What to Expect at Your First 12-Step Meeting

It can be difficult to tell a substance abuser apart from a non-abuser. In fact, many individuals become substance abusers without realizing it themselves.

However, as substance abuse and recreational intoxication become dependency and addiction, individuals begin to experience various physical health, psychological, and behavioral changes.

Depending on one’s substance of choice, continuous substance abuse can cause incredible damage to the body and its functions, but the damage with arguably the biggest impact on an individual—especially to his or her personality, behavior, and lifestyle—is that which occurs to the brain.

Addiction can turn compassionate, intelligent, and ambitious people into dangerous, destructive, irresponsible ones. The family members, friends, and other loved ones of individuals developing an alcohol or drug addiction often notice these changes accumulating over time, making them unreliable, unpredictable, withdrawn, and emotionally volatile.

As more and more time passes with an individual in active addiction, he or she will feel progressively unfulfilled and even empty. The passage of time often entails the crumbling of an addicted person’s life from beneath them, which might include the loss of employment and financial independence, damage or destruction of important relationships, homeless, and even resorting to criminal behavior to sustain an expensive substance abuse habit.

Fortunately, individuals struggling with addiction have many recovery options available.

While there are numerous effective inpatient and outpatient treatment programs from which to choose, 12-step programs—Alcoholics Anonymous and its many derivative groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Sex Addicts Anonymous—have been an essential resource for countless individuals as they work toward and sustain sobriety.

However, for those who have never attended a 12-step meeting before, the prospect of participating and sharing the intimate details of one’s life during addiction can be daunting. The following is meant to give individuals an idea of what to expect at one’s first 12-step meeting.

What Is the Purpose of a 12-Step Meeting?

The best way to summarize what attending a 12-step meeting for the first time is like is to begin by conveying the purpose and principles of 12-step groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the first and original 12-step group, which Bill Wilson started in 1935. Wilson struggled with alcoholism.

His goal in developing the Alcoholics Anonymous ideology was to help a colleague overcome alcoholism. Wilson had been a member of and was inspired by the Oxford Group, a Christian-oriented recovery fellowship that was successful and popular at the time.

However, whereas the Oxford Group saw drinking as a sin and encouraged members to resist being sinners, Wilson’s growing fellowship would instead see alcoholism—and, by extension, addiction in general—as a disease that could be overcome through spirituality and community.

Alcoholics Anonymous encouraged self-examination, forcing individuals to be accountable for their failings and misdeeds, and taking the initiative to right prior wrongs while guiding others through this process in the spirit of true fellowship.

Experiencing Mixed Emotions at the First 12-Step Meeting

Depending on whether an individual who is attending a 12-step meeting has not yet begun the recovery process or has completed a treatment program, he or she is likely to experience many different feelings and thoughts.

Moreover, since some people are forced to attend 12-step groups—perhaps due to being court ordered or the criteria of an addiction treatment program—there could possibly be some anger and hostility that prevent them from being fully present and aware.

It’s common to feel intimidated while surrounded by members who have participated in 12-step groups for so long, making one much less willing to speak and participate. Feelings of hostility, aggression, and intimidation make individuals less receptive to the benefits a 12-step meeting can offer, but such feelings will continue to subside as one becomes more comfortable at 12-step meetings.

Individuals who have never been to a 12-step meeting will often haveexpectations and misconceptions as to what the experience would be like.

Many imagine being forced to address the group, introducing themselves as addicts and alcoholics, and having to share their darkest times during their addiction. Additionally, some fear they will be identified as a member of a 12-step group, perhaps due to some record of one’s having attended meetings on certain dates.

However, participation in 12-step meetings is entirely voluntary, and anonymity is central to a 12-step meeting; the group may record the number of individuals in attendance as a tally, but no identifying information about attendees is recorded or documented.

Choosing to Listen or Participate: There’s No Wrong Answer

When attending a 12-step meeting, one can choose whether to share with the group or simply listen to what others are sharing. Although many will share over the course of 12-step meetings, listening is also very beneficial as individuals gain much perspective on addiction and recovery by listening to the diverse experiences of others, learning how and why they handled those situations the way they did.

