Ambivalence Regarding 12 Step Support

Ambivalence Regarding 12 Step Support

Updated April 11, 2022

Whether you’re dealing with a substance abuse problem or sexual compulsivity problem, you’ll have to contend with whether or not you should engage in a 12 step support program. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), or Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) are all examples of 12 step support groups for dealing with addictions. For some people, these places offer a great deal of support, community, and a place to open up and share. This can offer validation, support, and even accountability.

Reasons for Skepticism

There are some real that people are skeptical about 12 step support groups. One of the common reasons that I hear is the use of prayer and mentioning of god in these groups. Many clients who are dealing with addiction issues are also contending with religious trauma. Thus, there is a lot of skepticism involving the mentioning of God in a group setting.

The dynamics of groups can all vary greatly. Others have gone to 12 step support groups and have had experiences that are shaming. Anything that you’re involved with should respect your personal sense of agency. It’s OK to be skeptical.

This is related to religious trauma in many situations, but there are also groups that are very harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals. But also individuals who are part of kink and non-monogamous communities as well. People who are finding their way towards authenticity and self-acceptance have the potential to end up in 12 step groups, rather than in the hands of a supportive therapist who helps them put together who they are.

Sadly, there are groups who encourage people to move away from authenticity and offer disproven and harmful treatments such as conversion therapy.

This isn’t to say you can’t be a part of these programs if you’re a member of these communities. It’s important to have good boundaries and awareness. In particular, groups such as celebrate recovery and sexaholics anonymous view non-heterosexuality as abnormal. It’s best to stay away from these groups.

Overall, groups that put religion before individuals should be avoided. This doesn’t mean that a group does this if it mentions a God or uses something like the serenity prayer. Instead, if you have members who are pushing you to fundamentally change your orientation without encouraging you to figure out who you are, then it’s best to look for other avenues.

Getting Overwhelmed with Others’ Pain

Another thing that I have heard a lot over the years is that sometimes the groups are too depressing. These meetings can be filled with very traumatic, difficult situations. It can be hard to hear.

Keep in mind, the overall goal is community support in these situations. However, you also have to focus on being able to take care of yourself and your own healing. If the stories of one group seems like too much, you may find a different group and see if the dynamic is the same.

When to Try it Out

Many of my clients will try out 12 step groups to see if they might be helpful. I remind clients to take their time before choosing any kind of a sponsor or anything like this. I also talk to them about being cautious of someone who has a lot of sponsees, who is full of advice for others. This person may be replacing their own problems and you could be being supported by someone who really needs to do more of their own work, rather than overseeing yours.

12 Step Groups are Different than Therapy

These meetings should not take the place of therapy. Therapy is guided by a trained professional. And I do know that some professionals mix up encouraging you going through step work with actual psychotherapy. Therapy works on insight. Obviously, you can engage in any type of support and gain insight, but it takes a special training to gain insight.

Most people who are dealing with addictions need to do some level of trauma based healing. Many people are supported by doing 12 step support groups while doing deep healing. But these things aren’t interchangeable.

There are a Variety of Ways Towards Recovery

Now keep in mind that all groups are different and have different dynamics. If you go to a group that you do not feel comfortable with, then trying another group is a good idea. You may find that you feel comfortable with this group instead. Also, there are other support groups that do not have anything to do with the 12 steps, such as SMART Recovery, which gives you support, but in a different way.

There are also people who don’t engage in any support group at all. The main thing that you need on your journey is connection. Sometimes people find that in 12 Step support groups, but these aren’t the only resources for those connections.

Overall, work on boundaries and identify what gaps you need to fill in your recovery. Take time finding the right meetings and the right sponsor. Talk with a therapist about these meetings and any skepticism you have. And most importantly, listen to your gut.

If you’re needing help with addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today.


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