There are few places in the world where you’ll find more honesty, vulnerability, courage, and mutual support than in a 12-Step Fellowship Group meeting.
The 12 Step meetings are an extremely important resource of someone’s recovery for two reasons.
First, they’re effective. Millions of people have recovered through them. Second, they’re free and available around most of the world in some form or other. Almost every country, every city and many towns have a 12-step group meeting at least once a week.
There are a handful of other versions of recovery available, though none of them as statistically successful, and in most cases the addict / alcoholic experiences such an enormous and positive change in their long-term welfare that the 12 Step Programme and its Fellowship meetings are usually our preferred recommendation.
Simply put, the 12 Step programme and the 12 Step Fellowship meetings have been proved to work in by far the highest amount of cases of addictions that it’s always our first choice for all addicts / alcoholics looking for help.
How 12 Step Groups Work
You can decide for yourself if have a real addiction.
You can go to a 12-step meeting and listen to other people’s experiences before you decide whether there are enough similarities between their story and yours to help you qualify yourself.
You can break your own denial about addiction.
You’ll see how addiction really does affect anybody, from all backgrounds and cultures. You’ll see that good people, with good jobs, good families, and a good sense of humour, can have an addiction, just like the stereotypical person you may be prejudiced into imaging as the street junkie or homeless wino.
You may already know intellectually that addiction is a non-discriminatory illness that affects everyone, whatever their class, colour, religion, sexuality, gender, etc., but you may still need to actually believe this for yourself or in your own case. Everybody likes to think that they’re special, but addiction is really one of those experiences that will last you the rest of your life recovering from and therefore it’s comforting to know that you’re not the only one and that the help and companionship is out there.
You meet people who are experiencing the same destructive illness and sharing the same celebratory recovery.
The idea behind the 12 step groups is that you’ll feel significantly stronger when you belong to a group of people who are having a shared experience, especially one as positive as mutual addiction recovery. Everybody’s first reaction to their addiction is to hide it and then try to deal with it on their own or to at least try to keep it a secret from too many people. Addiction is an isolating disease. It’s refreshing and incredibly healing when you realise that the stigma you had imagined for yourself regarding your addiction is really a figment of your imagination and that really everyone wants to help you recover – especially other recovering addicts and alcoholics. 12 step Fellowship groups permit you the opportunity to reach out and ask for help, and the miracle is that these other recovering addicts / alcoholics will gladly help you out while you learn how to recover yourself, and that given time, it’s likely you’ll want to help others too.
You’ll believe that recovery is possible, even for yourself!
Once you begin to see and meet other recovering addicts / alcoholics, you’ll begin to develop your own self-confidence that you can change your life and recover also. The people who’ve recovered already didn’t have to do anything special or anything outside of your own capabilities. They just followed the simple 12 Step Programme and regularly attended 12 Step Fellowship meetings. You’ll see just how easy it is to live a happy and healthy life based upon 12 Step principles of healing yourselves and helping others and you’ll soon see that if you follow those principles, you can recover too.
You learn other people’s recovery techniques.
12 step meetings are a great resource for new learned recovery behaviour. You can ask other people who’ve been through whatever you’re going through how they handled certain situations. You can ask them if what you’re going through is normal. Some days you’ll have an overwhelming urge to drink or use, and it’s good to know that other people have gone through the same challenges and how they dealt with it.
One of the concerns many people have is that their life will be devoid of fun, somehow smaller or less interesting without alcohol or drugs. 12 step groups give you a great opportunity to meet other people whose lives are incredibly full and vibrant, living beyond anything they could have previously imagined, certainly interesting and in many cases larger and louder and more fun now that they’ve stopped drinking and drugging.
You won’t be judged.
Without going into the whole discussion of Addictive Illness being responsible for our emotional immaturity and our inability to express our emotions being counter acted by our incredible creative skills (a discussion for another day I believe), most addicts have difficulty sharing their emotions, partly because they’re afraid nobody will understand them, and partly because they’re afraid that they’ll be criticized. So they bottle everything up inside themselves, which seems to act as a trigger or at least an excuse to make them want to drink / use even more.
