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How to Improve Your 12-step Experience

No matter where you are in the world, you can probably find a 12-step meeting. While 12-step programs are one of the most widely available ways to get sober, they are also unregulated, meaning they can differ quite a lot. It might take a bit of practice to figure out how to get the most out of your meetings. Whether you’re entering a 12-step program to get sober or you’re continuing your recovery after treatment by attending meetings, here are some ways to improve your experience.

Try several different meetings.

Every meeting is a little different with a relatively small sample of people in recovery. One mistake people often make early on is going to one meeting, not liking it and giving up because they feel like it’s not for them. To some extent, that’s just bad luck. You can increase your chances of better luck by attending different meetings. Even if your first meeting is ok, it’s probably worth your time to try a few others. There are often specialty groups, such as groups for younger people, or meetings that are only for women or only for men. Even if you don’t feel the need to specialize, you may just like one of those groups better.

Keep an open mind.

Some people go to meetings with rigid expectations and they end up seeing what they expected to see. Instead, try suspending judgment for a while and see if that affects your experience. Judging the experience and the people there has the particular downside of cutting you off from the group. You may get entrenched in the idea that you are a special case–what they call ‘terminal uniqueness’–which can slow your recovery. Keeping an open mind will let you see what meetings really have to offer, rather that just what you expect to see.

Get involved.

You may get something out of just showing up and listening, and that’s certainly better than not going at all. When you feel like you want something more out of meetings, try getting more involved. Volunteer to set up before meetings or clean up afterwards. Talk to new people. Studies have shown that being engaged with the group is one of the best ways to stay sober. It even works if you don’t especially like your group, but of course it’s better if you do.

Work the steps.

This may sound obvious, but plenty of people go to meetings without putting any real effort into working the steps. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to ‘fake it till you make it’. In other words, give it a try, even if you are skeptical. You may find that after going through the motions for a while, you start to see the benefits and become genuinely motivated.

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