A recovery community is a term that often refers to fellowships of men and women for whom addictions are a major problem. These communities include individuals who suffer from a number of addictions. It may be drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc., and people who are trying to stay clean and sober. For example, recovery meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Drug Addicts Anonymous (DAA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Refuge Recovery (RR), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and more!
Like all 12-step programs, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous remain completely abstinent from all drugs and alcohol. These peer support programs consist of regular meetings for addicts to attend and create a safe environment to help each other stay clean and sober.
There aren’t any strings attached to NA or AA. 12 step groups do not affiliate with any organization. There are no initiation fees or dues! No pledges to sign! No promises to make to anyone! Neither program is political or religious. Also, they are under no surveillance at any time ensuring anonymity. Both programs allow anyone to join regardless of age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion, or lack of religion.
Why are Recovery Communities Important? And Do They Even Work?
It is important to understand that recovery meetings can be invaluable! Peer support groups can provide a safety net for those suffering from addiction and alcoholism. This extends far beyond acute treatment at drug and alcohol rehabs. Most residential treatment centers have a model of care based on roughly 30-90 days of inpatient treatment. Occasionally, aftercare and sober living programs can extend beyond a month. But, it’s rare that patients stay longer than 90 days in any given program.
What Happens After Treatment?
So, what happens when it’s time for them to return to their lives? How can they remain clean and sober? Recovery meetings are an excellent resource in which to do just that. In AA, NA or other recovery-related organizations, addicts and alcoholics find a group of individuals who face the same challenges. And share the same experiences and want the same things. According to a 2016 article, in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation:
“Historically, peer support has been shown to be a key component of many existing addiction treatment and recovery approaches such as the community reinforcement approach, therapeutic communities, and 12-step programs; the community reinforcement approach has demonstrated the importance of valued social roles in maintaining abstinence, which is the foundation of the peer support relationship.”
If You are Nervous… Keep Reading!
To the average person, these meetings may seem sketchy because there are alcoholics and addicts at those meetings! Yes! You are right these meetings consist of addicts. BUT, these addicts are looking for a way to stay clean and sober, and there’s power in the unity and camaraderie of shared experience.
Kathlene Tracy and Samantha P. Wallace, writing for Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, examined 10 studies and found that the evidence supports peer support as a means of addiction recovery:
“Those who participated in treatments, including peer support groups, showed higher rates of abstinence than common in substance-abusing populations while also being more satisfied with the treatment. Furthermore, significant reductions in relapse rates were shown in addition to significant reductions in return to homelessness in a challenging population to treat. Reported benefits extended beyond those being the recipient of the peer support groups to those also delivering the services, where significant reductions in alcohol and drug use were shown not only for mentees but also for sustained abstinence in the majority of mentors.”
That’s not all, Peers for Progress found that, “much evidence supports that peer support is a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care and sustained behavior change for people with chronic diseases and other conditions, and its benefits can be extended to community, organizational and societal levels.
Overall, Studies Found Social Support:
- Decreases morbidity and mortality rates
- Increases life expectancy
- Increases knowledge of a disease
- Improves self-efficacy
- Improves self-reported health status and self-care skills, including medication adherence
- Reduces use of emergency services
Additionally, providers of social support report less depression, heightened self-esteem and self-efficacy, and improved quality of life.
What Do Meetings Look Like?
Typically, meetings are “run” by a chairperson — an individual responsible for distributing literature, taking attendance, making coffee and unlocking the doors. Most 12 Step organizations treat everyone as equals, so even though the chairperson shepherds the meeting, he or she isn’t “in charge,” so to speak. That individual’s role is to begin the meeting, steer its progress and end it — and most groups allow any individual who wishes to become more involved in group logistics to volunteer as meeting chairpersons.
What Does The Structure Look Like?
Most meetings open with the Serenity Prayer, but some meetings close with it. What happens in between those prayers may include one, some, or all of the following:
- Readings from the literature of the perspective recovery organization, including the 12 Steps, daily meditation readings.
- The collection of Seventh Tradition donations — money freely given by attendees to purchase literature and coffee, pay rent, etc.
- Coins, chips, or key tags symbolize sobriety and clean time. A volunteer gives these to members to celebrate their clean time. Those who are just beginning their journey are supported and encouraged.
- Announcements of upcoming events, activities or business meetings.
The format of the bulk of the meeting may take one of several forms. The most common, discussion meetings, allows individuals to share, one at a time, about the struggles and successes. Including, the problems they’ve faced, the tools they used to overcome them and the ways their lives have changed since they started the recovery process. Sharing is voluntary, although the chairperson may call upon individuals if there’s a lull or an extended period of silence.
Are There Different Types of Meetings?
Many groups also feature regular meetings and studies, such as:
- Speaker meetings, a select member of the program shares at length his or her personal recovery journey.
- Literature studies, passages, chapters or pamphlets of the program’s literature are read aloud and discussed.
- Topic meetings, various recovery-related topics and/or spiritual principles are the meetings central theme.
- “Ask It Basket” meetings, in which group members, over time, submit questions about recovery into a central location, and the chairperson draws them at random to ask of meeting volunteers.
- Step studies, part of the meeting is about personal writing or journaling around specific Steps.
- Gender-specific meetings. Allow participants to process and discuss more sensitive issues and topics.
The Ins and Outs of Meetings
What else should you know? Here are a few bits of information that might be helpful.
- How long do meetings last? Typically 60 to 90 minutes.
- Where are meetings? All over. The world service committees of recovery programs usually maintain websites that have meeting finder apps and programs, and many area branches of those programs oversee regional websites with meeting schedules as well.
- While no one is forced to share, many meetings offer an opportunity for newcomers to introduce themselves — not to put anyone on the spot, but to give those individuals a chance to know and get to know others.
- Some meetings, particularly in 12 Step fellowships, are classified as open or closed. Open meetings are just that — open to anyone, including family members who wish to attend for support. Those individuals simply observe. Sharing time is for individuals who are seek help for a particular problem. Many fellowships ask those observers not to contribute to the donation basket.
- Speaking of the basket: The Seventh Tradition of 12 Step fellowships state that they should be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions. No one is forced or guilt-tripped into giving. But, it’s never a bad idea to throw a dollar or two into the basket, should you find that the meetings are helpful.
- In addition to the above formats, some groups may hold various other meetings:
- Candlelight meetings, for example, are self-explanatory. After the readings, the lights dim and members share by candlelight.
- Marathon meetings are what the name implies. Meetings that can last for several hours or more, with participants coming and going at their leisure. (Many marathon meetings take place on significant holidays. Holidays can be times of temptation or hardship for those in recovery. Therefore, giving them an outlet to seek support at any hour of the day or night.)
- Newcomer meetings provide an introduction to those new to the fellowship.