Recovery Support Groups 101
There are many ways to find support in recovery, and no one way is the “right” way – but there are a lot of misconceptions about all of them. Our wish for every person struggling with drug and alcohol dependency and the people who love them is that they find the method that best matches with their needs, beliefs, and personalities. HAMSA is here to help by outlining what each recovery program is and what it isn’t.
Dispelling the Myths of 12-Step Groups
One of the most popular and widely recognized models of recovery groups are 12-step meetings, known to many as Alcoholics Anonymous. This model has been adopted to serve the needs of many, and includes groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous, just to name a few. Alcoholics Anonymous has been around for 80 years, and there are probably almost as many misconceptions about the program, so we’re going to bust some of the myths about 12-Step meetings.
Myth: AA is a Christian Program
Fact: 12-step programs are spiritual, not religious,programs. The basic premise of these programs is that the only answer to alcoholism and addiction is a spiritual one. Not to be confused with religious, there needs to be no formal worship or organized prayer, but rather, the individual must open his or her mind up to the idea that there is something greater than themselves out there in the universe. By opening up to this idea, it allows for spiritual healing and growth to occur.
Myth: Belief in God is a Requirement
Fact: The only requirement is that each member find a Higher Power or God of their understanding upon which to rely. Some see this as a religious God, the power of the universe, nature, or simply the understanding that we as individuals are not in charge of what goes on around us. At the root of addiction is a need to control things to serve our own needs; putting some trust in a power greater than ourselves allows us to start letting go of the need to control and coping with life on life’s terms. While the Big Book of AA mentions God throughout, the program sees this as an interpretation of a higher power, and members are encouraged and welcomed to find their own definition. In fact, many members who are agnostic or even atheist have found success in 12-step programs.
Myth: It’s a Cult
Fact: A cult is focused on one person, object, or authoritarian leader and requires that members think or act in a certain way; a cult will punish members if they don’t comply or try to leave the group.12-Step groups don’t have an authoritarian leader; to the contrary, they encourage fellowship and unity to promote recovery. They follow a set of principles (traditions) which are clearly defined as suggestions (as are all of the principles in AA and related groups), all of which are meant to define and solve problems and encourage healthy solutions. No one is required to speak or share, and members are free to attend – or stop attending – meetings whenever and wherever they want. In fact, one of the common sayings in 12-step meetings is “take what you want and leave the rest.”
Myth: You Have to Be a “Group” Person – and You Won’t Find Stable People in Meetings
Fact: It might seem odd to commune with strangers discussing your fears and anxiety, but addiction is a disease of isolation – and isolating keeps people from getting better. An important tenet of 12-step programs is the notion of “fellowship,” the idea that no one can kick their addiction alone and that building a network of other people pursuing recovery will strengthen yours. No one is required to speak in a meeting, and folks often find support following the meetings in smaller groups which may seem less intimidating. Sometimes, just showing up and finding out you’re not alone in your struggle can be of comfort.
As for the people…well, unbalanced people are everywhere. It’s also true that some people are sicker than others; you may hear things that are extreme in a 12-Step meeting, but the rule of thumb is to listen for the similarities and not the differences. Very often, you’ll see people from all walks of life – a housewife, a CEO, a person who is homeless, a bike messenger, a college student – and their emotions will be deeply relatable. It’s also true that different meetings have different personalities, so sometimes members visit a few before they find their tribe.
So…How Do I Find the “Right” Meeting?
The best way to find the right meeting is to go and check them out; there’s just no replacement for firsthand experience. You don’t have to stay if you’re not getting anything out of it or you don’t feel a good connection! Find people you can relate to, and ask which meetings they enjoy. You can search for meetings by location, day, time, and meeting type:
You can also call us at 1-833-HAMSA-HELPS; we can help youfind a meeting that feels right for you.