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Let’s revisit some of those objections commonly heard from people new to family programs using the 12 Step model.

“I don’t relate to what I hear there”

A natural enough response for a newcomer, who may not have been enthusiastic about going in the first place. You may be subconsciously comparing out – dwelling on differences rather than what you have in common. Here’s an example:

Fran: “I went to the meeting and I was shocked to hear this woman say she’d been living a drunk for thirty years, and he still hadn’t stopped. I just can’t imagine that. If I thought that would happen to me, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Counselor: “Was she the only one who talked?”

Fran: “No. There were others.”

Counselor: “Anything more helpful?”

Fran: “Not particularly.” (then remembers) “Well, this one woman had just been in an intervention – that was pretty interesting.”

Counselor: “So you did get something out of it?”

Fran: “I guess I did.”

“The people there weren’t very welcoming.”

Some meetings aren’t oriented to newbies, who pick up on that quickly. Try making phone contact with Alanon in your area for suggestions about meetings that welcome newcomers. Also, approach someone before or after the meeting and introduce yourself as new. Just say you’re hoping to learn something from the meeting. Don’t expect to strike up a friendship; that comes later. Your goal is just to make yourself known.

“I don’t understand some of the terms they use.”

Also a common complaint. 12 Step literature can help explain concepts that are initially confusing. Back to Fran for a moment:

Fran: “They kept talking about detachment. I don’t get that at all. How you can detach when you live with a drunk and can’t predict when he’ll go off his rocker again?”

Counselor: “Did you get a chance to ask about that?”

Fran: “Yes, but I didn’t understand the answer. You see this alcoholic every day of your life – you can’t help but react.”

Counselor: “I think it’s more about detaching from the chaos – not trying to control the alcoholic, or his drinking. Getting back to living your life instead of being ruled by his alcoholism.”

Fran: (laughs) “They did tell this joke about the codependent dying and having someone else’s life flash before her eyes.”

“I didn’t get to talk about my problems.”

It’s natural to expect sympathy from fellow sufferers, but that’s not what the 12 Step programs are about. Most of the intensely personal discussion goes on outside the meeting proper – over coffee, or on the phone. What gets shared at meetings qualifies as ‘experience, strength, and hope’, and carries a generally positive message. They’re not there to discourage people. You also won’t hear members confront or criticize one another directly – known as ‘taking somebody else’s inventory’.

Much of the Alanon program, like AA, occurs outside the meetings, in private communications between members. At its most basic level, the 12 Step fellowship is about friendship. Nobody becomes close friends with everyone else.

“I went a few times and I think I got everything they can give me.”

What you can get from a few meetings introductory information, and a flavor for the group process. But that process is designed to work over time. It’s experiential, not informational. The way you feel changes over time — and that’s why people keep going to meetings. Some because they continue to experience something valuable. Some to reinforce those lessons so they don’t forget.

But to repeat: if you’re not there, that never happens.

This post belongs to Family 12-Step