Ten Tips to Working an Effective Program in a 12-Step Community

By Ken Wells - 11/30/2021


Series Two; Blog Eighty-Three

Effective treatment for addiction recovery is oftentimes judged by the percentage of relapse that occurs in the first year of recovery. It has been written that an estimated 43 percent of all people who go to drug rehab successfully complete their treatment programs, while another 16 percent are transferred to other rehab centers for additional treatment. Rehab success rates for those who complete drug and alcohol detoxification are a combined 68 percent. Most people cannot afford inpatient recovery programs that exist throughout the country. One of the criticisms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the persistent relapse that occurs in the program. Yet, AA and other 12-step programs have been helpful to millions of recovering addicts.

What are the keys to working an effective program in a 12-step community? Listed are some considerations.

  1. Make up your mind that when you cross the threshold for a recovery meeting you will get emotionally naked. Complaining about how others hurt, screwed or betrayed you doesn’t work. It is only a feeble attempt to hide what everyone already knows. Your addiction is a runaway train going down the track of destructive living. Open your heart and admit to yourself what everyone else in the room knows—your life is out of control and unmanageable. Tell on yourself, be vulnerable and experience the warmth of acceptance from others whose stories are the same as yours.
  2. Don’t improvise your program until you first listen, learn, and apply what others have achieved that you have not—sobriety.  We all know there are many ways to get healthy and be sober. When you hire a personal trainer, her way is not the only way to get in shape. However, if you want help you will need to determine that you will do whatever your athletic trainer suggests in the gym. It’s not different in a 12-step program. You will need to set your ego aside and with curiosity and conviction embrace the suggestions made in the program with your heart and soul. Once you achieve the sobriety that others in the program know, you can then consider improvisation.
  3. Feedback is the food that helps addicts in recovery grow.  You may be in a group that does not allow feedback when the group is in session. However, if you don’t seek out feedback from the 12-step community, your recovery program will die from a lack of nutrition. You may need to arrive early, stay late, or find time for coffee with others in the group to get the personal support your need to live in sobriety.  Feedback is imperative for you to grow.
  4. Be coachable.  Addicts want what they want when they want it. Some people come to a meeting and take up a lot of time sharing about a particular struggle. But they never intend to apply the wisdom shared from feedback to solve their problem. They insist on getting the answer they want to hear. The collective wisdom from a 12-step meeting is sacred and invaluable. When you have a problem without a solution, don’t waste the group’s time if you don’t plan to listen and incorporate the wisdom from the group.
  5. Protect your attitude.  You cannot sustain the intensity of desperation that you felt when you first came from the streets of addictive acting out. However, you can fan the flame of desire for sobriety by pursuing others in the fellowship who have a maturity that you lack. Always be humble. Know that you are only a step or two from the ditch that you just crawled out of.
  6. Be wary of grandiosity. Human beings always seek the grandeur of perfection. You will never be perfect. The 12-step community is a reminder of reality. In community we are simply one beggar telling another where to find bread. Excitement and exhilaration about no longer acting out is common during the beginning days of recovery. Breakthrough experiences deceptively suggest that you are over the hump and now you can boast about a “before and after” testimony about your freedom from addiction. But the junkie worm is cunning and without you knowing the pitfalls and underlying currents that exist, you can quickly lose yourself in the ways of grandiosity and find yourself in relapse.
  7. Complete the 12 steps in a timely manner. The role of a sponsor is to help you get through the steps. It is not h/her role to be your therapist or your advisor. It is nice to gather insights from someone who is further down the road than you in recovery. Yet, make it priority to complete the 12 steps in concise time. You don’t have to have a sponsor to get started or complete the steps. You can be busy writing out your first step while you look for a sponsor. Simply ask another peer in group to listen to your first step over coffee while you are looking for a sponsor. There is no reason you cannot complete your first rendering of all twelve steps within one year.  The steps are not designed to be one and done. You will be working with the steps the rest of your life. So jump in and get after the step work.
  8. Don’t hide in the weeds. When you go to a meeting it’s easy to sit back and listen to others share and never open your heart. Maybe you will not be given opportunity to share if the meeting you attend is large. You cannot afford to not put yourself out there. If you do you will regress in your recovery. Perhaps, you will need to catch someone after the meeting and share your heart or share with a sponsor. If you find yourself not being able to share your experience of struggle, hope and strength on a regular basis, then find another meeting that is smaller. If you hide when you need to share, you will fail to garner the personal empowerment that you will need to advance your sobriety into serenity in recovery.
  9. Be direct, not vague.  When you are ambiguous it breeds addictive behavior. You will need to speak straight and not mince words. When you talk around the barn or try to slant the opinion of the group to the way you want them to see what is real, you will sabotage your recovery. Working through temptation and addictive thinking require that you expose distorted thinking with straight talk in a 12-step community.
  10. Hang out with those who have what you want. The late John Bradshaw used to say “chess players usually don’t hang out with hockey players”. What he meant by that is that in recovery, seek out those who want what you desire. In every recovery meeting there will be attenders who are not intense about recovery. In the groups that I have led for the past 20 years, it has been interesting to note how some participants linger around those who are not serious about recovery. When it is time to create accountability with another member, they will always seek out someone who is not intense about recovery in the same way they are not. However, when you are serious about creating anything, sobriety included, it is imperative that you spend time with those who have got what you want. Inevitably, you will create what they have.

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