The people at a 12 step fellowship group won’t judge you because they’ve have heard it all before. And they’ve most likely done it themselves. They know that you’re not crazy because of the things you do when you’re drinking / drugging. They understand how addiction works.
You’re reminded of the consequences of your drinking / drugging (rather than glamorising it in your mind).
We can really safely say that every addict during their early days of trying to recover remembers only the good fun times, rather than focusing on the serious trouble they got themselves into.
Once you’ve worked the 12 Step Programme you’ll feel stronger than you’ve felt in years (ever in your life maybe?).
However, it’s highly usual that whilst still working your way through the steps that the voice of your addiction will begin speaking to you, telling you that this time will be different, and that you’ll be able to can control your drinking / drugging this time.
12 step meetings will give you the chance to hear the stories of the people who’ve just come into the programme and also permits you to share when this is going on inside your own thinking. It’s by listening and sharing your own struggles with this voice, or whenever hearing the stories of the people who’ve relapsed and just come back, that you’ll be developing your own resources to conquer the voice of the addiction within you.
The voice will always tell you that you’ll be able to control it this time, but by hearing of your fallen comrades and how they heard the same voices will help you to conquer your own internal stories. What you need to know is that if you could control your use, then you certainly would have learnt how to by now! It’s a losing battle trying to control it any longer. Accept defeat.
Addiction is a disease like heart disease or diabetes. You would never think that your heart disease is gone once you started to feel better, and that you could eat anything or not exercise without suffering more heart disease. 12 step meetings remind you of this metaphor.
You’ll always have a safe place to go.
12 step meetings are a safe harbour when you want to be out of harm’s way. If you’ve had a difficult or challenging day you can go to a meeting and spend a couple of hours knowing that you won’t be able to drink or use on your feelings and that you’re with kindred spirits, helping one another. By the end of the meeting you’ll almost certainly feel better and more motivated for your recovery.
What 12 Step Groups Do Not Do.
They do not define you as weak or powerless. Instead they encourage you to take control of your life by recognising your addiction and overcoming it.
They are not based on shame and they don’t attempt to label you as a failure or in some way a negative person.
Instead they encourage you to take responsibility for your life and to realize that you can access the power to help you recover from your addiction.
12 step groups encourage you to recognize that an addiction is a medical illness and that you are powerless to change your genetic make up, i.e. you’ll always respond that way to alcohol or drugs or wherever your addictive path has led you.
That said, the 12 Step Programme will encourage you to realise that you do have the power within you to change other parts of your life so that you don’t relapse in the future.
12 step groups encourage you to take a look at your life and see how you got into trouble in the past so that you don’t fall into the same traps in the future.
12 step groups encourage you to ask for help, whereas your addiction encourages you isolate and avoid expressing your vulnerabilities, challenges or ask for help.
Finding the Right Group
Every group has its own personality.
You’ll love some groups, like others, and it’s likely that they’ll be some groups you don’t enjoy. They each have their own character based upon the mix of people and personalities who attend each particular meeting. Finding the right group that you feel comfortable at is important because it’ll make you’re whole recovery journey considerably more enjoyable and much easier.
Don’t keep on going to a group that you don’t like just because it’s convenient or close by. If you do that, eventually you’ll convince yourself that you don’t need to go to any more meetings.
You’ll tell yourself, “They’re no fun” or “I’m not like them.”
The beauty of 12 step groups is that there are so many to choose from, it’s not hard to find at least one group that you can feel comfortable with and connect to.
There is a simple technique for finding the right group.
Find someone who you have something in common with, or who appears interesting, intriguing or friendly and ask him or her what other meetings they attend. It’s a common enough question so don’t feel embarrassed to ask it. Then simply try out one of those meetings, and do exactly the same thing. Find somebody else, and ask him or her what other meetings they like. Do that a few times, and you will quickly zero in on meetings that work for you.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Fellowship
Become an active member.
