I have tried a couple of times now to write something about recovery meetings. Every time I start something it comes out sounding a little too bitter and jaded. I have had some bad experiences with groups but I have also had some good experiences. I really don’t want to come across as that super angry twelve-step hater, I’m really not! So, I figure maybe it will be easier for me to start by writing about what I do like about meetings.
My first experience with a recovery group was actually a positive experience. After detox I got into an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for substance abuse. I could not have made a better decision. The group was relatively small, about five to ten people, and led by a professional counselor. MY IOP group met three days a week for three hours so we ended getting pretty comfortable with each other. The thing I loved about IOP was that it felt safe. The group had a professional counselor to keep us on track and offer insight. Relapses were not a big deal in the group, we didn’t do coins or count days so it never felt like anyone was trying to out-do or impress and there was no shame in failure.
My experience with AA meetings wasn’t quite as positive as my experiences with IOP. I am, however, writing my positive experiences at the moment so I will start with what I did like. Listening to other people’s addiction stories is a good thing. I got to hear stories that made me realize that I was not the only one who thought and did a lot of crazy shit. There is a lot of power in just knowing that one is not alone in the insanity of addiction.
Accountability is good. Recovery is a hard path and best not walked alone. My biggest problem; trust issues. It was very hard for me to establish relationships with strangers to the point where I could feel comfortable calling someone and telling them I was having a hard time. It took a lot of effort for me to establish a relationship with my sponsor and then I had a pretty big let down. Wait, writing about good stuff here! Finding a good accountability partner or group is helpful.
Doing step work can be beneficial. I think the twelve-steps are a bit like an introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I am a big fan of CBT, changing ones thoughts is possible and by changing our thoughts we can change our behaviors. The twelve-steps is helpful for going through some of your addictive thought patterns and debunking them. One HUGE issue I have with step work; it should be done with a professional therapist. Going through the steps had me unearth so many past traumas. I didn’t have skeletons in my closet I had nasty, moldering, reanimated corpses in my closet. A sponsor may want to help but they aren’t necessarily trained or equipped to help an individual deal with those kinds of issues.
I would highly recommend to anyone commencing on a twelve step journey to get a therapist. There are things you just don’t want to share with your group and maybe not even with your sponsor. There are things that you may need some professional help to deal with. For one, the steps don’t address mental health issues at all. I will stop at that because I feel a rant coming on.
Another reason I recommend a therapist; there are options besides the twelve steps. This is where I will probably get in trouble with passionate twelve-steppers. One of my problems with the twelve steps was that they were written in the 1930’s by privileged, white males. The AA founders borrowed ideas from a Christian group, the Oxford Group, that believed that most of life’s problems come from selfishness. The twelve steps focus very heavily on deflating big egos, talking about how bad and selfish we were in our addiction. What about people who are already broken down? What about people with massively low self-esteem? What about codependent doormats? (Yup, describing myself there.)
Charlotte Kasl-Davis has a great book, Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps, and she makes good arguments about the twelve-steps. Kasl isn’t anti AA and her book helped me put some of “the program” in perspective. Kasl’s book also gave me some good advice on what to look for and what to look out for in group dynamics. Kasl’s best advice; if you’re not comfortable, if you don’t feel it in your gut-find another group. Not all groups are healthy and nobody should not feel guilty, shamed or harassed by a group that is supposed to be helping them.
I just read this great post today which is along the same topic:
Twelve step meetings may be the most prevalent but there are other meetings. I’ve been to some SMART meetings which are not faith based and focus heavily on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Smart meetings are also guided by a trained group leader which adds a safety factor for me. I’ve also tried Refuge Recovery, a Buddhist based recovery group. I liked Refuge a lot because the meeting starts with meditation and then relates it to addiction. My only problem with getting to these other groups is that I live in a small town, we have one AA group, that’s it. I have to drive an hour one way for the other meetings which makes it difficult for me to attend on a regular basis. Right now I’m signed up for a women’s meditation group that meets once every two weeks, we haven’t started yet so I am just waiting to see how that goes.
I’m reading back over everything I’ve just written and thinking, “Man, this chick sounds brave! She’s bounced around to all these different meetings, been burned, tried others, she must not have a shy bone in her body. Who is this girl?” The truth is, I am not that brave. Everything I’ve written in the last few paragraphs is just the bare bones of my three year quest for recovery. All the different recovery groups I’ve tried were scary and I had to fight my anxiety every time I tried something new. I’m anxious right now about starting a women’s meditation group; what if they don’t like me? What if they are all hoity-toity and I’m that ex-junkie one with all the tattoos? What if they judge me? Putting myself out there is scary. The only reason I kept doing it was because I was desperate for something to help me and that desperation was greater than my fear. Sometimes I think I’m just a damn masochist.
I’m still in the process of learning what I need in order to recover. I’m not ruling out groups totally although, I am currently not attending one. Some people have great experiences with meetings and great recoveries, I am jealous of them. I currently have questions about whether one needs to attend a support group-forever. I also wonder whether or not constantly focusing on the problem itself (addiction, alcoholism, whatever) rather than on a life free of the problem is good or bad for sobriety. I’ve been sober for sixteen days now and haven’t attended a meeting yet. I feel very good about my sobriety this time around, I feel very positive. Is this because I’m not surrounded by a bunch of people moping about their addiction issues?
Please feel free to leave me some comments, thoughts, suggestions about your experiences with groups. Thanks!