Depending on where you are in recovery, whether you are just now beginning your sobriety journey or have been in recovery for some time, one thing is constant: you need people you can trust. This isn’t always a simple process and it certainly doesn’t seem to occur easily – especially if your healing journey has been a difficult one, complicated by various problems and entanglements that may have left you feeling mistrustful of others and yourself, and leery of putting yourself out there to a group of strangers. Let’s be very upfront about the recovery community. Everyone who fully embraces recovery does so in order to find a group of like-minded individuals who are all committed to helping each other achieve their sobriety goals. There is no “me” in recovery. It is all about community. In this, there is a great deal of reassurance and comfort. When we join or participate in the 12-step or self-help groups that we choose, what we are very likely to find are people from many different backgrounds, interests, personalities, education and income levels, religious, political, social and other affiliations. It is this very melting pot of differences that helps make the recovery community vibrant and alive. While it may take some time to acclimate yourself into the recovery community, if you give yourself the permission to feel at home, there’s every likelihood that you will soon begin to find yourself more at ease here.
Where Do You Start?
Building trust, and having trust in others, is a slow building process. You wouldn’t just blurt out your deepest, darkest secrets to a complete stranger. Nor would you be very keen to want to listen to a long litany of the same sort of revelation from someone you just met. Going to 12-step meetings is a little like finding your way around a new neighborhood. You’re not familiar with all the landmarks, but you do recognize certain ones as welcoming. With practice and over time you are able to pick out more familiar faces in the crowd and find yourself willing to open up a little in conversation with people sitting in the group meeting. It may not seem like much, but this icebreaker process makes the recovery group seem a little less intimidating. It should. Everyone in the rooms of recovery is there for a purpose. Everyone wants to heal and to help others maintain their progress on their own healing journey. Where you start in building trust is to trust in yourself to find the way most appropriate to you. There is no rush to feel right at home, nor should you worry that others expect you to just fall into line with the program and not have any doubts or uncertainties. If you have not yet done so, try to line up a sponsor as soon as possible. This is the person who will serve as your guide in the 12-step program, the one who will answer your questions, listen to your concerns and offer suggestions based on personal and group experience with something similar. Remember that your sponsor is not a therapist or counselor. For that, you need a professional that specializes in the type of therapy you need. For now, work on a) finding a sponsor, b) building a rapport and a relationship with your sponsor and working on the Twelve Steps, and c) giving yourself time to acclimate to the recovery community.
How Do You Know Who Is Your Friend?
Is it possible to find friends in the 12-step rooms? Or are these people merely acquaintances that you happen to see on a more or less regular basis? Do you have much in common with any of them? Do you find them going out of their way to be helpful to you and do they seem genuinely interested in how you are doing on any given occasion? What about when you really are feeling down? Do they offer support and encouragement without being judgmental? Maybe you don’t think you need friends in the rooms of recovery. Maybe you don’t, if you have a solid group of people in your support network outside of the 12-step rooms. But then, how many of them really know what it’s like to be in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, compulsive gambling, workaholism, compulsive spending, overeating, poly-substance abuse, or a co-occurring disorder? Perhaps the point isn’t worrying about how to tell if anyone is your friend but concentrating on learning as much as you can from the allies that are all around you in the 12-step rooms. For example, suppose you’ve been having a problem with recurring cravings and can’t seem to figure out the best way to overcome them. You’ve tried what you learned in rehab and that helped, to a certain point and for a while. But now, the cravings have resurfaced with a vengeance and you’re at a loss for what to do. Consider the group wisdom that’s available to you in the rooms of recovery. Overcoming cravings and urges is something that every person in recovery from substance abuse knows a fair bit about. The frequency and severity of such cravings and urges may vary, but the desire to find an effective way to combat them is universal. Listen to what others have to say about what worked for them and see if there’s something you can adapt to your own circumstance. This is an excellent example of how you can find allies you can trust in recovery. No one wants you to fail. The group – and everyone in the group – wants the best for you and for themselves in sobriety. As for some of these acquaintances growing into something more than mere group members you see now and then, that’s entirely up to you and them. If you find mutual interests, get along well in conversation, maybe there is an opportunity for friendship to bloom. It certainly is a good possibility and one to keep an open mind about.
How Much Should You Reveal?
These 12-step groups are anonymous, and your confidentiality will be respected. Still, it may not be in your best interests to reveal such personally identifiable detail that makes you and other people in the group uncomfortable. This is something that you will need to weigh and balance. There is no single answer that is appropriate for everyone. Some people will be very reticent to say much about themselves, fearing that their “secrets” will get out. Others may tend to more like open spigots, gushing out all sorts of details. To the extent that what is said in the rooms of recovery stays there, perhaps adopting the practice of moderation will work best. Only say what you feel comfortable talking about. If at some later date you feel more open about revealing other aspects of your healing journey, you’ll know when that time comes. The crux of how much you should reveal is how you feel about yourself at this point in your recovery journey. In this respect, it’s more about your openness and willingness to share your experiences with others than vice versa. Everyone in recovery finds his or her own level of readiness. Ask the old-timers (or long-timers) in recovery how it was when they first walked through the doors and sat down. Again, if you listen carefully to what they have to say, these people, who may very well be some of the most-admired and respected in the group, are likely to mention how they gradually came to believe and welcome the support and encouragement of their fellow group members. Many are likely to reference their own 12-step sponsor as instrumental in their early recovery journey.
What About At Home?
For those new to recovery and participation in 12-step groups, a question that may very well come up is how much to tell your loved ones and family members about what happens during meetings. Keep in mind the responsibility of maintaining confidentiality, but that aside; is it a good idea to talk in-depth about what is said during meetings? This is another gray area, but the consensus is that what is said in the 12-step rooms should likely stay there. Your loved one or family member may not understand, may misinterpret or even fear hearing the particulars. One way to help family members and loved ones on their own healing journey is to encourage them to join and participate in the 12-step family component groups. This way, they have others who, like them, support and encourage someone in recovery. They have their own opportunities to make allies, to share words of encouragement and support, to extend friendship and offer suggestions. In other words, everyone in recovery – you, and your family – needs the opportunity to find people to trust, to be able to find allies in recovery. Bottom line: We all need people we can trust. Finding allies in recovery is a lot easier than you might think. Open your mind to the possibility. Go to meetings and listen intently. Be prepared to be surprised and delighted at how much other group members want you to succeed in your recovery goals – and will be there to support and encourage you every step of the way.