For many, the mainstay of recovery is meetings. Meetings provide support, inspiration and guidance. They have rescued the lives of millions of victims of addiction.
Yet some resist meetings. They may feel anxious or ashamed. They may have trouble making connections to others. They may mistakenly feel they are not like “those people,” or that they don’t need meetings to recover. While some don’t need meetings, most do. I encourage people to try meetings for at least three months to see if they are of benefit. There’s no harm in going and listening. With time, what is initially an unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience become familiar and comfortable.
Meetings are a powerful tool for recovery. But, like a chainsaw, one has to be very careful to grab the right end to avoid getting hurt. To use a meeting skillfully:
- Go early to get to know people.
- Stay away from the smokers. Associate with members free of all addictive substances and behaviors.
- Stay late. Only socialize with people who have three or more years of solid recovery.
- Listen carefully.
- Identify, but don’t compare. Take what’s best and leave the rest.
The key to meetings is to exercise tolerance, identify but not compare, and take what’s best while leaving the rest. You chew the meat and spit out the bones.
By far the most popular and most pervasive of mutual help programs are the 12-step fellowship programs. They include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (www.aa.org),
- Cocaine Anonymous (www.ca.org),
- Co-Dependents Anonymous (www.coda.org)
- Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (http://cgaa.info/)
- Crystal Meth Anonymous (www.crystalmeth.org)
- Debtors Anonymous (www.debtorsanonymous.org)
- Dual Recovery Anonymous (www.draonline.org), for people with both addiction and psychiatric illness.
- Food Addicts Anonymous (www.foodaddicts.org)
- Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblersanonymous.org)
- Marijuana Anonymous (www.marijuana-anonymous.org)
- Narcotics Anonymous (www.na.org)
- Native American Indian General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous (NAIGSO-AA), (www.maigso-aa.org), a 12 step fellowship designed for Native Americans.
- Nicotine Anonymous (nicotine-anonymous.org)
- Overeaters Anonymous (www.oa.org)
- Sexaholics Anonymous (www.SA.org)
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (www.slaafws.org)
- Shopaholics Anonymous (www.shopaholicsanonymous.org)
12 step meetings come in all shapes and sizes. There are speaker-discussion meetings, Big Book meetings, 12 step meetings, women’s meetings, GLBT-friendly meetings, and many others. The best strategy for trying on 12-step meeting for size is to go to 10 or more different meetings to find a few that fit best. Some people get cravings when they hear other people’s stories. These people may need to avoid speaker-discussion meetings. In the Rooms is an online fellowship for those who prefer the anonymity, security, convenience, and accessibility of online meetings vs. in-person meetings.
12 step fellowships emphasize gaining power over addiction by surrendering to a Higher Power. While many people’s higher power is God, it may be anything that helps keep you sober. It could be your family, your friends, your pet, medication, your sponsor, your therapist, or other resources.
12 step fellowships are not religious organizations (even atheists can have a higher power). Despite this, some people like neither the spiritual overtones of the 12 steps nor the concept of surrender. For these people, other meeting options exist.
Women for Sobriety meetings employ 13 principles to empower women in their recovery.
SmartRecovery focuses on support and self-empowerment in managing cravings by examining the “ABCs” of behavior: Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences. Members practice thinking through cravings to the end consequences of acting vs. not acting on them as a way of getting unhooked.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety and LifeRing both allow for people to come together to discuss their lives. Members give and receive support without the spiritual overtones of the 12 step fellowships.
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-based movement that emphasizes meditation and mindfulness as a pathway to freedom from cravings and compulsions. Members support each other in their practice to develop the capacity to sit with urges without needing to act on them.
Celebrate Recovery is a Christian-based recovery program that also leverages sharing and support of members around a common religion. Other religions offer similar recovery support meetings.
If you are early in recovery, make it a point to try meetings before discarding them as an option. Go to different types of meetings to find the right fit. If you have difficulty being in groups, then recovery meetings give you a wonderful opportunity to overcome your difficulty and learn to connect with others. This may be the key that saves your life.