“You have got to be kidding me! You want me to go to a 12-step meeting when my partner is the addict? What did I do to deserve that lovely suggestion? I’m not the problem. Why should I have to go to one of those meetings? I didn’t do anything. And what if I see someone there that I know? I would just shrivel up and die if that happened. Plus, how is sitting in a room with a bunch of other people in my situation supposed to help me? And I’ve heard those meetings are either bitch sessions or they make it sound like I’m the problem because I’m codependent. Pigs will fly out of my you-know-what before I go to one of those meetings.”
This colorful rant (in many equally vivid variations) is a the relatively common response from betrayed partners when I first suggest that a 12-step meeting might be helpful. They tell me:
- I am not the problem, so why would I need a meeting?
- I resent having to spend my time and energy going to meetings when I haven’t done anything wrong.
- They’re just going to tell me that I’m the problem.
- It won’t help.
- I’ll see someone I know, and I’ll be mortified.
- I don’t want to be one of those women.
- Groups are fine for other people, but I don’t need that.
I get it. No one wants to show up for a meeting where just by the simple act of being there you have identified yourself as a betrayed partner in a troubled relationship. No one wants to admit to that. Walking into a meeting where your mere presence suggests that you belong there and pretty much announces to the world that you are now one of those women can be incredibly difficult.
Many partners have talked to me about attending their first few meetings and feeling judgment and anger toward the other members. “Those women are pathetic, screwed up, weak, whiney, self-involved, pitiful, damaged, and no help whatsoever,” they say. I assure these frustrated clients that they are experiencing a normal adjustment process, with their defense mechanisms of judgment and self-righteousness rising up to protect them from the painful realization that they, like the women they are judging, are reeling emotionally and struggling to find the best way forward. Eventually, they realize that they are a lot like those other women, even though they desperately do not want to be.
The clients who move through this phase and continue attending meetings typically find that as they get to know the other women, they start to hear the similarities rather than the differences. They start to understand who these women are and what they are dealing with – and they see themselves and their own lives in the process. A shift occurs, where self-compassion and compassion toward others increases, and the sense of isolation and of being “the only one” decreases. Friendships blossom and grow. Soon, the meeting becomes one of the key places to find support, useful advice, and empathy.
Often, when I first suggest 12-step meetings, my clients want to know how these meetings are supposed to help them. And that is a very good question, with a partly pragmatic, partly mysterious answer.
The pragmatic portion of the answer is that sitting in a room listening to, and sharing with other people who have had your same experience causes the loneliness, isolation, and shame you feel to lift. Listening to each person in the room share and, at the end of the hour, realizing that you related to at least one thing that each person said even though you are all so very different from one another is a tremendous gift. Plus, you will hear ideas and nuggets of wisdom from those who are further down the road of healing, and this information can help you when similar situations arise in your own life. Finally, there is the wonderful experience of developing supportive friendships with others who understand exactly where you are and what you are feeling when the crap hits the fan.
The mysterious portion of the answer starts with the 12th step, which begins with the words, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” There is something about working the 12 steps with a sponsor who guides you through the process, that results in a spiritual transformation in your life. How and why this occurs is where the mystery comes in. But it does happen, and it affects every part of your life in a positive way. A deep inner transformation occurs, and you receive gifts that benefit you for the rest of your life.
Below is a list of 12-Step fellowships designed to help the partners and family members of addicts or those who have been unfaithful:
- S-Anon (for those in a relationship with a sex addict)
- COSA (for those in a relationship with a sex addict)
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (for anyone dealing with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family, not just for those who are children of alcoholic family members)
- Al-Anon (for those in a relationship with an addict)
- Alateen (for ages 12 to 17)
- Recovery Couples Anonymous (for couples dealing with addiction)
- Infidelity Survivors Anonymous (in person meetings are only available in a few states)