When It Comes to 12 Step Programs, Choose Your Group Wisely

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I am in recovery from alcohol use disorder, and I have been involved in many different pathways on my recovery journey. 

One of the most sustainable efforts is a 12 Step program. I find them useful. However, my view is slightly different than some. I will explain my experience. I hope this is valuable in your own journey. 

First, I am not a diehard “needing a meeting” person. Nevertheless, the steps, and work surrounding 12 Step programs, were critical to my early recovery. 

Dependence on meetings is effective for some. It currently is not for me. But the steps were always helpful. They provided a pathway for me to follow when many days I was not even sure what physical step to even take. The first three steps gave me an easy entrance. One, I had to realize I was powerless over my addiction. Eventually, I would answer that with a definitive, “yes!” Two, I had to know my higher power could help. I had to come to a place of trusting that my higher power (who for me is God) didn’t hate me. I had to believe He “would.” Three, I had to enlist my higher power/God in the work by being willing to recognize the need and fully surrender to his power in my life. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s helpful to have something of greater power than you that you can trust to take on the myriad of things that are out of your control in your life in addiction. 

I hold close to Steps 1-3 today. I find that I often need to remind myself that I am powerless in certain situations. Many things are simply out of my control. 

Knowing where to place those “out of control” things provides me the freedom emotionally to work on the things I do have control over. Being honest with myself makes or breaks this portion of work. In fact, honesty is at the core of any work. If you are in recovery or trying to improve your performance in any area in life, you must start with being honest with yourself and taking a full inventory of your situation and the skills and tools you possess to move forward. 

Beyond those actual steps in programs, I have found that many of the principles and concepts resonate and reverberate throughout my life. Many times, during specific days of challenge, I find strength in the work related to acceptance, rigorous honesty, and understanding reasonable expectations in reasonable timelines. 

The 12 Steps have elements that hold true for all of us. However, if you are involved in a 12 Step program, choose your home group wisely. 

For me, 12 Step programs are not the be-all and end-all. Everyone’s experience with these programs is unique. For me, it was important that people accept me as I am. Not every program does. Additionally, there are some “old-timers” or “old school” members that quite honestly do not “have what I want to have” in their lives. Again, choose your meeting wisely. It must “fit” you or the value you can gain will be inhibited. 

There are downsides to the programs, too. In many 12 Step groups, if you have a recurrence of use in your recovery journey, you can be made to feel like you failed. 

This is a significant component to consider in your wise choice about a meeting. Picture this. You are moving through life and doing quite well. You are performing on your job. You are not using any of your former vices. Your relationships are stronger. Some relationships are revitalized, and others are an understanding that it is better to stay apart. All in all, you are doing well.

Then an unforeseen trigger, a new trauma, or the baffling lies that depression and anxiety tell us to reenter your life and you find yourself awakening to the morning after a recurrence.

For traditional 12 Step programs, you relapsed. You must start all over again. You “went back out.” That implies you were weak, and you blew it, and you need to come back to the steps and do them again and get it better this time because you screwed up. 

I find this “failure” aspect of the 12 Step approach demotivating, dangerous, and unrealistic. 

Our human nature causes us to make mistakes or have missteps. Our journey of recovery may very well need a brief sidestep to learn and become stronger or reinvigorate our commitment. Ideally, we will not need one at all and can enjoy the fruits of an entire remaining life of sobriety. Nevertheless, all the progress made, and all the work done is not null and void because of substance missteps. I am not advocating for anyone’s recurrence in use; I know it’s dangerous and hard. I am simply saying that if you lose sight of the goal, you are not at zero. Get back on the trail and forge ahead. The same steps help you to carry on. They do not require a complete reboot.

I had a college baseball coach, one who led our team to a Hall of Fame induction, tell us that if we screwed up, just own it and sprint back onto the field. I see that as a healthy approach to recovery.

The steps work. They really do. How we apply them might be different. 

Christopher Pridmore is an author, speaker, podcast host, and Shatterproof Ambassador.

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