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The Power of the Group
For many people, recovery requires working hard with the helpful guidance of others. This guidance can often be found in support groups.
Why do groups help? Honesty is very fragile. It begins to fall apart in isolation. To guard against the withering away of the progress you’ve made, it’s important to find a community of other people who are also working to change. Many wonderful things happen in such a place:
• You’ll tell your story out loud and find out, to your amazement, that you are not the only one with this problem and that you are not banished from the group.
• You’ll find love and support from others who really understand what you’re going through.
• You’ll find strength you didn’t know you had and the hope you thought you had lost.
• You’ll find more wisdom about how to recover than you know what to do with.
• You will find a place where you can be honest and share secrets. This will help dissipate your toxic shame.
• You’ll learn a lot about your problems and what you can do about them. The people you meet will share their insights and recommend books and other resources. This will facilitate the changes you want to make.
• You’ll be reminded to guard against procrastination and denial, because showing up is a constant reminder that you need to change.
• Calling people in your support group will help you avoid the dysfunctional behavior that you want to change. You can call someone before acting out in some irrational way.
• Support groups make you accountable to the group. You’ll find yourself doing for them what you won’t do for yourself. (As you develop your own inner strength, accountability to the group will became less important.)
Of course when looking for a group you need to take some time to find a good fit. Some people will benefit from a therapeutic approach and should look for a professionally facilitated support group. The therapist in such a setting will keep things on track and provide the kind of structure some people need to feel safe. Usually these groups work best for people who just need a jumpstart and not a lifetime of support.
If you are looking for a spiritual solution, and think a long-term support network is beneficial, you will find 12-step programs very helpful. Twelve-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, believe that there is a benevolent force in the universe that can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Even within the category of 12-step programs, however, you need to look around until you find a group that feels right. You will know it when it happens. Sometime during the course of the meeting you will have a sense of homecoming.
I was lucky. This happened to me in 1982 at my first 12-step meeting. I really didn’t think my problem was out of control, but I sat there as someone explained how the program worked. Then, something the moderator said caught my attention. “You will have to learn how to ask for help,” she announced. “Not me,” I said to myself. “I don’t need anybody’s help.”
As the meeting continued I listened attentively. Then, at some point, I began to have a feeling of homecoming. I could not explain it, but I felt as if I was in the right place and that I had come home after a long journey. I started crying and in embarrassment I turned my face to the wall. The woman next to me raised her hand and said, “How do you know you belong here?” “You just know,” I whispered to myself. “You just know.”
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