This is valuable because people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol tend to have similar experiences, whether it’s family problems related to substance abuse, job loss, spending all of one’s money on a substance abuse habit and being unable to pay bills, the experience of overdosing or witnessing someone else overdose, homelessness, and so on.

At a 12-step meeting, individuals get to hear about similar experiences from a new perspective, which can be enlightening and help them to think of addiction in new ways.

Typically lasting for up to an hour and a half, many 12-step meetings consist of members who share their stories of addiction or the recovery process, but this occurs voluntarily. No one in attendance is required or obligated to speak or introduce themselves.

Most individuals will choose not to share for the first several meetings while getting acclimated to the 12-step way. However, those who share at meetings often feel a sense of relief by sharing their experiences with others. In fact, sharing can be both helpful to others who may be experiencing similar situations and therapeutic to those who share.

Start Your Recovery Today

Twelve-step programs are just one of the many tools available to those who seek sobriety. Though not a simple process, recovery is made possible and fortified by the quality treatments available at treatment centers as well as the popular recovery fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and would like to explore treatment options, The Palm Beach Institute can help. Call or reach out to us online today to speak with a recovery representative who can help you find the best program for your needs. Taking this first step can lead to sobriety, health, and fulfillment.

How to Avoid Relapse Around Addicted Family Members

When you leave the lifestyle of active addiction, one of the biggest challenges is reconnecting with people from your old life. Many of them knew you when you were using, and some of them might still be using, too. However, what can you do when the person in your life who’s still using is a family member?

Dealing with drug use in your family is always a challenge. Knowing the difference between helping and enabling can be difficult at times. And watching someone go through something as terrible and life-altering as active addiction can cause heartache. However, when you have your own recovery and sobriety to consider, the challenge increases dramatically.

Maintaining your sobriety is one of the most important ongoing parts of your recovery, and it requires continual commitment. If a loved one is using around you, it poses a significant threat to your drug abstinence. Learn more about how you can deal with an addicted family member without relapsing.  

Don’t Accept Drug Use

As part of your relapse prevention plan, you might have set rules and boundaries for yourself. You might have resolved to avoid parties where you know there will be drug use. You may even avoid certain routes that go past some of your old favorite bars.

When you encounter friends and family members who are still in the throes of active addiction, it’s important to have boundaries for them, too. If you live with or spend a lot of time with someone who uses, you should let them know that you won’t tolerate drug use in your presence. If someone uses legal recreational substances like alcohol, you can still tell them that it makes you uncomfortable to be around it.

Setting clear boundaries for yourself removes some of the uncertainty when it comes to certain high-risk situations. It’s easier not to cross the line when the line is clearly drawn. Setting boundaries with someone who is addicted can also show them your commitment to sobriety. In some cases, you may have to cut ties with them until they seek recovery.

Avoid Constant Triggers

Triggers are a fact of life for people who are living in recovery from addiction or other mental health issues for that matter. Some triggers come from inside your own mind and can be difficult to avoid completely. Others can come on suddenly, like when a billboard ad for some ice-cold beer triggers alcohol cravings. While it’s important to learn to cope positively with cravings and triggers, you should also avoid regular sources of triggers when you can. A friend or family member who continues to use around you can cause you to continually cause you to have thoughts and triggers toward relapse, testing the limits of your coping mechanisms.

If you have gone through addiction treatment, you may have experienced elements ofcognitive behavioral therapy at some point in your treatment process. In the cognitive-behavioral model, high-risk scenarios are the first catalyst for a relapse. A relapse doesn’t start with the first time you use again; it starts with the way that you cope with a high-risk situation. If you live with, or if you are always around someone who uses, you are constantly in a high-risk scenario. Relapse is a very real threat to recovery. Like other chronic diseases, addiction relapse occurs in more than50 percent of people in recovery.  

Avoiding triggers might mean distancing yourself from people who are still using. While this may sound harsh, it might be as beneficial to your addicted family member as much as it is for you.

