My Time in 12-Step Programs, Part I

I do not actively attend 12-step meetings for any of my addictions at the moment. I explain it away as I’m getting what I need at weekly one-on-one therapy sessions and the sentence-mandated sex offender support group that I attend, also weekly. That’s roughly three hours of talking about my addictions with others and seems to suffice for the time being.

Should things change with my current therapy schedule I would entertain the idea of returning to 12-step meetings, but I would have to find the right group. I think that there are some people wired to take to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous better than others. I’m not really a follower, I’m a leader, which is probably why my favorite 12-step meetings that I felt I got the most out of were the ones when I was chairing the meeting.

I attended my first 12-step meeting at a church in Laguna Beach, California. It was the second or third day I was at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, called Spencer Recovery Center. That facility, across the street from the beach, was a culture shock to me. Several years later I look back and wonder if I was just in such a bad state of mind because of the abuse I’d heaped on myself and the recent arrest or if it really was a bad fit. About a week after being there, I was transferred to their less-intense location in Palm Springs.

While most of my group were heroin addicts who were told to identify as an alcoholic so we wouldn’t be looked at sideways, it was at that AA meeting I first felt like I could identify with other addicts. At Spencer’s Laguna Beach location, it was mostly kids under 25 who were still actively using at the facility (drugs were sent over a fence nightly) who were mandated by a judge or wealthy parents who threatened to cut them off from the money supply if they didn’t get help.

The men in that room at the church were around my age, dressed like I did when I was back home and had varying levels of professional success. It wasn’t much of a leap to assume nobody else at my rehab had served on their local City Council. I could have seen most of these intelligent, middle-aged men at the AA meeting sitting to my left or right on the dais.

I had no intention of saying a word that night – still of the belief I didn’t have a problem – but after listening to them, I spoke up toward the end of the meeting, and told them it was my first meeting and it was the first time I strongly considered the fact I had a problem.  While I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the 12 Steps or readings from The Big Book that night, it was an eye-opener because it let me know that my peer group could be affected.

Once transferred to Palm Springs, I attended AA or NA meetings nightly as part of the overall program. One of the things that was nice about the Palm Springs rehab was that we attended a variety of meetings. I enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie of some and stared at the clock like it was seventh period Algebra in others.

One group I discovered late in my stay was mostly older gentlemen. Only I and maybe two or three others from the rehab had the permission to leave the property to attend on our own. I felt a connection to these men that I didn’t in any other group. This was mostly two dozen guys who I could imagine myself being in 30 years.

The other group I enjoyed was actually Cocaine Anonymous. I’ve only seen the drug a few times in my life and have never tried it. I simply went for the journey to a satellite Betty Ford Center campus so I could say I had the experience of going to Betty Ford and a Cocaine Anonymous meeting.

What I saw in this group was devoid of all others: Joy. The place was packed, easily the largest meeting I attended. Unlike AA, which wants attendees to take things very seriously and only talk about alcohol, this group was up for hearing about anything. Their theory was nobody was JUST a cocaine addict. You had to have other things going on. At the beginning of meetings, when traditional opening readings were done, the audience participated as if we were at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, with a call-and-response routine I couldn’t help but laugh at the first time I heard it. The whole thing had an energy that I could appreciate. I went to the meeting three or four weeks in a row because it was uplifting about all addiction, not because I had a cocaine problem.

After more than two months at the facility, I came home to Maine. I visited three or four different AA groups, but I just didn’t feel the connection. Because of my high-profile arrest, I drove at least 20 miles away from my where I was living, hoping I could truly be anonymous. I never felt a connection to any of the people I met or heard stories from. I could have continued to attend meetings, but after being sober for a longer period than I had been since I was 15 years old, I decided to try it on my own.

Thankfully, I was able to get through it. I read the Big Book a few times, but I’m not sure if that was to maintain sobriety or simply reminisce about my transformative experience in the desert.

Part II Coming Soon

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