to get to/from the meeting location (depending on whether you go there directly from home before work, or leave work to go there and then return to work), you may need an hour to two hours out of your work schedule to do this. What’s in it for your boss? You’ll need to present your case showing that you’ll make up the time lost by working later, or coming in early, or some other solution. It doesn’t matter what the specifics are here. What’s important is that you can document how you’ll make up the time, tend to your assignments or work load, finalize your projects, meet – or better yet, beat – your deadlines. Make the case that your attending 12-step meetings will result in your ability to be even more productive and efficient.

• Consistency matters. - The same type of preparation will work for times when you need to leave early to attend late-afternoon or early evening 12-step meetings. You need to try to be consistent about your 12-step meeting attendance with respect to your work situation in order for this to be palatable to your boss.

What About Unscheduled Meetings?

In your discussions, you may wish to bring up the point that if it becomes necessary, you may need to go to a 12-step meeting at a time that’s not regularly scheduled. The best way to approach this is to say that you’ll only do so when absolutely necessary, and that you feel this should only occur during the first 90 days of your recovery. Giving your boss a time limit – and a reason – is your best ammunition. It also makes sense, since the first 90 days of recovery are the most critical. It’s during this time that you need the most support and encouragement from your 12-step group sponsor, fellow group members, and your family.

How to Handle Co-Workers

Handling the situation with your co-workers is a little different in some respects. As long as you don’t report to them, they don’t have authority over you. But you still need to have an amicable and good working relationship with them in order to maximize work productivity. For those whom you work the closest with on a day-to-day basis, a brief and frank conversation may be all that’s needed. After all, they probably are well aware of your past addictive behavior – or at least suspected it. They’ll likely know that you were in treatment and are now in recovery. In the best case scenario, they’re trusted co-workers who want only the best for you. No one wants to see their own jobs jeopardized or made more difficult by another employee’s inability to do the job they’re supposed to.

What your co-workers need to know is when and how long you’ll be gone, that it’s been approved by your boss, and that you’ll handle your work-related responsibilities in an appropriate manner so that nothing is jeopardized. Give them the reassurance they’re looking for, nothing more. They don’t need to hear the details about what goes on at the meetings or how you poured your guts out at the last meeting or couldn’t sleep last night because of incessant cravings and urges. That’s something you discuss at your 12-step group with your sponsor – not your co-workers.

Family Members Can Be Trickier to Handle

Of course, you don’t spend all your time at work. Much of the time when you’re not working, you’re at home. How you deal with your family members when you need to go to a 12-step meeting can be a little trickier to handle. They’re not the ones who control your employment, but the emotional bonds you have with family members may cause problems when it comes to your non-work time.

Your spouse or partner can either be a significant ally or a huge obstacle to your objective of attending 12-step meetings. This sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t your spouse or partner want you to attend your group meetings when doing so is crucial for your ongoing recovery? It’s not always so cut and dried. On the logical front, of course your mate would want you to do all you can to sustain your sobriety. It’s more on the emotional level, the non-verbal communication level, where the problems can arise. After all, you’re taking time away from your spouse or partner and, consequently, the family, to go to your meetings.

If your family members attended family therapy while you were in treatment, this may be less of an issue. Still, there will almost always be some times when there’s resentment, bitterness, disappointment, or even resignation about your need to take off for meetings.

The only way to counter this is with love and understanding. Discuss your need to go to your 12-step meetings in a loving and gentle way with your spouse or partner. Let him or her know that it takes nothing away from your love for the family, but it is critical for your ongoing recovery. You will be in recovery for the rest of your life, but the first 90 days of early recovery are when you’re most vulnerable to relapse. You want to be able to handle your responsibilities as a husband or wife or partner, as a father or mother or sibling. To do so effectively, you need the support and encouragement of not only the family – first and foremost – but also your 12-step group sponsor and members.

Working the steps means that you have to make some very personal decisions and take actions that only fellow 12-step group members can understand – having been through them themselves. And while addiction is a family disease, affecting everyone in the family, it’s you who is the one overcoming the actual addiction. You have to do things that your other family members do not.

