12 Step Myths

The myths about 12 step programs are as almost as old as the program. This blog will clarify what recovery groups are - and what they aren't so you can decide for yourself.

These groups aren't for everyone. But, for support and recovery, they can be a lifesaver. 

Of course, I cannot speak to the quality of each individual group because that would be impossible. The focus will be on what is truth versus myth.

Myth 1 - It's a cult

A cult is defined "as a religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false...under a authoritarian, charismatic leader."

People in cults are expected to conform to their beliefs without question. I've heard this many times over the years and I have to laugh. Here's why.

There are no leaders. Everyone has equal input into how the groups are run. Their guiding principle is unity. You're encouraged to "take what you like and leave the rest." Basically, use what works for you and disregard what doesn't.

The guidelines are suggestions only, no hard and fast rules or requirements. 

Myth 2 - It's a religious program

To be fair there is talk of God but only as you understand him. Everyone defines - or not - their own Higher Power. For some it's nature, a universal energy, your own inner voice, or the group as a whole.

What 12 Step programs are and their myths

What 12 Step programs are and their myths

If you are atheist or have a negative concept of God, you're not told what to believe. This freedom helps the newcomer feel more at ease. Forming your own concept of a Higher Power is encouraged but not required. 

When trying to get sober alone didn't work. Learning to trust a power greater than yourself to restore you to sanity is step two. (Yes, the word is sanity but the intention is to find relief by admitting powerlessness over the substance or behavior).

Many atheists feel accepted because they weren't asked to believe anything. This helped them feel a part of the group and work the program at their own pace.

Myth 3 - You have to be a "group" person 

When I recommend 12 step groups, the response I get is that they don't like groups. This is very common, even for extroverts. Seeking support is a big step. You might think it won't work or you won't fit in.

Start off with a small meeting. If that's too much, try an online or telephone meeting. Newcomers admit that they are surprised to see people smiling and laughing despite their problems. That's the power of support!

The general suggestion is to try six meetings and if you don't like it - they'll refund your misery!  

Tips for checking out meetings

  • If you need to ease into it, arrive late and leave early.  
  • Attend the same meetings for a few weeks before making a decision.
  • If you prefer find a smaller or same sex meeting, these meetings can feel safer.
  • If you can, talk to someone after the meeting and ask questions.
  • Let them know your a newcomer, they'll want to welcome you.

Myth 4 -Those people are crazy

Let's face it, there are unbalanced people everywhere. At first, hearing people speak honestly about their pain can be a little strange. If you grew up keeping stuff private, sharing at group level might be super uncomfortable. On the other hand, acting like everything is fine, no matter what, keeps you isolated. 

Sometimes, you'll hear someone share something very personal. It can be intense. Some are sicker than others. Practicing compassion helps. "There for the grace of God go I" is another 12 step saying that is a gentle reminder to avoid judgement.

Everyone is at a different place, some will be happy and laughing while others may be crying. Look for a group that makes you feel welcome.

Keep Coming Back

There can be a feeling of safety in 12 step meetings that is unexplainable. It's when people feel at home and accepted. If you've had a bad experience, maybe it's time to try again. The next one will hopefully be better. Being in pain impacts your ability to connect. If you're willing to keep coming back, you will learn valuable tools to create the life you want.

The 12 steps are the foundation of the program and the steps are worked with a sponsor who can mentor and support you in recovery.

Everything is the program is suggested only. You're not required to share. If you happen to be asked all you have to do is say "pass" and they will accept that.

More on 12 steps 

12 step programs provide much needed support if you are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, overeating, sex, codependency and other addictions. 

Al-Anon is another 12 step program for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts. Even if you didn't grow up with addiction, Al-Anon is a great place to improve self-esteem and relationships.

You might not identify addiction in your family initially. It's not always about the drinking, but the patterns of behaviors that affect your life today. Check out my community resource page for links to 12 step programs. 

If you are struggling in your relationships, join me for my online masterclass on Healing Codependency: How To Create Loving Relationships Without Sacrificing Yourself.