Does a person have to attend twelve-step meetings to recover? Are AA, Nar-Anon or Al-Anon twelve-step meetings necessary to maintain long-term recovery? There is no short answer to this question but it is a lot more difficult to recover without them. I have attended many twelve-step meetings all across the country. These meetings come in different sizes, ranging from a few people to a few hundred. Some groups seem to develop their own personalities. Meetings are sometimes designed around various groupings and categories, such as smoking and non-smoking. Others are broken down into age categories, and some are gender-specific. Twelve-step meetings have been in existence since 1935, with more meetings being added all the time. It may take someone a while to find a group that they feel comfortable attending. This is the same as looking for a health club, book club, or church. No one particular group is going to be perfect. It is senseless to search forever. Finding a group that is just “okay” is a good start.
You may need to remind your loved one that everyone attends twelve-step meetings for the same basic reason. Those committed to a group are there to help themselves and also to help others stay drug and alcohol-free. Everyone who goes to these meetings does so voluntarily, but it is common to feel awkward in the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, try a few different meetings, and then decide which to attend regularly.
In the beginning, right after leaving treatment, I wasn’t very excited about going to any kind of support group. I felt awkward and out of place. When I did go, I rarely spoke at all, and took a back seat. Eventually, after several weeks, I did get to the place where I enjoyed being part of the group. I began to participate in discussions, and even looked forward to the meetings.
You may find that the recovering person in your life chooses to avoid attending a group altogether. Unfortunately, this is not the best choice, because it often leaves them all alone in the recovery process, with no one to hold them accountable. Twelve-step meetings offer consistent encouragement, empathy, advice, and role models that other alternatives do not provide. The familiar saying is true: An addict all by himself is in bad company.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
Those beginning recovery need other recovering people to talk to for support. There is no substitute for one person helping another. Hurting people need to know that the person trying to help them has been there and that they speak from experience. This applies more so with addiction than with most other challenges. I can’t think of any other problem anyone can face that is so sensitive in this way. Most men and women new to recovery would rather talk to a high-school dropout with six months of sobriety than to a PhD who has authored ten books on the subject but who has never had an addiction problem.
I’m not saying that a trained counselor or pastor is unable to help a person in recovery. There are many wonderful counselors in the addiction field who are not in recovery and who can offer valuable insights. In fact, they are able to let us know when we may not be getting the best advice from a fellow recovering person. Usually a combination of both—clinical expertise and support from another recovering person—is the best choice.
Here are the steps we took,
which are suggested as a program of recovery
1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
~AA Twelve Steps
Back to our original question: Are twelve-step meetings essential?
My belief is that everyone in recovery can and will benefit from being part of some therapeutic community—especially in the beginning. Does it have to be AA or NA? Not all the time. For some it can be groups such as those offered in outpatient care, facilitated by a trained addiction counselor. These are structured groups as well. But no matter what method of recovery an addict chooses, it is crucial to understand the significance of support. Remember that we are talking about a disease that can be fatal—a disease that will try to convince someone he is cured and no longer needs help when in fact he does.
Another effective option may be to choose a recovery group through a local church, if one is available. These groups are becoming more and more common, and provide support for the addict as well as offering groups for family members.
Others in recovery may opt for one-on-one sessions with a counselor. These options still provide needed support. What is important to keep in mind is the insidiousness of addiction. Addiction may try to convince a person that they can handle their problem on their own. I have yet to meet someone who has truly been able to recover alone. There are people who have quit or stopped using all by themselves, but what I don’t see in these people is the serenity or peace of mind that comes with real recovery. My belief is that being part of a group of like-minded people for a period of time is critical for true success. No group has been more successful than the 12-step AA model.
Which support group is best, and how often and for how long someone may need to attend, will vary. I have two very good friends who went to the same treatment center that I went through. Both of them attended a few meetings of support groups after they finished their twenty-eight day programs. For them, that approach worked and they have been drugfree ever since. My story is much different. I regularly attended support groups—along with church for more than a few years. Outpatient meetings offered by Valley Hope and twelve-step groups were the two resources that worked well for me. What works for one person may not be right for another. Each recovering person must decide for himself or herself what method is most effective. Regardless of what we may need to do to stay sober, it is usually a small price to pay when compared to the destruction of active addiction. A few hours a week spent on recovery, even if we have to continue this until the day we die, is not a big deal.
My suggestion is to keep an open mind about attending support groups. After a while, the recovering addict usually starts to enjoy going. I know this may sound crazy, but it is true.
My wife, Judy, also has more than twenty-seven years of success in recovery. We enjoy going to meetings together. Our kids like to joke about how when we are on vacation in a new city or town, we will often find a meeting to attend: “All our friends’ parents go out dancing or to a bar when they are on vacation, and what do our parents do for fun? They go to AA meetings!” It’s true. A recovering person can walk into an AA (or NA) meeting anywhere in the world and instantly be accepted by a room full of strangers. After the hour is over, he finds that he now has a whole room full of friends!
As a result of going to meetings, an addict’s attitude begins to change: he develops friendships, sees growth in himself, and notices the growth of the participants around him. The skeptic who once was afraid to walk through the doors begins to enjoy recovery and enjoy life.
* Excerpt from Chapter 16 (One Step at a Time?) “Why Don’t They Just Quit? What families and friends need to know about addiction and recovery.”
The Critical Role of Al-Anon in Family Addiction Recovery
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