By Luke Pool
Just as there are many ways to develop an addiction, there are numerous ways to overcome an addiction. While the general public tends to see addiction treatment programs as the most effective or even the only reliable means of overcoming addiction, other recovery resources — i.e., medication-assisted treatment, twelve-step and other types of support groups, etc. — have proven to be ideal solutions for many individuals. In fact, twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and numerous other derivatives have helped millions upon millions of people achieve sustainable, long-term sobriety.
But what is it about twelve-step programs that make them effective? With studies showing that inpatient and residential care yields some of the best success rates among clinical recovery programs, it couldn’t be that twelve-step programs are akin to outpatient recovery. Further, it couldn’t be the absence of counseling and other forms of therapy that make twelve-step groups effective. Instead, most experts agree that the characteristics of twelve-step programs that make them so effective include emphasis on spiritual healing, making amends to repair relationships and liberate guilt, and the concept of fellowship.
Whether you’re just beginning your path through the twelve steps or you’re a twelve-step veteran, fellowship is surely a prominent component when it comes to the twelve-step method. However, many people find the concept of fellowship to be a bit confusing. What exactly is fellowship, and what place does it have in recovery.
What Do They Mean By ‘Fellowship’?
By definition, the term “fellowship” refers to a “friendly association” that usually consists of people who have shared interests or similar objectives. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are sometimes referred to as recovery fellowships because they’re peer-led groups of people who are all working toward achieving and maintaining sobriety.
Even outside the realm of the twelve-step method and recovery, fellowshipping is a regular part of everyday life: If you’re part of a group friendly coworkers at your place of work, you might call that a fellowship; if you attend a church, you might say you’re part of a religious fellowship; if you play a sport, you’d technically be part of a sports fellowship. In essence, the term “fellowship” implies a connection between yourself and a group of other people with the entire group united by a particular idea, objective, or interest.
Fellowship & Twelve-Step Recovery
The concept of fellowship has been inherent to the twelve-step method since the conception of twelve-step programs in 1925. At the time, most recovery fellowships were heavily religious and looked at addiction as a sin; therefore, recovery essentially involved learning how to resist the urge to sin. However, Bill Wilson — often cited as the father of Alcoholics Anonymous — wanted to develop a recovery fellowship that emphasized a different message. Rather than being religious, Wilson’s recovery fellowship took a spiritual approach wherein members of the fellowship would find strength from within and from their individual beliefs, no matter what those beliefs might be.
Of course, the fellowship aspect of the twelve-step method isn’t the result of its spiritual emphasis. In effect, what makes twelve-step programs a fellowship is that they consist of groups of peers, each of whom is attempting to get sober, better themselves emotionally and spiritually, and who want to support their fellow group members through the same process. Basically, each member of a twelve-step group works on the steps both independently and with others.
How Fellowship Can Help Your Recovery
Addiction is an extremely lonely, isolating disease. Due to alcohol and drug use becoming the driving force of an individual’s life, addiction inevitably provokes bad choices and behaviors that cause harm to self as well as others. Over time, this means that important relationships get damaged or perhaps even destroyed, and when the individual begins the recovery process, he or she finds that many loved ones aren’t there for support. Or perhaps the individual had to distance himself or herself from his or her peer group due to most of the group being substance abusers that could put his or her newfound sobriety at risk. Whatever the case may be, this loneliness and isolation can be countered with fellowship in early recovery, providing a much-needed support network.
Fellowshipping can also be a source of education and discovery. When you’re part of a fellowship, you get the opportunity to make connections with people from all walks of life, exposing yourself to a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. As such, a person can learn quite a bit from others by considering alternative perspectives on familiar topics such as addiction recovery. And when members of the group share their personal experiences — which is a staple of twelve-step groups — you’re essentially able to experience a different way of living, and this can be really enlightening about one’s own situation.
Luke Pool is a grateful member of the recovery community. He has found his purpose in life by helping those who suffer from the diseases of addiction. He uses blogging and social media to raise awareness about this epidemic, affecting every part of this country. Now working for Stodzy Internet Marketing, he is able to pursue his passion by informing as many people as possible about addiction. Originally from Austin, Texas he now lives in South Florida. You can find me on LinkedIn.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles. You may also find some great inspiration, support and resources at the bottom of this page.