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Recovery is a journey, and along the way, you’ll probably be advised to participate in self-help or support groups. Even if you know this is the recommended course of action, encouraged by experts in treatment, it can be intimidating to attend your first meeting. What are you supposed to do? How will you be received? Stepping into a meeting full of strangers can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially for someone who Is newly sober and just starting the recovery process.

The first thing you should know about these meetings is that they are typically welcoming and non-judgmental. The whole point of this kind of group is to encourage and support each other in your recovery efforts. Newcomers are welcomed, there’s coffee and casual chatting, and plenty of laughter as people begin to relate to each other. Once the meeting begins, there’s often a prayer or recitation by group attendees, but you don’t need to participate in this if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

The most common 12-step program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and most 12-step meetings are structured based on AA’s very specific premise. Attendees acknowledge their powerlessness over addiction, that their lives have become unmanageable, and they need a power greater than themselves to restore sanity to their lives. That’s why there’s a prayer or recitation at the beginning, as part of the highly structured formula of AA.

In the next part of the meeting, the group leader will ask if anyone is attending for the first time, and the group welcomes newcomers. Then individuals share their stories of recovery, briefly, speaking for three to five minutes. Watching other addicts talking openly about addiction, new members learn to drop their defenses, and people can learn from each other. As a newcomer, you can simply listen, and as you do, you’ll hear what worked for other people. This may help you overcome some things you’re encountering in your own life, and you’ll be able to begin building coping skills based on the experiences of others. It may feel awkward at first, but learning from others who have shared similar experiences is an effective tool for promoting long-term recovery.

When should you begin to share with the group? The timetable depends entirely on you. No one will judge you if you aren’t ready to speak and prefer to simply listen. At some point, you’ll want to share, but until you’re ready, it’s fine to just sit silently, knowing that you have the support of the group and are supporting others just by being there.

You will probably need to try out a few different support group meetings before you find one where you feel comfortable. You don’t need to make small talk with people you don’t know, but you must be fully present at the meeting, not allowing your mind to wander. Respect the rules, and make it your goal to eventually participate fully in the group. Feeling like part of the group can be a powerful motivation to stick to your program and avoid relapse, and the other members of the group can become a strong support system for you.

One of the biggest components of this kind of support is your sponsor. A sponsor provides guidance and encouragement as you learn to work your program and maintain your sobriety, so it’s important for you to seek out a sponsor early in your recovery. Finding this person can be an uncomfortable process, but when you attend meetings regularly, you’ll be better able to find someone with whom you are comfortable to sponsor you.

12-step meetings like AA are free and readily available. They take place all over the world, so you’ll be able to find a meeting no matter where you’re traveling. It’s important to recognize, though, that these meetings are not medical treatment or therapy. Sessions are provided by laypeople, rather than medical professionals. So while they are a wonderful way to find support, they’re no substitute for a medically-based recovery program.

If you or someone you love is beginning a journey down the road to recovery, BriteLife Recovery is here for you. A one-on-one approach to addiction recovery is at the heart of BriteLife’s philosophy, and it’s key to the success of the program. Individual therapy can give patients tools and help them find the strength they need to survive addiction, gain new coping mechanisms, and rebuild their lives. If you know someone who you think would benefit from the BriteLife approach to addiction recovery, visit our website to learn more. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to find out how we can help.

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