In reflecting upon recovery from addiction(s) – whatever they might be – the title of this article speaks very strongly to me. And its flip side – Addiction Flourishes in Isolation – also speaks strongly to me. Why? Because these sayings capture my journey to recovery. When I was in the throes of my addiction, I was isolated. I told no one of my behaviors or the number of times I resolved to stop and was unsuccessful. When I became part of a 12 Step group some twenty-seven years ago, I found a community and I found myself beginning to change. I discovered in this community what the ingredients of recovery were and for this I am very grateful. In this article, I want to reflect on community and how community can help us in our journeys to recovery.
I am going to begin in what might seem strange to some reading this article. I am going to begin with a saying of Jesus, a saying that comes pretty naturally to me as I am a life-long Catholic. The saying comes from the New Testament in the Bible. Jesus says: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) When I hear this in the context of recovery, what strikes me is this is a reflection upon our Higher Powers. Whenever we gather with others, our Higher Powers are present with us. Our Higher Powers might be God or Jesus, or it might be our group, a sponsor, or a friend, to name a few Higher Powers. And, most importantly from this saying of Jesus, we don’t need large numbers. All we need is one more than one! Two people, then, can be a community.
The second aspect comes from my classical up-bringing as I took a number of years of the Latin language. From this, I learned to play with the Latin roots of English words. In this context, I invite us to look at the Latin roots of community. So, “com” means “with”; “munity” means “task” from a Latin noun “munus.” So, from these Latin roots, community can refer to individuals coming together around a common task or purpose. This might be to sell a product or to create a safer neighborhood or to support one another in recovery. Some purpose and focus, then, are important around creating and maintaining a community.
What I am suggesting here is that the positives of being in a community outweigh the challenges that are often part of belonging to a community.Therefore, I’d suggest, when groups gather and acknowledge some kind of Higher Power and keep their focus on the purpose of their coming together to support each other in recovery, they are a community according to the two ideas I presented earlier as important components of a community. I see these steps taking place every week in the 12 Step group to which I belong. I also know there are many other groups – besides 12 Step groups – that also provide community experiences where people support each other in recovery.
In looking further at this idea of a community, I see people coming together in groupings as a natural part of our being social animals. As John Donne said wisely many years ago, “no [one] is an island.” (I took the liberty to use inclusive language here.) We are continually interfacing with others at work, in school, at home, in recreation – to name a few instances. What I am suggesting here is that the positives of being in a community outweigh the challenges that are often part of belonging to a community. Also, communities often need to be refreshed. In other words, it is important for groups every so often to stop and look at how they are doing and potentially make changes that enable the group to stay alive and on purpose. In the group to which I belong, every six months we pause and have what we call a group consciousness where we take a look at how we are doing and potentially make changes that the members feel are important to our group life. Communities – like individuals – are living realities, and both can stray from what they are trying to do. Making changes shows that the group is alive and seeking to stay on course. Change is a sign of life and making changes shows that a community is alive.
Another aspect of recovery communities is that the groups are non-judgmental around what is shared. This is important because so many of us – me included – can so easily fall into beating ourselves up for what we did and didn’t do in our addiction. Many of us also carry shame from our addiction that can easily be triggered when we feel judged. In line with this, I believe we need to hear a couple of things in our communities. The first is simply that I am not the only one who has hurt others and ourselves through our addictions. We need to hear that we are not unique in what we have done; others have done similar kinds of things. I have reframed the ol’ saying “misery loves company” to “misery both loves and needs company and community.”
The second aspect of recovery communities is that there are simply no experts in the group. We are all in this together, looking to learn from each other. In the process of sharing, we also share experiences that can often be helpful to others. Everyone in the group thereby becomes both a teacher as well as a learner. Clearly, this is a very different model of learning from the years that we attended school where there was a teacher who usually knew more than anyone else and taught what she or he knew. In recovery communities, there is a two-way street where we learn from each other as well as provide others with awarenesses that they didn’t have before. That is why I am suggesting that recovering communities don’t have experts – we are in this together, seeking to support each other by sharing our experiences with each other.
From what I said earlier, recovery communities can come in different sizes. We don’t need large numbers to function well as a recovery community. When I joined the group that I belong to, there were about thirty people, which at times could become unwieldy. Now, we are meeting on Zoom to accommodate the people who have found us and cannot attend meetings in person. We usually have around fifteen people at our Zoom meetings. We encourage people to have a sponsor – the one-to-one relationship. We meet in small groups of three for about twenty minutes each week as well as each week we have a large group discussion of a Step, so we make use of different size groups in our meetings. This responds to some people feeling more comfortable in smaller groups, while others are more comfortable in larger groups. One size doesn’t fit all in recovering communities!
As I draw these reflections on recovery communities to a close, I wish to reiterate the importance of finding communities where you feel at home and find support in your recovery. If you are looking for a recovery community, you don’t have to look any further than The Phoenix Spirit, which lists recovery communities you can contact. Another aspect of The Phoenix Spirit is that it is own kind of a recovery community in that it brings together different aspects of recovery from different perspectives.
I see an even greater need for supportive communities today that don’t get caught up in political issues that might lead to divisions. My group avoids talking about issues that might polarize and divide the group. Surely, we have different views about issues, and these are not the reasons we come together. We focus on recovery from addictions – this is our focus, and it is important to stay on focus. I hope you belong to such a community, and if not, you are able to find such a supportive community. As the title of this article suggest, I believe recovery flourishes in such communities. Or as I mentioned in a book I recently wrote, The Village It Takes: The Power to Affirm, we need villages to which we belong and where we can be affirmed and affirm others. Such communities are really two-way streets!
Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.
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Last Updated on September 30, 2022