The magic of recovery happens when you actively participate and share at meetings. Recovery doesn’t happen when you just sit passively and listen to other people. You recover when you actually participate with the meeting and its fellows. Be honest and allow yourself to get vulnerable with some of the other members (usually same gender) you’re drawn towards, and should you have anything ‘going on’ for you, then try to share it with the group.
There are two types of 12 step meetings.
There are open meetings and closed meetings.
Open meetings mean that the meeting is ‘open’ to all, even people who aren’t sure if they’re an addict / alcoholic yet, and even to family members who may wish to see how things are working for their loved one (though this doesn’t happen very often).
Closed meetings are for Addicts / alcoholics only and they don’t permit non-addicts / alcoholics.
Each Fellowship is different, but generally most meetings are ‘Open’ by default in order to permit new people to attend and decide for themselves if they’re really addicts / alcoholics or not.
Closed meetings have usually ‘closed themselves because of a particular issue the group may have encountered at some point, or for the protection of some of the members anonymity (maybe someone in the entertainment industry, or a person known to be in a place of political power, etc)
There are also various different formats of meetings.
The two most common are ‘Speaker meetings’ and ‘Discussion meetings’.
In speaker meetings, someone stands up and tells their story of addiction and recovery. You sit back and listen, and you’re not expected to say anything, until the second half of the meeting when the floor is usually opened for sharing from the group members.
The best thing about speaker meetings is that you’ll normally have an experienced and often entertaining person as the main speaker who’ll share with you wisdom you can use for yourself and your recovery journey.
They’re also a fairly easy way to make friends and break yourself into the group.
Discussion meetings normally have a theme such as “The Big Book” or “The 12 Steps” etc. and these are more educational meetings where people share about a specific topic. They’re usually far more useful for people who are looking for a real insight into their addictive disease, but they can be less dynamic than the speaker meetings. It really depends upon the charisma of the other members.
To help yourself recover, you’re likely to want to attend a mixture of both types of formats, and you’re going to need to participate at some level at some point. When you begin to talk about your own recovery and what’s going on for you, you’ll be amazed at who responds by approaching you privately to help you along your journey.
That said, don’t worry too much, because you never have to say anything you don’t really want to. You’ll always be given the option to pass, which is normal in the beginning, so just go a few times and observe the process.
Join a group and go to it regularly.
How many meetings a week that you attend is up to you, but if at all possible try to get to one ever day. After all, you did drink / drug every day, didn’t you?
Everyone has different lifestyle requirements and it’s rare that people manage to achieve 90 meetings in 90 days as recommended, though it is usual for people that are serious about their recovery to not fall too short from this target.
Certainly most people go to three or four meetings a week in the beginning.
For some people, attending a meetings everyday really does help them to deal with their urges for drinking / using, so consider just how profound your obsession is and consider going to enough meetings that you don’t experience too many overwhelming thoughts..
If feasible, do go to meetings on the days that you drunk / drugged the most, such as Friday nights or Saturdays. Your body has an internal clock, and if you used every Friday at 6 o’clock, then that’s when you’ll have the strongest urges to use, and that’s when it’s best to be at a meeting.
Once you’ve been in recovery for a while and you’ve got a working knowledge of the whole 12 Step Programme, your chances of relapse are greatly reduced, and you’ll naturally find less time in your life for meetings. However, it must be said that by this stage of your recovery you won’t be attending meetings for your own recovery, but because of an impulse to help new people into their own recovery journey. You’ll receive a great deal of satisfaction just by watching or even actively helping (sponsoring) a new person to get sober.
Take advantage of the free help on offer to you.
12 step meetings are a kind, generous and giving environment. People will offer to help you in many ways. They’ll offer to meet you for coffee, talk about your problems, or give you their phone number in case you want talk any time day or night. They’ll offer to pick you up and give you a lift to a meeting (particularly if you’ve been banned from driving for drink or drug offences). They’ve been through it before, and they know that recovery is hard work. In the beginning you may be overwhelmed by their generosity. But it is genuine and sincere, particularly from people the same gender as you (men with men / women with women).
