"First it gets better, then it gets worse, then it gets different, and then it gets real."

Other titles you may like.

Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction

Living Sober

Drop the Rock: Removing Character
Defects - Steps Six and Seven

Visit Recovery Road to view and
listen to all the episodes.

Episode 93 -- March 4, 2021

Keep Bringing Your Body: Making the Most of Meetings

Regular attendance at meetings is a key feature of Twelve Step recovery. Most of us discover, over time, that meetings, with their promise of anonymity and confidentiality, are extraordinarily safe places to hang out while we work the Steps that lead to sobriety and serenity. And, as Meredith Gould reminds us in her book, Staying Sober: Tips for Working a Twelve Step Program of Recovery, they're a heck of a lot safer than street corners, bars, shopping malls, back alleys, casinos, or racetracks.

In Dr. Gould's words, "Magic happens when people honestly 'speak Self' to others." Among the fellowship of people united by their shared desire for recovery, separation transforms into belonging, consciousness eventually emerges, and community is formed. In this excerpt, the author offers an overview of what a newcomer to meetings might encounter and some tips for making the most of Twelve Step meetings.

As the saying goes, "Keep bringing your body and your mind will follow."

This excerpt has been edited for brevity.

Ever since the early hominids huddled around the campfire to chew the fat—both literally and figuratively— human groups have come together to simply talk. Groups may form to sort through life events, discover personal identity, or explore spiritual frontiers. No matter what the group's stated purpose, magic happens when people honestly "speak Self" to others. Isolation starts to evaporate; separation transforms into belonging; empathy becomes possible; loneliness inevitably passes; consciousness eventually emerges; and community is formed.

Twelve Step fellowship meetings, even ones that focus on one speaker's story, make possible the transformation of body, mind, and spirit for those who attend. The basic meeting structure is the same: Serenity Prayer, announcements, self-introduction of newcomers, content, passing the basket, closing prayer. However, as you will discover in your travels, there are a variety of meeting formats. Creating a "mixed portfolio" of meetings will fulfill different needs at different junctures of your recovery. Your options include:

Speaker meetings. Usually open to anyone interested in attending, these meetings provide a showcase for one or a few speakers to tell their personal stories. There is no formal discussion period, but there is usually ample time before and after the meeting (with modest refreshments!) to strike up informal conversations. These meetings give newcomers and outsiders (like friends and family members) an inspiring and instructive view of how Twelve Step programs work. They're great for keeping everyone's memory "green."

Step meetings. These meetings are devoted to reading and commenting on the Twelve Steps. Generally closed except to those who consider themselves members of a Twelve Step fellowship, these meetings provide a relatively informal and relaxed atmosphere in which to study the Twelve Steps. Step meetings are essential for anyone committed to actively working a Twelve Step program.

Special-focus discussion meetings. Similar to Step meetings in style and tone, these meetings zoom in on a particular topic or theme. Some Alcoholics Anonymous groups, for example, will focus a regular meeting on the "Promises" that appear on pages 83 and 84 of the "Big Book." Other fellowships may focus on certain pieces of program literature or perhaps exclusively on one of the Steps. Most Twelve Step fellowships try to offer beginners meetings where newcomers can discuss what goes on during early recovery. Regardless of topic, discussion meetings are ideal environments for hearing how others face life events—some of which are incredibly inconvenient and annoying—without launching themselves off the planet.

Special-interest group meetings. Despite a strong tradition that emphasizes the commonality of purpose, some meetings are open only to members of special-interest groups (e.g., women, men, lesbians and gay men). There are even unpublicized meetings for professionals like doctors, attorneys, and clergy who feel the need for extra anonymity. While some people are appalled at the emergence of these types of special-interest meetings, others argue that they offer a greater level of safety and comfort for those who attend.

Meetings are where you get to talk about your internal and external struggles without fed-up friends and family members rolling their eyes. Meetings are where you hear how others manage to break free from their own addictions. Even if you listen halfheartedly while picking at your cuticles, you're bound to hear your own experience expressed in other people's stories. After a while it will occur to you that there's nothing unique about your situation. There will always be those who have had a smoother ride on the road to recovery, as well as those who have barely survived the collision course. Sooner or later you realize comparisons are useless. You discover that you are, in fact, just like everyone else whose life has been screwed up by addictions and compulsions, a revelation that may actually provide a surprising sense of comfort.

