Objections to 12-Step Programs: What If I Don’t Like Parts of the Program or Some of the People There?

Many people have objections to 12-Step programs.

For those who are reluctant to attend 12-Step meetings, like I was initially, it can feel like you’ve been sentenced to them, that they’re punishment. Though it’s suggested that you look for similarities to the way you feel rather than inventorying all the differences, it’s often hard to do so, especially in early sobriety. For example, newcomers can be put off by references to spirituality (particularly talk of God). They can feel uncomfortable with rituals like holding hands and reciting the Serenity Prayer or other prayers.

Likewise, newcomers can resent those with long-term sobriety. It seems so unattainable and impossible, especially for those who have a history of relapses, it can feel like highlighting one’s own failure to “get” the program. This may be compounded by what can seem like self-congratulory recitations of how great a participant’s relationship is with their “Higher Power,” and how wonderful their lives are as a result.

And, of course, in any group of people there’s the possibility that you simply won’t like some of them for whatever reason.

Having been through each of these reactions myself, I’d suggest several things.

First, be patient. Keep going to meetings. If you don’t like a particular meeting, find another one. Over time, you are likely to find that your objections lose their vehemence as you get more comfortable with attending and discover how safe and helpful meetings are.

Second, you can choose not to participate in portions of the program. For example, when I was in early sobriety, I was silent during group prayers and left before the end of meetings when everyone else stood, held hands and prayed at their conclusion. (It was months before I chose to participate.)

Third, share your negative feelings. Talk about them at meetings  — that’s what meetings are for, for sharing how you feel. If you do, you’ll probably be surprised at the reaction. If my experience is any guide, other participants are more likely to appreciate your honesty than be offended by your doubts or objections. They’re also likely to tell you they had similar objections and describe how they got over them (or that they still haven’t gotten over them). If you have a sponsor, share your objections with him or her. If you don’t have a sponsor, talk to someone whose comments during meetings make sense to you.

Remember that you aren’t alone even in your discomfort with some parts of the program. Someone has been where you’ve been, felt what you’ve felt and learned how to deal with it. Others are there to help you, so make use of that help. Be open and willing to listen. That’s all most members generally expect.

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