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Whether you’ve gone on your own or are going because you were asked to, 12 Step groups are immensely impactful on helping people to stay clean and sober. Self-help groups like 12 Step don’t replace the need for initial addiction treatment. However, their combination of social accountability and goal setting can be immensely helpful for many people in staying in recovery.
The first time you visit a meeting you may feel awkward, skeptical, and even hostile. That’s normal. Many people experience feelings of hostility towards self-help, primarily because it asks them to accept and engage in new ways of thinking, acting, and engaging with the world and each other. It might seem silly and like nonsense at first. And, that’s especially true for people struggling with addiction, who often develop an unhealthy reliance on outward self-image and not needing help.
Most people are familiar with AA for alcohol and NA for drugs, and these 12-step fellowships have been around for decades. But now we have many offshoots for almost any addiction one can think of, like Heroin Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, and so on. So check out as many as you’d like when you start your recovery journey.
If you’re going to a 12 Step meeting, it’s important that you take the time to get the most out of it. And, keep in mind that just one meeting is never enough. Some people attend meetings for months before they start to really feel at home.
The best thing you can do as a new member, whether a guest or an initiate, is to listen. Most groups offer plenty of room for that. You can sit in for a few rounds as a guest to get an idea of what you’re getting into. You can also take time to get to know people before you share.
Of course, you’ll still have to introduce yourself to people, you’ll have to stand up and share some information. But, most groups won’t pressure you into sharing before you’re ready. So, sit down, listen, and allow yourself to figure out that everyone else feels the same way you do.
Many people start out with 12 Step by seeing it as a hostile environment where they’re being asked to share very personal information. Historically, that sharing would lead to judgement, shame, and being asked to change. People can feel disgust, stage freight, and can even be tempted to make fun of others sharing just to minimize those emotions in themselves. Those emotions will pass as you normalize sharing and as you stop seeing your peers as strangers.
Once you start getting to know people, you’ll have an easier time seeing sharing as a healthy activity between a group of peers. If you can stay open to the fact that that will happen, if you can stay open to learning, and if you can stay open to getting to know people, you will get there.
Millions of people attend 12 step groups. In fact, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, there were almost 2 million members in 2021. Every single one of them is there for the same reason. If you feel ashamed about your past, your drinking, your difficulty controlling yourself, look around. Every single person there feels the same or has in the past. And, like you, every single person there is taking control of their lives and working to get their life to somewhere they want it. They understand shame and guilt and they understand making hard choices to get where they want to be. Some of them are further along or not as far along, but you’re all there for the same reason.
Taking time to talk to people is important if you want to be part of the group. And, being part of the group is why 12 step groups work. That means getting to know people, talking, asking questions, and putting effort into being part of the social group. If you’re not good at socializing, you can say so and indicate that you’d appreciate people approaching you. Often, they will.
You’ll likely want to start small and share more over time. Taking a small truth and sharing it can be liberating. But, sharing your entire life story to a group of strangers might be too intimidating to do all at once. So, take time to decide what you’re comfortable sharing so you have a basis to share with people without making yourself uncomfortable.
Understanding why you’re sharing can help you to get more out of your 12 Step meeting. However, it’s not crucial. And, you can always figure out why you shared something after the fact.
Often, motivations for sharing include:
For example, you can walk into a 12 Step meeting and share something awful that you did that makes you feel ashamed of yourself. You might feel better because you talked about it. But, talking about it might help you to realize that you really want to make amends to the people you hurt. And, someone in the group might share that they did something similar and how they eventually fixed it.
Or, you might walk into a different meeting and share how many days you’ve been sober and how that makes you feel. 12 Step can be about both releasing negative energy and getting support and celebrating achievements and getting support. The thing is, you do so for yourself and you do so for others when they share.
12 step groups vary significantly in size, group makeup, personalities, and what’s included. You might not get along with every group. You might not socialize well. Fitting in with the group will likely take time, but who knows how much time. Walking in without expectations is important if you want to let things happen at their own pace. If you walk in expecting to immediately be able to tell your story and feel better about yourself, you will be disappointed. Building social relationships takes time, even when you’re in a venue specifically designed for that purpose.
Eventually, 12 Step groups are what you make them. When you invest, listen to others, and share at your own pace, you’ll get a lot out of those groups. If you don’t invest, you won’t get much out of it. Good luck going to meetings.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcohol or other substance abuse, contact us at Stairway Resource Center today. At Stairway Resource Center we provide a 60 to 90-day outpatient program that takes place in an engaging and supportive community setting. We offer dual diagnosis treatment and daily group and individual therapy for our clients, in addition to fun community-based events and activities.
Michael D. Stone, MD has been in practice for over 30 years. He graduated from Medical School in 1986 and attended LA County/USC Medical Center Residency in the field of Emergency Medicine. He is a practicing E.R. doctor at 2 hospitals in the Southern California area. Dr. Stone also has a Specialty in Chemical Dependency and Addiction Medicine for 22 years. He is the Medical Director of numerous Residential and Outpatient Facilities in the Los Angeles area. Dr. Stone’s interests outside of medicine include a commercial pilot, all outdoor activities including skiing, fishing and boating.