For many in recovery, 12-step meetings provide stability and sanity in the face of the whirlwind of addiction that threatens to toss them into the air and dash them against rocky cliffs. Just like the adage, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” is used as an excuse to drink, so too is there a meeting happening somewhere — and not always in the form you might expect.
Over the years, both as a therapist and one in search of what it was that had me immersed and enmeshed in co-dependent tangled up knots, I entered the rooms of AA, ACOA and CODA. The first two were about observation since I am not an alcoholic or drug addict, nor a child of either. The third was a weekly staple for six years, following a stay in a 5 ½ day co-dependency program in 1993.
Hard to imagine that last year, 20 years had passed since I was sitting in a room of a cottage, surrounded by fellow travelers and was told by one whose life could be described as chaotic at best, that “I was the sickest one there.” My puzzled look belied the heart-pounding terror and indignation I was feeling at that moment, since she had called me out on my professional shield that I had so desperately attempted to hold in front of me, lest I be too vulnerable.
She continued: “We all know we have problems. You think you’re here only because your husband and therapist told you that you needed to be here. Get real, woman. You need this and deserve this as much as any of us do.” What a revelation and what a relief to know that there were still 3 ½ more days of the program after she made that pronouncement. In the days that followed, I did at least begin the process of facing my fierce fears that threatened to pull me under the churning waters.
The Value of a 12-Step Meeting, Formal or Informal
In CODA meetings, I listened, learned and shared; not as a professional, but as a peer. I watched and heard as people’s lives transformed. Like the infamous line in the film “When Harry Met Sally,” I thought “I want what she/he’s having.” I wanted to know what it felt like to be able to say yes or no with equal ease, to be certain that my worth wasn’t just based on what I could do to practice what I have come to call “savior behavior.” All these years later, I am still learning and it is part of my own daily program even as I no longer attend formal meetings.
It occurs to me that any moment presents an opportunity to create an environment for recovery. A month or so ago, I was sitting in my office, where I work as a therapist in an outpatient recovery program, catching up on paperwork on a Saturday afternoon. A man came to my door and asked if the NA meeting had started. I shook my head and told him that we haven’t had one there for a few months even though it is still listed on the NA schedule, but I would gladly look up other options for him. He thanked me and explained that he was newly sober and had just gotten out of rehab a few weeks earlier. He had committed to himself to do 90 in 90. He and his wife had traveled from out of the area to attend a family function and this was the closest meeting he could locate to where they were staying.
As I searched the Internet, I was unable to find anything in the time frame he needed. He then asked if he could sit with me for 20 minutes, read the 12 steps and 12 traditions, and talk recovery. I gladly agreed and in that moment, I knew that a miracle had occurred. What are the chances, I wondered, that we would each happen to show up at that place and time? Only 100% as the God of both of our understanding had some idea that we needed to connect.
I also noticed that he was wearing a T-shirt with the image of a rock icon whose life had ended tragically as a result of an overdose. We reminisced about his music and I played a few YouTube videos of a young friend who is a talented musician whose performance (if you closed your eyes and listened) rivals that of his more famous counterpart.
When the time had passed, and it seemed like an instant, he asked if I would sign the space in his notebook that confirmed he had attended a meeting. A few days later, he emailed me to thank me for our time together and sent me a video of the musician whose face graced his shirt.
‘Walking Slogans’ for Addiction Recovery
Over the weekend, I attended a women’s retreat and at lunch yesterday was sitting opposite a woman who had six years’ clean and shared how amazing her life is now that she is sober. I told her the story of the cosmically coincidental encounter (although I don’t believe in any way God chose to remain anonymous) and she smiled and reminded me that we too were at a “meeting” since we were talking recovery.
I am blessed to have many friends who celebrate decades of sobriety; some I didn’t know when they were in the throes of their addictions. Some attend meetings regularly, a few still work with their long-term sponsors. All live their program and are “walking slogans” — what I refer to as “bumperstickerese.” The most powerful of these are simple and succinct.
Among my favorites are KISS (although I refer to it as Keep It Simple Sweetheart), GOD (for those who struggle with the traditional image) as Good Orderly Direction, EGO as Edging God Out, and “Bring your body and your mind will follow.” As in spiritual tradition, so too is it in 12 step. Where two or more are gathered….