Don’t Be an Enabler

While you were going through active addiction and treatment, your family may have had to learn how to avoidenabling behaviors. Now that you’ve completed treatment, and you’re encountering other people in your life in active addiction, it’s important to learn to avoid enabling as well. If a family member is struggling with active addiction, you, more than anyone, understand what they are going through. You might want to help them, ease their pain, or cover for them.

However, enabling is often defined as shielding an addicted person from a consequence of their addiction. Softening the blows that are coming as a result of their actions and behaviors can prolong the time they spend in active addiction before seeking help. If you’ve set clear rules about being around drug and alcohol use and abuse and a family member continues to break them, one of the consequences of their addiction might be that they see you less often.

It may seem like a drastic move, but if a family member is putting your sobriety at risk, it might be best to remove yourself from those high-risk situations. You can let the addicted person in your life know that you will be there to help them find addiction treatment as soon as they agree to seek the help they need. However, risking your own sobriety to be around someone who is using, may only serve to enable them and risk your recovery.

Continue Your Recovery

Addiction treatment is important in achieving and learning how to maintain sobriety. However, after you complete your addiction treatment, it’s important to continue your pursuit of recovery. People often relapse when they become complacent in their recovery process, and when you encounter high-risk situations like a using family member, it puts a strain on your resolve. However, going to 12 step meetings, connecting with your support group, and connecting with your alumni coordinators, can help heal you on the road to recovery, even as new challenges pop up.

Seeking Addiction Help

If a loved one or family member is ready to address their substance use disorder, you might be able to help them find the right addiction treatment services for their needs. Call the addiction treatment specialists at The Palm Beach Institute at 855-534-3574 or contact us online to learn more about the available therapy options and how you can help your loved one get the care they need. If you are worried that you might need help preventing your own relapse, or if you’ve started to use again, we might be able to help you find additional treatment or aftercare services as well. Call anytime.


Positive Thinking: Does It Help Fight Drug Addiction?

Positive thinking is in vogue. With self-help books, motivational speakers, and meditation apps touting the power of positive thinking, you may wonder if there’s something to the “can do” attitude. Does positive thinking really help you when it counts? Learning to think positively may be more important than you might think, especially when you are working toward lofty goals and changes for someone who is in treatment for substance addiction. Some people get their positive mindsets from things like inspirational quotes, empowering music, or even from speeches from videos featured on YouTube.

However, the problem with inspiration is that it’s fleeting. After seeing an inspiring photo on Instagram, the fuzzy feelings will begin to wear off after 10 minutes, and it won’t mean much when you are in the trenches of resisting relapse. Instead, learning how to think positively can arm you to overcome thoughts that may otherwise encourage you to give up or give in.

What Is Positive Thinking Exactly?

Before you consider the benefits of positive thinking in addiction treatment, it’s first important to look at what the term positive thinking actually means in psychology. Psychology professors Michael Scheier and Charles Carver extensively studied the power of positive thinking and wrote a paper in 1993 that described how positive thinking is characterized in psychology.

They said, “…positive thinking in some way involves holding positive expectancies for one’s future.” They go on to point out that expectancies affect behavior, and that your expectations greatly influence your behavior. People tend not to do things when they truly believe they will have a bad outcome.

Expecting positive things will come from your actions won’t necessarily help you achieve success the first time. However, it can help you persist when things don’t go your way. When treatment is harder than expected, when cravings linger after treatment, and if you have to dust yourself off and try again after a relapse, thinking positively that you can achieve lasting recovery can help you keep moving toward your goal.

Marlatt’s Model

In a way, thinking positively is a big part of the cognitive-behavioral model that’s one of the most common types of treatment used in addiction rehab facilities all over the world. Psychology professor Alan Marlatt developed a relapse prevention model that shows the different paths you can take when presented with what he called a “high-risk situation,” or a situation that challenges a person’s commitment to a behavioral change.

In recovery, a high-risk situation could be someone offering you a drink or having a craving after a stressful day at work. A relapse doesn’t start the moment you decide to take a drink or drug; instead, it starts with your response to a high-risk situation. Depending on the situation you’re in, positivity can go a long way in helping you respond in a way that prevents relapse.

