The Anonymous groups and their place in recovery
As soon as someone admits that they have a problem with alcohol, the immediate go-to suggestion other than your GP tends to be AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). The Anonymous groups such as AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA) are a few of the 'fellowships' as they are known within the recovery community is just one pathway, but some feel it is the only one.
I attended NA for about three years (for some people, it is a lifelong commitment). I do say that it is one of the parts of my recovery that helped save my life. What I learnt about myself, meeting people like myself that 'got me' as well as picking up many tools and techniques that I use with clients to this day. Understanding our traits, behaviours, etc, is just a part of recovery - a lot of the work is more on the practical side. Dealing with cravings, triggers as well as feelings and emotions that appear in our daily lives.
A large part of it for me was having people that I could call or text to talk to, to help when I needed it. Part of my support network. Ringing people that haven't experienced addiction, the cravings, the 'insane' thinking can help, but they don't get it. Comments like "Well, don't drink then", when it isn’t as easy as that. Part of the service to clients is telephone support as needed and in between sessions.
Let me set the scene…
What are the Anonymous groups?
Firstly, as the name suggests, it is about confidentiality; a space that is safe for people to speak openly. "What is said in the room stays in the room". I have seen people in the supermarket, and we haven’t really acknowledged we have seen each other. There may be a slight nod, or just a smile so that those we are with don’t ask “Who are they?” as well as not breaking your own confidentially to others.
The groups or as they are called 'meetings' provide a community of 'like-minded people'. As indicated above, there are specific meetings that focus on specific substances. NA, however, uses the term 'all mind-altering substances' - everyone is welcome that is struggling with any addiction. The only requirement is 'the desire to stop using.'
Each meeting has its own literature based on the focus of the groups, however, there is the same set of ‘principles’ and ‘traditions’ that carry through them all that are the foundations of the program and steps. In Huddersfield alone there are over a dozen face to face meetings, each has a different feel. People resonate more with some than others.
What happens in the meetings?
It is not just a group of addicts that meet up and have chat. There is formality, there is a committee that takes care of the running of the group. Everyone is a working member, from the chairperson to the person responsible to make sure there are tea and coffee supplies, oh and biscuits.
There is a format of the meetings. Open with readings, end with readings and the middle section is time for people to 'share'. This is a time that people can talk about what is going on for them. This is where some of the magic happens. Just getting those words and feelings out in the open takes the power out of them.
'Throwing up in the middle of the floor' is a term used when someone just vents and gets things off their chest, with no judgement. Everyone in a chair has done that very thing and know what the sense of relief is. People do not feedback, ask questions about what you have said. You say your bit, then it's someone else's time to share.
Let me dispel a myth. It is not a religion or cult, what it is, is a spiritual program. Connecting with your 'higher power', it does use the word God, however not in the context of religion. It is a way of identifying something that is greater and bigger than us that we can lean on for support.
How can it help?
It is not a group that you just turn up to chat - it is a new way of living. Part of that way is abstinence. As I mentioned in my previous article, abstinence is not always everyone's goal. So, sitting in a room where the objective is to help people be abstinent when they don't really want to be or have to be is counterproductive.
There are people at meetings that are from all walks of life, and at different stages of recovery - from the long-termers to the newcomer.
The newcomer is considered the most important person of the meeting. There are two roles that are vital, male and female meet and greeters. These roles are there to keep an eye out for newcomers, maybe people they haven’t seen before. It is about making them welcome. Some form of addiction is what all these people have in common, we have all sat in that chair for the first time.
When people first ‘try’ going to meetings, they feel it is not for them, and seek other options. I have lost count of the number of clients that say "Yeah, I tried that. But I'm not like those people there. I haven't been through the courts, rehab facilities, not on benefits, I just do coke I’ve never used heroin or injected… Oh, and they talked about God."
I get it, the perception that it is only down and outs that are addicts. Wrong. What I do point out though, is that there is a chair waiting there for them, unless they take control back and deal with what is going on, they will be sitting in that chair, broken.
I always say to people, go to a few meetings, give it a chance. As with everything, you only get out what you put in. A mantra of the meetings is 'it works if you work it'. Going to appease others shouldn't be the main driver, you wanting to sort your life out must be and be prepared to do the work. Recovery just doesn’t happen.
The meetings are amazing. As well as being able to talk about what's going on for you (if you want, I have known newcomers that haven't said anything for months), there is also power in listening to what other people are going through, how they feel, what they are thinking.
I would always take something away with me. A sense of relief, a sense that I am not the only one, some inspiration and even enlightenment at times. I signpost people to the meetings and have at times taken them to their first meeting. It is not all doom and gloom, some of the biggest belly laughs I have had were at those meetings.
As I said, it is a new way of living. There is a network of face to face meetings, and now (due to Covid) lots of online ones. I remember going to Ireland on holiday and found meetings in the area that I went to.
Recovery doesn't take a holiday.
The anonymous' is probably one of the largest and most accessible pathways in recovery. Does it suit everyone? No. It definitely has a place in recovery. For me, I went, engaged, got involved and absorbed as much as I could. That said, I also sought other approaches - I had hypnotherapy and that set me on this new journey. Some people just do not like talking in groups, some just don't resonate with it. And that is OK. Find what works for you, but find something.
If you feel that alcohol, drugs, gambling or even sex are starting to take over your life or are impacting areas of your life and you want to explore what options are available to you, please get in touch. One thing you’ll never get from me is judgement. I simply want to support you through your journey and find solutions that work for you. Having an addiction, or indeed the beginnings of one can be a lonely and difficult place to tackle it alone. I know, because I’ve been there.