By Suzanne Kane
When you make the commitment to go into drug rehab, one of the learning experiences you will undoubtedly encounter is coming face-to-face with 12 Step programs.
Already some of you are thinking that 12 Step programs are not what you signed up for when you went into drug rehab or, if you haven’t yet gone into treatment, you may think of running for the exit sign.
Don’t allow these thoughts to deter you from getting the professional help you need. For now, just put them out of your head.
Let’s take a brief look at what is really involved in getting introduced to 12 Step programs during drug rehab. More importantly, why do drug rehab programs include this as part of the treatment program?
Drug Rehab Just Begins the Recovery Process
First, let’s be clear about what drug rehab is. At its essence, this is a program that helps you get clean and sober. It is, however, just the beginning of the recovery process. During drug rehab you learn about the disease of addiction, what your triggers are and how to avoid or deal with them, how to cope with cravings and urges to use, and how to take better care of yourself.
Suzanne Kane also wrote many of the articles in The Addiction Primer, published at Lulu.com. It’s an indispensable guide for families coping with addiction who want guidance in how help a loved one get help.
You also begin the process of self-discovery, of uncovering long-hidden fears as well as misguided beliefs that may have contributed to holding you back from achieving your potential.
While you are in drug rehab, you are in a safe, secure and supportive environment. This is so that you have the proper setting in which to begin the healing process, away from the distractions and pressures of your former circumstances.
The reason that the professionals at drug rehab introduce you to the 12 Step program philosophy and get you started participating in 12 Step meetings is that research has proven that it is only by working your recovery that you will be able to be successful. By incorporating a 12 Step program introduction into drug rehab, you are laying the foundation for your being able to continue working the steps and helping to achieve long-term sobriety once you complete treatment and return home.
What you think you know about the 12 Step philosophy is irrelevant at the time you are introduced to it. The fact of the matter is that one of the most critical things you need to do if you want to have a reasonable chance at long-term sobriety is to develop a sound support network.
And you won’t find a support network among your previous group of drug- and alcohol-using friends and acquaintances.
You Need a Break
So much for thinking that all you need to do is finish out your 30- or 60- or 90-day drug rehab and you’ll be back into your old routine. It’s that kind of thinking that probably contributed to you being in rehab in the first place.
No, what you really need is a break – actually, a total break from former drug- and alcohol-using and abusing friends.
This is certainly a lot easier for someone other than you to say than for you to do. But it does get better. And being introduced to the concept and basic framework of the 12 Step philosophy and fellowship is an excellent way to start.
It may be that you won’t find hard and fast friends right off the bat, at least, not while you are meeting fellow drug rehab clients in the 12 Step meetings held during your time in treatment. That’s not the point. What is the point is that this is a time when you are most vulnerable. The first few days and weeks of sobriety are a time when you need stability and support all around you.
Both the treatment staff and the visiting professionals are there to support you during your stay in rehab. But what about when you complete treatment and head back home? Who will be there for you then that knows even a hundredth of what it means to live in recovery?
The answer is simple: the people in 12 Step groups.
By getting acquainted with the basics – how the 12 Step group meetings work, being introduced to the 12 Steps, learning about how the fellowship helps each of its members in their recovery journey – you are getting a head-start on what you’ll be practicing when you do finish treatment and re-integrate back into your life.
No Judgment, No Stigma
You may think that it’s totally out of the question for you to be able to share your experiences and thoughts with what are total strangers. That’s a perfectly understandable concern, but it’s one that you will be able to overcome without too much difficulty.
The fact is that no one will force you to say anything that you don’t want to volunteer. And no one is after your personal information. The fact that you are sitting in a room listening to someone lead the 12 Step meeting and individuals get up and “share” their stories of trying to overcome alcoholism or drug addiction doesn’t mean that you also have to blurt out your drug and alcohol using history.
You can if you feel that you are ready to, but there’s nothing written in stone that says you absolutely must.
Of course, the point is to get you acquainted with how the 12 Step meetings work, so that when you leave treatment and are in early recovery, you will be familiar enough with how the process works that you will begin regularly attending 12 Step group meetings on your own.
Think of it this way. Just as when you are in treatment, talking with your therapist, there is no judgment and no stigma attached to what you are doing. It is the same thing with participating in 12 Step groups. No, the 12 Step fellowship isn’t therapy. It’s not for that. What happens in the 12 Step rooms is that each person is there because he or she is committed to their own sobriety. Each helps the other to achieve that goal through support and encouragement that has no judgment or stigma attached to it.
Now, think of your life before you went into drug rehab. You likely had fallen far from where you want to be. Maybe you spent some time in jail as the result of a DUI or other drug- or alcohol-related criminal activity. You may have lost your job, your family, gone into bankruptcy, experienced a precipitous health decline, and endured the shame of knowing how bitterly you’ve disappointed your loved ones.
It’s tough to accept that there could be a group of individuals who won’t judge you or think poorly of you because of your addiction. But that is exactly what you will find in the 12 Step rooms.