In fact, negative emotional states represent the highest rate of relapse, according to Marlatt. Anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, and boredom can often be triggered by negative thinking or a negative response to a challenge in your life.

Effective Coping Skills

Coping is your response to a high-risk situation, whether good or bad. According to Marlatt, your coping response to a high-risk situation is a critical factor in determining the outcome. For instance, if you come home after a long day at work and feel the urge to drink to relieve stress, an ineffective coping response might be to tell yourself that you are too stressed out to resist the urge. Negative thinking leads to poor coping skills and a decrease in self-efficacy, or your level of self-control in high-risk situations.

Positive thinking may facilitate more effective coping skills and lead to a better outcome. As an example, imagine you are at a party, and someone offers you a drink. That would be considered a very high-risk situation. Processing the situation by thinking, “I don’t need or want a drink. I’ve resisted before and I can resist again,” may be a more positive coping strategy. Your resolve is strengthened by a rise in self-efficacy.

Not Giving In to “Stinkin’ Thinkin'”

Stinkin’ thinkin’ is a colloquial psychological term used to describe thoughts that lead you to believe something bad will happen, you will fail, or that you are generally a bad person. In other words, it’s a specific kind of negative thinking that causes stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. One example of stinkin’ thinkin’ is something called catastrophizing, and it also happens to be a clear example of negative thinking. Catastrophizing is assuming disastrous consequences will come out of one, relatively small bad experience.

For instance, if you are late to work, catastrophizing would be to assume your boss will fire you, you’ll fail to make rent payments, and then you’ll be homeless. In your mind, one moment you’re five minutes late and the next, you’re living on the streets. Stinkin’ thinkin’ increases stress, anxiety, and depression, and lowers your self-efficacy.

Positive thinking can help you avoid stinkin’ thinkin’ when a situation triggers negative thoughts. If you employ positive thinking when you are late to work, five minutes late may be just that. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be fired and there is nothing to suggest that it means you will be homeless.

Can Positive Thinking Ever Be Bad?

If positive thinking influences relapse prevention in such an advantageous way, is there any drawback to this kind of optimism? Well, it’s important to note that positive thinking alone may not always lead to positive results in recovery.

In fact, if positive thinking means thinking that your actions will have positive outcomes, there is at least one clear example of an adverse effect of positive thinking. Positive outcome expectancies of negative behavior can actually lead to relapse in some cases. Marlatt notes that some drinkers have positive outcome expectancies for their drinking, failing to see the potential negative consequences.

In the party scenario, when someone offers you a drink, negative positivity (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron) would be thinking, “I can have one drink, and everything will be fine. I won’t go into full relapse.” Some people in recovery report having positive outcome expectancies about trying a different drug, because it wasn’t their drug of choice when they became addicted. It’s important to have realistic expectations and a positive outlook.

Positive thinking can be a vital tool for addiction treatment and recovery, but it’s not a replacement for treatment. If it’s not used wisely, it can even contribute to relapse. The world isn’t sunshine and rainbows. You’ll have to live life on life’s terms, and that may mean you’ll experience stress and disappointments. But positivity means realizing that you are capable of overcoming challenges, not living as if there will never be challenges.

Do You Need Help?

Maintaining a positive outlook is no easy task, especially when battling an addiction. But that’s where The Palm Beach Institute comes into play. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or dependence, call us at The Palm Beach Institute at 855-534-3574 to learn more about your addiction treatment options. You also can contact us online to speak with a call representative to learn what treatment methods work best for you.

The Newcomer’s Guide to Choosing a Sponsor

The process of developing an addiction differs for everyone because a variety of contributing factors underscore the disease. For some individuals, becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs is the result of social consequences due to one’s peers primarily being substance abusers. Others become addicted as a result of indulging in their curiosities. There are also those for whom substance abuse was a behavioral characteristic one gets from family members who have also struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction. However, no matter how it occurs, many repercussions tend to be experienced by most people who have an addiction.

