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Outgrowing 12-Step Meetings

When and How to Change your Recovery Plan

Is there something missing from your group? Have the dynamics of the group changed? Do the meeting times make it difficult to attend? Would you rather be doing something else?

In the first year of recovery, 12-Step meetings are an important part of a treatment plan, and straying from that plan is simply not an option. As time goes on however, you may find that attending meetings become less important to your recovery plan, and begin to wonder if it is possible for an addict or alcoholic to outgrow meetings. Many in recovery progress gradually from attending a meeting every day to only once a week. After several years in recovery, a person may even stop regularly attending meetings. Your recovery plan becomes increasingly fluid as time goes on. What worked for you in year one may not be as helpful in year six, but what you did not need a week ago you may need this week. So, can an addict or alcoholic outgrow the need to attend 12-step meetings? Probably not entirely. Even as meetings become less important to you, your addiction will always be a part of you and 12-Step Meetings will always be available to you.

Before you decide to change things up, however, you should consider a few things. Ask yourself: Do you feel like you have outgrown meetings altogether, or just this particular meeting or group? The 12-step meeting that was a perfect fit for you in the beginning may no longer be as helpful. As your life changes, your relationship to your addiction changes. There could be aspects of your life and addiction that are not addressed in your current meeting. The people may have changed or the mindset of this particularly group may have become very different from your own. Think about what you used to get from meetings and what you feel like is missing. Before changing how often you attend 12-Step Meetings, try out a few different groups to see if they fit your needs better than your current one.

Of course, you should not change any aspect of your recovery plan before consulting your addiction coach, counselor, or sponsor. Your approach to addiction will evolve over time, and you will have to adapt your plan with it. It is not wise, however, to change the plan without the perspective of an addiction professional. One of the biggest mistakes people in recovery make is straying from their recovery plan too drastically and too soon- just because you’ve grown in on aspect of your recovery, doesn’t mean that you’ve outgrown it all. Your sponsor will track your progress with you, and help you make gradual changes one at a time. For example, your sponsor might decide you’ve out-grown daily attendance to 12-step meetings, but not your therapy schedule. 

When changing your plan, keep your support system in the loop. Allow your addiction professional to go over the changes, and always let your loved ones know that you are revising your recovery plan. These people are your safety net if the changes threaten your recovery. They can also help you assess your reasons for changing your plan. Ask these questions: What will you do instead of attending meetings? Perhaps you will spend more time with your family, volunteer for a cause, or take up a new hobby. It makes sense to replace your regular meetings with healthy activities that bring you joy and increase your sense of well-being. However, if you want to stop attending meetings because your life is crowded or imbalanced, you may want to reassess. In these cases, you haven’t outgrown the 12-Steps, but outside things are growing up against you. When you are overworked, tending to sick family members, or in any other stressful and demanding situations, it may be harder to attend meetings, but they are more important now than ever. Those negative situations are triggers that make you vulnerable to relapse. Similarly, if you spend your new time sitting at home, not doing much, or are being drawn back to people and situations similar to your pre-treatment life, then you should go to meetings. Isolation, boredom, depression, or temptation can easily derail your recovery. Your support system will help you identify the reasons and risks for you to change your meeting schedule, and help you if you do not spend your extra time productively.

Remember, the changes you make are not written in stone. Outgrowing 12-Step meetings does not mean you permanently change your schedule. You can always go back to your old group, attend an extra meeting, or return to a regular schedule of meetings. There is no shame in recognizing your need for more (or less) meetings. The important thing is to take it one day at a time, and evaluate what you need right now. Every choice you make should maintain your happier, healthier, sober life. Today that might mean spending time with your family, but tomorrow it may mean you really need a 12-Step meeting. No one can say that an alcoholic or addict will outgrow the 12-Step meetings entirely, but that same uncertainty means a life of recovery is full of possibilities.

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