Are support groups helpful?
Exploring beyond the normal support groups
Posted June 24, 2011
Support groups are everywhere. Even in my little city of Santa Barbara one can find a variety of support groups every day from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
Beyond the norm of 12 step recovery meetings such as Alcoholic Anonymous and Al-Anon the menu consists of Eating Disorders, Sex and Love Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cancer Survivors and HIV support.
These groups and others can truly be a life saver if one needs and wants to connect with others in a like situation. Many people who are successful in their Alcoholics Anonymous program may not be able to remain clean and sober without the pattern and habit of attending a frequent 12 step meeting.
People seek out support groups to share their personal experiences in dealing with situations that have altered their life in some way. There is an invisible thread that forms a bond of understanding and empathy toward each other as they share discomfort, resentment, fear, triumphs and emotional and physical relapses.
I think for support groups to really serve a purpose there should be some discomfort, a process of looking at one's self in an honest light and determining if they are just going over the same territory or in actuality taking away new tools, new perceptions.
I have often encouraged the alcoholic/addict client to attend Al-Anon 12 step recovery meetings. I felt it was important for them to hear first hand some of the stories of anguish and success that their families were experiencing while living with their loved ones addiction.
Sometimes, I was met with resistance as they did not want to leave the comfort and safety of their own kind and honestly didn't want to hear about the pain they may have inflicted. This experience, though possibly painful, is important in their growing process and for learning about the other side of the coin in family recovery.
So, now that I have acknowledged that I am an advocate of support groups, let me stir the pot a bit by offering a theory or two as to why they can be detrimental.
* Support groups can become just a repetitive habit, someplace to go at a certain time, certain day. They may blanket your ability to take action and change things on your own. You can't pat yourself on the back for just suiting up and showing up if you don't implement the concepts and ideas shared.
* Some support groups are depressing because of their subject matter. Going over the same things over and over again might prove to be a downer for many and a constant reminder of where they may be falling short in their lives.
* I feel that support groups that don't encourage comments or thoughts at the moment when one is sharing fall short of the mark. Feedback and interaction can stimulate options, ideas, and new thinking.
However, I would like to push the support group envelope and introduce the Living Life on Life's Term group and its offshoots:
* The I.G.S support group. This is the Instant Gratification Syndrome group consisting of people that who have zero patience for anything. They have difficulty planting invisible seeds in their visionary gardens and wanting to pull the little sprouts up demanding they grow faster.
* The Henny-Penny the sky is falling group. This group consists of the knee jerk reaction of a doomsday plight. Woe is me; my life is over because this or that happened. There's a rapid downward spiral feeding off the negativity churned up by our emotions.
* The what if or choked with fear group. Not being able to take a deep breath and realize that the fear is probably imagined, your thinking can be off and running and you have no more success in quelling that than you would have in herding cats.
* The fire breathing dragon group. This group has a following of folks that are in a constant state of agitated anger, resentment and frustration.
* The ants in my pants group. These are people sharing that they can't sit still and need constant activity and motion to fill their day and believe this is the only way to be productive.
Of course, these are all pretty silly, but the bottom line is that I believe we all need a support group in some kind of shape or fashion. Talking, laughing, crying with others about the smallest issues to monumental ones might help keep everything in perspective and grounded. Sometimes we can appreciate how ridiculous or out of proportion our thinking is, and reflecting on it with others is a good way to see that.
So, go forward and find your own personal support group. Maybe it is individuals getting together to share their lives with each other over a monthly lunch or maybe it's a book club or a walk on the beach with a four-legged friend. But whatever it is, make sure it really works for you and you are growing and developing because of it.