After becoming addicted, individuals experience a profound transformation. Both one’s physical and mental health deteriorate as substance abuse becomes the central, driving force in an individual’s life. Throughout each day, an addicted person must continually seek the next fix to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. Living in this way will eventually result in the loss of one’s job as well as many other opportunities, financial instability, damage of or destruction to one’s relationships, and perhaps even legal repercussions for criminal behaviors. In short, virtually every aspect of an individual’s life is significantly affected by the development of an addiction.

Fortunately, recovery is both possible and attainable. While many have achieved lasting success in addiction treatment programs, 12-step support groups have allowed millions upon millions of people with an addiction to reclaim their health and independence. Having first started in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous is the first and original 12-step support group for which the renowned 12 Steps were created. The 12 Steps provide individuals who have suffered physically, mentally, and spiritually from the effects of addiction with a means of achieving a comprehensive recovery, emphasizing the role that spiritual awakening has in the recovery process. Moreover, an important part of the 12-step method involves a concept known as sponsorship. Therefore, the following will define sponsorship and provide basic tips for 12-step newcomers who are or might soon be looking for a sponsor.

Recovery the 12 Steps Way

In the early 20th century, a man named Bill Wilson was struggling with alcoholism and making the rounds in the addiction support groups that existed at the time, most of which were based on the principles of Christianity. Unfortunately, he hadn’t found one that could sufficiently rid him of his alcoholism and prevent his recurring relapses. Wilson started Alcoholics Anonymous—the original 12-step recovery fellowship—in 1935 out of his efforts to help Dr. Bob Smith, an associate of Wilson’s who also suffered from alcoholism.

In just a few short years, Wilson’s group has expanded exponentially, leading him to publish Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism, which is colloquially referred to as “the Big Book” by group members. In Alcoholics Anonymous, Wilson explained that the most basic goal of his recovery fellowship was to help individuals achieve sobriety while helping others to achieve sobriety. Additionally, the Big Book contained the first appearance of the renowned Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The 12 Steps, as envisaged and designed by Wilson and his early associates, are a sort of recovery checklist meant to be achieved, or “worked,” in numerical order by individuals who wish to overcome chemical dependency. Although the 12 Steps were created to combat alcoholism, they’ve since been used in the numerous groups that are derivative from Alcoholics Anonymous, such as Narcotics Anonymous and even Gamblers Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. Over the course of the 12 Steps, people who have drug or alcohol addictions come to terms with and accept the reality of their illnesses, recognize their powerlessness to the disease, appeal to the higher power of one’s understanding of the ability to overcome addiction, take a moral inventory of character defects and previous wrongdoings against others, make amends, and help others to achieve recovery through the 12 Steps.

What’s unique about 12-step programs relative to addiction treatment programs is the focus on one’s social and spiritual recovery alongside physical, psychological, and emotional rehabilitation, which tends to be of greater emphasis in more clinical treatment modalities. However, the 12 Steps program helps individuals to be more accountable for their own recovery and is seen as being the more proactive approach as individuals put much effort into their recovery rather than receiving it through treatment.

What Exactly Is the Purpose of a 12 Steps Sponsor?

what is a sponsor?

While the 12 Steps method has several important components, sponsorship is arguably the most important. After joining a 12-step support group, newcomers are encouraged to choose a sponsor who will guide them as they work each of the steps. Half mentor and half tutor, the sponsor help the sponsee to thoroughly learn each step, including its underlying or symbolic purposes as well as the role that each step plays in the cumulative 12-step recovery process. Moreover, the sponsor-sponsee relationship becomes and remains a very important, valuable resource for someone who has only just begin his or her recovery. A sponsee will learn that the sponsor always makes himself or herself available, which is particularly useful when the newcomer is experiencing cravings or is otherwise feeling tempted to relapse and begin using alcohol or drugs again.

In effect, an important part of finding sponsorship is having someone who will be an individual’s avid supporter, who will coach the newcomer through the process of recovery while also giving them straightforward advice when and where it’s needed. To an extent, the relationship is almost like a partnership as a sponsor becomes personally invested in the sponsee’s recovery. However, with the 12th step involving becoming a newcomer’s sponsor, the relationship is as important to the sponsor — who has already worked the 12 Steps and likely accrued an extended period of sober time — as it is to the sponsee still trying to overcome addiction.

