When you’re going through treatment at an outpatient recovery program, peer support groups offer a valuable source of emotional strength. In the early days of recovery, it can be hard to handle the doubts, fears and cravings that haunt your mind. Support groups provide an outlet for these feelings while giving you the opportunity to offer hope and strength to others. When you share your experiences and thoughts with others, you might be surprised to find that you’re much stronger than you believed.
Getting the most from peer support requires that you use social and interpersonal skills. If you’re not used to interacting with other people in a group setting, this situation might seem strange and uncomfortable at first. With time, practice and the advice of others, you’ll get used to the guidelines of outpatient peer groups.
Giving and Receiving Support
In a peer support group, you’ll meet with others who share your problem with drugs or alcohol. However, addiction may be the only thing you have in common with some of the other outpatients. Some of your peers may have had experiences that you’ve never shared, like abusing family members or going to jail. Others may have enjoyed privileges that were denied to you, like a comfortable childhood or an advanced education.
According to the international organization UNICEF, effective communication in a drug-prevention requires several key skills:
- The ability to empathize with others or to feel compassion for them in spite of any differences
- The ability to listen actively, giving other group members your full attention
- The ability to communicate verbally and nonverbally using facial expressions and body language as well as words
- The ability to seek help from others in the group without feeling ashamed or belittled
- The ability to set goals with others in order to finish projects or solve problems
When you attend a group session, make every effort to eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone or leave it outside the room. Keep your eyes and ears attuned to the person who’s speaking at any given time. Although the rules of communication will vary from one group to another, these guidelines from Alcoholics Anonymous have been adopted for group therapy in many outpatient programs:
- Don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking.
- Don’t give advice to another person in the middle of a meeting.
- Don’t judge others for their past or present behavior.
- Do share your own experiences when you have the opportunity.
- Do keep an open mind about the information you hear.
- Do respect the anonymity of other members.
- Do ask the group for help with the problems of sobriety.
- Do accept support from others and express gratitude.
At 12-Step meetings, process meetings or relapse prevention groups, you’ll soon start getting to know your peers. Look for other members whose values and attitudes you admire, and make a point of spending time with them. As you go through recovery, these positive role models will help you stay motivated and avoid a relapse.
Collaborating with Others
Collaborative meetings, or process meetings, may have a looser, less formal protocol than 12-Step meetings or educational sessions. In process meetings, you’ll get together with others to work out solutions for some of the challenges of recovery. For instance, you may address questions such as:
- How can I forgive family members for abuse I’ve suffered in the past?
- How can I repair damage that I’ve done to my loved ones?
- How can I deal with negative thoughts about myself?
- What can I do to stay sober when I’m craving drugs or alcohol?
Collaboration should be a constructive, positive experience, but there will be times when you disagree with others or simply can’t get along with someone else in the group. At these times, it’s important to be able to take a step back and relax. Talk with a therapist or counselor outside the meeting about your feelings. Mental health professionals and addiction specialists can offer great advice about how to avoid taking conflict personally.
Peer groups can strengthen your self-esteem while teaching you coping strategies that you can use for the rest of your life. As time goes on, you’ll find that newer members are turning to you for support and guidance. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve become a role model for another addict’s recovery. At The Oaks at La Paloma, we foster these positive feelings through our group-oriented outpatient program. When you’re ready to begin a sober new life, we’re here to provide the necessary support.
By Krystan Anderson, LPC-MHSP
Director, The Oaks at Foundation Memphis