Your tendency will be to not accept their help. You’ll think that you don’t want to bother them, or that your problems aren’t that important. But they’re offering to help you because they want to help, and because they know that by helping you they’re also helping themselves. When they listen to your stories, they’re reminded of where they’ve been and what they need to do to remain clean and sober.
12 step groups are not like the rest of the world.
When someone says, “give me a call” in the outside world, maybe they mean it, maybe they don’t. In the 12 step Fellowships they mean it because they’ve been there and that’s how they themselves were helped.
Therefore, do take advantage of the help they’re offering. They really do mean to be useful.
Get a sponsor and do step work.
A sponsor is your own personal recovery mentor or teacher to help you grow and learn through the 12 Step Programme.
Your Sponsor is someone who you would like to spend time talking to about your own recovery experiences. They’ll be a sounding board to whatever’s going on for you. They can help you understand the format of meetings. They can call you and motivate you to go to meetings. They can also act as an early warning system to help you recognise if you’re in any sort of danger of relapsing.
But most importantly, they will guide you through the 12-Step Programme of Recovery, around which the meetings are all based.
Finding a Sponsor
A sponsor is someone who you would like as your personal Coach or Mentor to guide you through your recovery and the 12 step Programme. They don’t necessarily have to be someone who you would like to hang out with as a friend, but by choosing them as your sponsor you’re implicitly saying that you like their form of recovery and their serenity, and you’d like your recovery to be in a similar vein.
In 12 step groups it’s said, “You choose your sponsor because you like what they have for themselves, and you’d like that for yourself.” In this reference, “have” refers to what they “have” in recovery, not what they have materially.
A sponsor should preferably have at least 5 years of recovery.
They need that sort of time to develop enough perspective on life in recovery that they’re going to be able to guide you successfully 99% of the time. Everyone gets something wrong at some time, but 5 years is a reasonable amount of experience that they’re likely to guide you appropriately without any significant challenges.
Finally, it’s incredibly important that your sponsor should never be someone for whom you have any romantic feelings. That usually means someone of the same sex.
The 12 Step Recovery Programme
The 12 Step Programme is a huge topic that deserves far more attention than I can give it here, but I’ll offer a few comments.
The 12 steps are not just about not drinking / drugging.
They are about not drinking / drugging, but they’re so very much more too. To describe them more accurately I’d have to say that they’re more about how to create a new life without drinking or drugging, and then to go on and make this life considerably richer and more wonderful than anything you could have anticipated whilst you were still active in your addiction. Once you recover from your addiction and you change your life to live along the guiding principles of the 12 Step Programme, you’ll find your quality of life will rocket into a new dimension. So they’re actually about how to be happier in life, addiction free.
The principles of the 12 steps are the greatest principles of life.
While you work at the 12-step programme, they’ll help you identify the traits within you (and your addiction) that make you unhappy, and empower you to turn away from these limiting personality characteristics and learn about how to live a life with considerably more balance and harmony. The 12-step programme is a perfect model for self-change or personal development.
You don’t have to be an addict / alcoholic to benefit from the 12 steps.
The world would be a much better place if everyone lived by them. Sadly, this is not something that’s likely to happen in our generation – but you never know.
If you’d like to learn and discover in much more detail the 12 Step Programme, how we implement them and why they work so effectively, then please download my book “It’s Not About Me!” where not only do I tell my own story about my journey into the depths of addiction, but also out the other side through 12 Step Recovery and the 12 Step Programme, but I explain the 12 Steps in full for both the addict / alcoholic, the family to better understand and also for other practitioners working in addiction without personal experience.
It’s available as a free download =>HERE<=
Alternatively, you can purchase it on Amazon if you’d prefer an actual book rather than a download for your kindle / iPad. Please search “It’s Not About Me Ian Young” and you’ll find it whatever country you’re in, but for the .co.uk it’s =>HERE<=