And that is another reason why drug rehab introduces 12 Step programs during treatment. It is one of the best ways to ensure that you have the means to develop the support network you so need in your recovery.
Who Are These People, Anyway?
Just as the unknown is scary for each of us, when you have never experienced being in a 12 Step meeting, you may understandably be a little apprehensive. This holds true whether your first encounter with a 12 Step group is during drug rehab or when you look up a meeting near your home or work after you’ve completed treatment.
Who attends 12 Step meetings? Who are these people? The answer is that they are your neighbors and co-workers and friends – or people just like them. Addiction knows no boundaries. There is no demarcation line that’s drawn between the rich and famous and the suburban housewife or disadvantaged homeless person — not when it comes to addiction.
Anyone can become addicted. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, educated or not, of varying or no religious affiliation. Race doesn’t matter, since individuals of all races can equally become addicted. Political persuasion doesn’t matter, nor does social standing or occupation.
In short, the people who attend 12 Step meetings come from all walks of life. There are the newly-sober, those coming back into recovery after relapse, the long-time sober, and everything in-between.
One thing they all have in common is that they have come into the rooms because they want to maintain their sobriety – and they want to help support others with the same goal.
No one will pry into your personal circumstances. You go by first name only. That’s why these groups have the word “Anonymous” in their names: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and so on.
Anonymity is part of the overall group philosophy. Members of 12 Step groups seek no personal recognition in the media and absolutely adhere to the anonymity basis of their philosophy.
So, if you are at all worried about who these people are who attend 12 Step meetings and whether or not your personal identity will be compromised, you can dismiss those concerns right now.
When Will You Be Introduced to a 12 Step Program for Addiction in Rehab?
Each drug rehab facility or treatment center has its own process for when clients are introduced to 12 Step programs. It usually will begin fairly early in the individual’s stay at rehab, however.
Of course, detox is the first requirement for being in active treatment. After detox is completed, the individual goes into one-on-one therapy as well as group therapy and possibly other kinds of treatment modalities. It’s fair to say that part of getting the individual involved in the whole dynamics of the 12 Step program will happen early on in the drug rehab treatment program.
There are also educational meetings, group discussions, recreational time and other time set aside for specific activities.
What if you don’t like it? Can you opt out of participating in 12 Step programs during drug rehab? That is something that you’d need to discuss with your therapist at the treatment facility. It is likely that you will be strongly encouraged to give the program a try by attending the group meetings. It may be that your therapist will try to explore with you your reasons for refusing to participate.
Suffice to say that it all goes back to getting you to the point where, once you complete treatment and return home, you have a good starting foundation for recovery. As already mentioned, without a strong support network, you’re going to be pretty much on your own. And that is a dangerous place to be, with an almost inevitable back-sliding into addiction.
How to Prepare for your Introduction to the 12 Step Program
If you are at all concerned about participating in the 12 Step program, or even getting introduced to it during your drug rehab, by all means talk with your therapist about your feelings. There’s probably something that he or she can do or say to alleviate your concerns, but you won’t know until you discuss it.
The best way to prepare yourself for your introduction to the 12 Step philosophy and group meeting concept is to keep an open mind. Remember that you have made the tough decision to go into treatment because you want most of all to learn how to overcome your addiction. You know you need learn and practice the tools and strategies to help you in your ongoing recovery journey. Why would you sabotage yourself and cut off a viable and time-proven strategy, such as participation in 12 Step groups, because of lingering fears or concerns?
Another tip is to acknowledge to yourself that maybe you haven’t been the best judge of your actions and admit that you may learn something by being willing to listen to the experiences of others. There’s nothing that says you have to do exactly what has worked for someone else, but bear in mind that if a certain strategy or practice has produced results for others in recovery, it just may provide you with some insights into how you may be able to tailor such an idea to work in your own circumstance. It’s a little like brainstorming, where individuals kick around ideas and keep spurring each other on until the idea begins to take shape and morphs into something workable and real. Except in this case, you may start off more listening than actually talking, and that’s okay, too.
Just as you learned during drug rehab, or may be learning now, if you are still in drug rehab, you need to give it time to work. While sitting in a 12 Step program meeting during your stay in drug rehab may feel alien to you, remember that it is only to get you introduced to how things work. That’s so that when you are back in your own surroundings, you’ll already know what to expect when you venture into a meeting in your own community or near where you work or whatever location you choose to begin your 12 Step group participation.
As for which meeting group you’ll wind up staying with once you are back home, long-time 12 Step group members and sponsors will tell you that you should go to at least six meetings of a particular group before you decide that it is or isn’t right for you. Again, it’s all about allowing time to pass and giving yourself – and the group you’re participating in – time to “feel right.”
Bottom line in all this: Keep true to your goal of sobriety. Utilize all the resources at your disposal, including the invaluable support and encouragement that is always available to you through the 12 Step program – whether you think you need it or not right now. Trust us, you do. Outside of your family and loved ones, there is no better supportive environment that you can involve yourself in to help you on your recovery journey.
Good luck and God speed.