Recovery is a process for those who have lived an addictive lifestyle. There are behavioral changes that will not happen for long periods of time, if ever for many. Relapse is a common occurrence and honesty does not occur all at once, just because the substance is removed from the addict.
Since the onset of the 12-step recovery programs, there has been a problem for those new to the groups with those who have less than perfect behaviors (which is everyone!). Because they have learned strongly the ways to manipulate and coerce others, this behavior may continue to develop in their recovery. New members may encounter those whose motives are less than sterling.
Women especially may fall prey to men who are less than forthcoming about the reasons they want to date them or see them even for an innocuous sounding cup of coffee. Because both parties have damaged ideas about what constitutes appropriate behavior, feelings may be hurt and someone emotionally damaged in the exchange. This is a frequent occurrence as well.
How to arm newly recovering clients against the possibility of encountering predators (or being one!) in 12-step groups is a challenge for many who work with treatment. There are numerous things that should be taught to clients. The first thing that they need to know is that 12-step groups can, and many do, include members who have done things that are criminal to others. Sometimes there are people who have committed assault on women (or men), convicted rapists, suspected rapists, child molesters, and burglars; perhaps others who have killed someone and served time, and certainly quite a few guilty of dishonesty and stealing, whether caught and convicted or not. These persons are welcomed to 12-step recovery groups, because the nature of the group is one of recovery. It is truly believed, and the idea embraced, in these groups that everyone who wishes to recover and considers themselves a member of the group can be and is.
Being a member of a recovery group does not guarantee that they have changed all of the behaviors that were problematic socially. Many talk a great game in the meetings, seeming quite charming and spiritually centered, but are still perpetrating great dishonesty outside the group, and sometimes with other members. There are stories in abundance about this type of situation. It must be stressed that everyone should be somewhat careful when becoming involved with persons that they do not know. Just because they belong to a group that no longer participates in addictive behavior, or that they say they do, does not mean that they do or that they have ceased all other unacceptable activity. Money still gets stolen from the meetings, clubs and members personally. Cons are perpetrated, and (sadly) people are assaulted by other members. It is
important that new members use discretion and good sound judgment in forming relationships with others in this setting.
Most importantly, it is important that families understand the need for mothers and fathers to be extra careful when taking children to meetings. It is sometimes necessary, but should be avoided as much as possible. They are too young for the language that is frequently used, and they are not able to understand the nature of what is happening anyway. Some meetings will ask them to leave, some have childcare arranged with another member. The stories of children who are hurt, molested and learn things that are inappropriate for them to learn are abundant. Please encourage parents to find alternatives to this practice.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.