Whether you're about to hit your first meeting, or have been coming back for years now, here are some tips (and reminders) for how to make the most of this central part of Twelve Step recovery.

Find meetings to attend first thing in the morning and, if possible, on your way home from work. Attending meetings at the endpoints of each day can be very stabilizing, especially during early recovery.

You need only one person other than yourself to have a meeting. Remember, Twelve Step fellowships were created after Bill Wilson discovered he could keep himself from drinking by talking the night away with another alcoholic. Some of the most powerful meetings happen when there are only a few people in the room.

When you're just getting started, a beginners meeting is a great place to ask such burning questions as "How come she gets to have a guy sponsor?" After you've accumulated some time, beginner meetings are great reminders of what it was like when you first entered recovery.

Multiple addictions? (Welcome to the club!) Choose one Twelve Step fellowship as your primary program. Get anchored in that one first by going to meetings, finding a sponsor, and working the Steps to provide the foundation you'll need before tackling your other addictions.

Wondering where to sit at a meeting? Here are some guidelines:

  • Feeling antsy? Sit in the front.
  • Easily distracted by friends? Sit in the front.
  • Have trouble hearing? Sit in the front.
  • Want to stay sober? Sit in the front.
  • Still looking for trouble? Sit in the back.

Double or even triple up on meetings when you're especially vulnerable to your addiction. This includes

  • feeling weird and wired for no apparent reason (remember, this is when you used to anesthetize yourself)
  • being unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise having a lot of unstructured time on your hands
  • preparing to leave for an out-of-town trip
  • coming up on major calendar events like holidays, anniversaries (especially ones connected with coming into a Twelve Step program), and family get-togethers
  • getting rocked by unanticipated, dramatic life events such as disease, death, financial destitution, and employment crises

Granted, this isn't always possible in small towns, but if you can, make sure you attend different meetings from your intimate partner, spouse, or mere housemate who is also in the program. This is especially important early on when everyone, without exception, is quick to blame others for almost everything but the weather.

Unless you're at a closed meeting where you know everyone, try to share as if there's a scared, confused newcomer in the room who needs a dose of hope. Chances are that person is there.

Feeling really nervous about piping up in meetings where you might be recognized? Keep the following factors in mind:

  • No one takes attendance.
  • You never have to fill out a membership form.
  • Everyone else is there for the same reason.
  • Most people are so focused on themselves they're not paying super-duper attention to you.
  • Last names aren't used, so unless your first name is really odd, there is probably at least one other person in the room with the same name.
  • You can always find meetings in another town.

Remember: "Meeting makers make it."

It's a good idea to attend meetings on those days you absolutely, positively don't want to because you think you're cured, feel bored with the whole clean scene, believe you've figured it all out, or find everyone and everything stupid beyond belief. Heard frequently at Twelve Step meetings is the suggestion to "Keep coming until you want to keep coming." This may happen suddenly or take quite a while.

Alternatively, you may embrace the whole process of getting sober, adore meetings, and love the people at them. This is what's known as being on a "pink cloud," and this euphoria can last for years before the rude awakening happens. Another bit of Twelve Step wisdom is this: First it gets better, then it gets worse, then it gets different, and then it gets real.

About the Author:
Meredith Gould is a sociologist and writer whose work focuses on the practical, holistic aspects of health, relationships, recovery, and spiritual life. She is the author of two books: Staying Sober: Tips for Working a Twelve Step Program of Recovery (Hazelden), and Working from Home: Making It Work for You (Storey Books).

Gould's work is informed by a fascinating range of work and life experiences. After a decade of teaching undergraduate sociology, she served in state government, managing a collaborative effort between CEOs of Fortune 100 companies and college presidents. Next, she had a stint as senior management at one of New Jersey's largest ad agencies, going solo in 1990.

Meredith Gould started college at Rochester Institute of Technology as an Art & Design major in 1969 and finished her B.A. in Sociology at Queens College, CUNY, in 1975. She's a survivor of day classes with kids, and night school with grown-ups, having taken time off in the 1970s to "find" herself.

She earned a Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University in 1980, did some time in law school, and has spent much of the next two decades exploring stuff like yoga, therapeutic bodywork, psychic surgery, Christian healing, the Forum (EST with bathroom breaks), Byzantine Icon writing, and needlepoint. In addition to writing, she owns her own business called "Space Queen" which helps the busy, burdened, and befuddled get, and stay, organized. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with two feline muses, Thelma and Louise.

© 1999 by Meredith Gould
All rights reserved