Although twelve-step recovery is a process that encompasses consistent meeting attendance, service, sponsorship, and a strive toward spirituality, its cornerstone is the sharing of experience, strength, and hope. It is a multi-directional dynamic that enables the person to tell his story, sheds light on that of others, and permits God or a Higher Power to lift and dissolve the obstacles that resulted from a dysfunctional and potentially abusive alcoholic or para-alcoholic upbringing.
Like a common thread, the unknowingly adopted survival traits, such as people-pleasing, fear of intimacy, and isolation, that the rewired brain created to endure as an adult what it believes would be similar circumstances experienced as a child, stitches twelve-step meeting members together. Their weaknesses paradoxically become the very strengths that bond them together, as evidenced by their shared experiences, strengths, and hopes. While dysfunctional causes can vary, their effects are the same, sparking mutual identification, regardless of age, education, and walk of life.
“Adult children of all types identify with one another at the level of abandonment, shame, and abuse like no other group of people… ,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. xiv). “Each day recovery from the effects of family dysfunction begins somewhere in the world when one adult child sits across from another, sharing experience, strength, and hope.”
Experience is cathartic. It provides clarity, understanding, and insight, and shares the pain and burden of all partaking of it, in effect relieving them. It emanates from one, yet ultimately reaches others, as expressed by the first line of the Al-Anon and Alateen creed, which states, “Let it begin with me.” “Healing,” according to one saying, “is in the hearing.” And with that hearing comes acceptance without judgment.
“(People in meetings) offered me an encouraging hug rather than telling me to shape up,” a member expressed in Al-Anon’s “Hope for Today” text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002, p. 31). “Instead of rejecting me for being different, they showed me how alike we are by sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Through these types of healthy human encounters, I began to feel a bond with other members.”
Relating experience is like slowly removing the airtight cap on a bottle that, at times, became intolerable to contain and seemed imminent to burst, but in a safe, stable, accepting venue. It breaks the silence, the denial, and the family secrets that ensured the unchallenged perpetuation of the disease of dysfunction and alcoholism.
“Something marvelous happens when one adult child talks to another adult child, sharing experience, strength, and hope,” the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook advises (op. cit., p. 117). “Both are helped, and the message of recovery experiences a heartbeat.”
Despite the fact that adult children often view themselves as weak and hence have little self-confidence and esteem, they were actually forced to dig deep within themselves and find an enormous amount of strength to survive such an upbringing and later adjust and adopt to function in a world they thought approximated the one from which they came-namely, their homes-of-origin. Yet facing their feelings and fears in recovery rooms, all while battling the past that warped and distorted their present, they become part of a collective, kindred-spirit effort that produces strength.
“By allowing others time to tell their stories, we forge a mutual, unified support stronger than anyone of us can provide alone,” “Hope for Today” continues (op. cit., p. 66). “We learn to let the corrective support of the group sustain us.”
With help comes hope. Isolated, in silent denial, and sinking into quicksand, an unrecovered adult child often loses hope for any type of improvement over a disease he is unable to identify. But meetings, members, program work, and a gradual connection with a Higher Power, even if He is inceptionally only viewed as a concept at the start of recovery, provide light at the end of a long, dark, upbringing-bred tunnel-a way of regaining understanding, clarity, stability. sanity, and wholeness. There may just be hope for him after all, he may conclude.
“Hearing the message of recovery and hope from someone else fans the dim spark of aliveness we keep buried inside,” concludes the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (op. cit., p. 359). “We become aware that there is a sane model for living which can replace the model of insanity we learned in childhood.”