What to Look for in a Support Group Sponsor

what to look for in a sponsor

When choosing a sponsor, a newcomer should keep several things in mind. First and foremost, an effective sponsor should be very experienced in the 12-step method and be extremely secure in his or her sobriety as an individual who is still unsure of his or her sobriety is in a very poor position to reinforce anyone else’s sobriety. In fact, it’s often recommended that newcomers choose one of the individuals in the group who has the longest amount of time spent free from alcohol and/or drugs.

Additionally, it’s often recommended that heterosexual individuals don’t choose a sponsor of the opposite sex and homosexuals don’t choose a sponsor of the same sex. Because a sponsor and sponsee spend a lot of time together, one or both parties becoming romantically or sexually interested in the other will render the relationship less effective and could compromise the newcomer’s progress. In other words, an attraction between two individuals can interfere with the therapeutic value of the relationship.

It’s a good idea for a newcomer — especially someone who’s attempting 12-step recovery for the first time and, therefore, is inexperienced with minimal knowledge of the 12 Steps — to choose a sponsor who doesn’t already have a lot of sponsees. Although, on the one hand, this could be a sign of an individual being an effective or skilled sponsor, it also means the individual will likely be stretched incredibly thin, limiting the amount of time they can possibly devote to each sponsee. Finally, one should trust his or her instincts when choosing a sponsor. If a newcomer simply has an instinctive, “gut” feeling that an individual doesn’t seem trustworthy, he or she should not choose that individual to be his or her sponsor. Conversely, if a newcomer has a strong, positive feeling about someone, he or she should trust that feeling.

Watch Out: Common Pitfalls of Sponsorship

Everyone is different and has different ways of handling or dealing with certain situations. It’s important to choose a sponsor who has a similar style of conduct as the sponsee. For instance, a sponsor who micromanages his or her sponsors would not be the best fit for someone who tends to dislike authority or being told what to do. Unfortunately, micromanaging sponsees is reportedly somewhat common among 12 Steps sponsors. With the sponsor-sponsee relationship being such an important part of a newcomer’s recovery process, it’s possible that an immoral sponsor could use the relationship as an opportunity to take advantage of him or her, whether for sexual reasons or otherwise, making it important that individuals take note of misconduct.

Establish Boundaries and Respect Them

When you choose a sponsor, be clear about establishing boundaries with the person. Have an open conversation about what you would like to get out of a sponsor-sponsee relationship. Do you want to be able to call the person every day or reserve communication for check-ups and emergencies?

Many sponsors will encourage you to reach out to them when needed, but they may not volunteer to routinely check up on you unless you explicitly say so. Also, know when it’s appropriate to reach out to your sponsor. While your sponsor can be a good shoulder to lean on, the person is not your doctor, therapist, nutritionist, or lawyer. Reserve important, legal, and health concerns for a professional opinion.

Some sponsors may be overzealous or even overbearing with their communication and advice. It could be a power issue; it could be a reflection of how much they care. If you feel like your sponsor is stepping too much into your life to the point of being unhealthy (as opposed your resistance to confrontation), communicate this discomfort to your sponsor or considering changing sponsors.

Remember: Your Sponsor Is Human, Too

There is a possibility that your sponsor may relapse, which may require you to choose another sponsor for your own health and safety. With a new sponsor, you may try to help your former sponsor and get him back into treatment, but do not risk falling into a relapse yourself if the situation becomes too extreme or triggering for you.

Another point to understand is that your sponsor isn’t perfect. Maybe the relationship is better left at being friends than looking to person as a guide. Maybe your philosophies don’t match and aren’t beneficial to your happiness. Choose a sponsor who can help you grow, not hold you back.

Free Yourself from Alcohol or Drugs — Call The Palm Beach Institute Today

There are many ways to achieve long-lasting sobriety. While some individuals have had great success in 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, others preferred enrolling in an inpatient or outpatient program at an addiction recovery facility. If you or someone you love would benefit from learning more about the recovery options that are available, The Palm Beach Institute is here to help. Call us now for a free consultation and assessment. Don’t become another casualty of addiction; begin a life of health and happiness with just a single phone call.