How can you make the situation more palatable? Here are some ideas.

• Arrange special activities/time with your loved ones. – Nothing says I love you like making a special effort to do an activity or spend significant time with your family. Start with paying more attention to your spouse or partner and branch out to include the rest of your family. Maybe you help your mate with a project or task that he or she enjoys. Perhaps you take time off to go on a mini-vacation or week-end sojourn – just the two of you.

• Say it with words. - Give him or her compliments on what they’ve done, how they look, how understanding they’ve been. Chances are such niceties have been long missing in the relationship. Going through addiction and treatment has been tough on everyone, especially your spouse or partner who most likely feels neglected, maybe even lonely. A few kind words, genuinely expressed, are like a breath of fresh air. Try it.

• Listen to what he or she has to say. – No one likes to feel as if they’re talking to a brick wall. When you’re so caught up in your daily schedule of work and meetings and doing what you need to do for your recovery, you may often not really be present for conversation with your spouse or partner. This is a mistake, but one that’s easily correctable. You can say, for example, that you know you’ve been a bit distracted lately, that you haven’t been paying attention like you should. Reassure your spouse or partner that you will be making a concerted effort to change this, starting now. Instead of just nodding your head or, worse, ignoring what’s being said completely, really listen to whatever it is your mate is saying. Make eye contact, giving him (or her) your full attention. When the time is appropriate, then make a comment. This will go a long way toward easing the tension at home and may make it less of an issue when you need to go to your 12-step meetings.

• Plan a family vacation. – Who doesn’t look forward to a vacation? It may be that you haven’t had one in a long time, due to expense or work or all the troubles associated with your addiction and subsequent treatment. A vacation may, in fact, be just what everyone needs. You all need time to rest and rejuvenate, to bring joy back into your lives, and to just have fun being with each other as a family.

It needn’t be prohibitively expensive, either, to do you justice. You can go away to visit family in another part of the state or other state. Drive, if that’s more economical. Besides being less expensive than airfare for all family members, you’ll have wheels when you get there.

But, let’s get back to planning the vacation. Get everyone in the family involved in the preparations – where to go, what you’ll do, what you want to take, how long you’ll be gone. Having something like a vacation to look forward to will give you – and other members of the family – a positive goal to work toward. It will also allow you to take care of business by going to your 12-step meetings in the days and weeks and months before you leave. You can say to your children, for example, that you’ll be glad to hear their ideas or go over their lists with them after you return from your meeting, or after dinner, or on Saturday morning – or whenever it is. Just be sure that you keep your word. This is very important, since it means that you can be trusted to do what you say. It means that normal family life is returning.

What If They Stand in Your Way?

Not everyone in recovery has understanding family members, friends, boss, or co-workers. In that case, you’ll need to stand on your decision to go to your 12-step meetings regardless of whether or not they approve, complain, threaten, or make your life miserable. Some things about recovery are non-negotiable. One of them is the absolute requirement for you to maintain a strong support network. Your family is one part of your support network. Your 12-step group is the other. If you have non-supportive family members, your 12-step group does double duty. Without either, you likely don’t stand a chance at being able to sustain your recovery.

So, bottom line: If you don’t have the support and encouragement of your family, or if your boss, co-workers, or friends can’t really see the need for you to go to 12-step meetings, it’s up to you to insist that this is what you’re going to do in order to be successful in recovery. It’s a part of your overall recovery plan, one that’s worked for millions of others who have successfully overcome addiction. It can and will work for you – if you stick to it.

What do you say to others when you have to go to a 12-step meeting? By now, you should have a few ideas of the kind of statements that may work for you. Use them as a starting point and craft your own. This is your recovery. Make it your priority. If you really want to be successful, there are no short-cuts. And, when and if life throws you another curve, your 12-step meetings may prove to be just the lifeline you need to weather the crisis.

One final thought. When you say you’re going to a meeting, you can follow it up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line: “I’ll be back.”

Posted on August 18th, 2010

Contact Promises Today for a Confidential Assessment.
Call 844-876-5568 or fill out the form below.