I remember lying on my analyst's couch when she suggested I try a 12-step program. I sat right up and said, "Um, excuse me?" This was not what I was paying her for. Clearly, I had preconceived notions about 12-step programs and maybe, dear reader, you do too. However, I quickly learned that 12-step programs teach you more than just recovery. In fact, things a 12-step program teaches you about motherhood should not be underrated. Sure, you're learning about them in a dimly lit room in the basement of a church, where the coffee is stale and you've just unloaded on a group of strangers, but they're important and worthwhile and, for me, will make all the difference in my parenting journey.
My reluctance to try a 12-step program was not because I'm a snob, it's because I had trepidations about being honest about who I am; a woman with addictive tendencies. I'm scared that'll make me a terrible mother, or that I will pass these tendencies along to my child and cause him or her the kind of suffering I know only too well.
It's easy to sit in a posh therapist's office and talk about your problems because your shrink is focussing all his or her attention on you. You feel special. You feel listened to. You feel validated. There's usually nice art on the walls and comfortable couches to lie upon. There's the hum of the noise machine, and laws of confidentiality binding your secrets. But guess what? You can feel special, listened to, and validated by a 12-step program, even one that's lacking the above amenities. I know because I experienced all those feelings, and more. A 12-step program taught me things I'm stowing in my parenting tool box, and all this heartfelt knowledge didn't cost a dime. Here's some of the things I learned:
Anyone Can Be Emotionally Vulnerable, Even Boys
My 12-step program was the first time I interacted with emotionally vulnerable and honest men. This was not only a revelation, it was a relief. There's a lot of talk about how to teach your son about consent. My 12-step program showed me the importance of teaching our sons that's it's totally fine to be vulnerable, too.
Community Is Everything
As a mom, you're likely to feel isolated at some point. I can't stress enough how important it is to your sanity to build a community of friends, even if they're different from you. 12-step programs exist for one purpose: to provide support. Because humans can do that for one another, you know?
Give Yourself Up To A Higher Power
The second step of a 12-step program is that you acknowledge a Higher Power (that doesn't have to be god, but it can be). As a mom, you're at the center of your kid's world, and that's a lot of pressure. The need to be in control of everything is not only unrealistic, it can make you worry like crazy, or so say moms who struggle with managing their anxiety. According to the the 12-step program, once you acknowledge that there's a Power greater than you, you will find that your sanity is restored.
Ask For Help
Sponsors are integral to recovery in any 12-step program. They're people you can call 24/7 when you feel your demons creeping in. Isn't this freaking amazing? Sponsors want to help you. They never accuse you of whining about your problems or undermine you. They also teach you the valuable lesson of asking for help, because everyone needs help. Yup, even moms.
Mental Health Is Key
There's a saying amongst 12-steppers that the times when you don't want to go to a meeting are probably the times when you need to go the most. As a parent, you don't have the option of showing up or not; you're always on, right? So, it's key to nourish your mental health and honor the fact that it matters, not only to you but to your family. Having said that, I know when I need a time out, and I also know how important it is to honor that feeling.
Self-Inventory Helps You Be Better At Being You
Before I ever attended a meeting, I had notions about the idea of self-inventory. I know who I am. I mean, jeez, doesn't everybody? Turns out, nope. Not exactly, anyway.
Not to get on my 12-step program soapbox, but self-inventory isn't bullsh*t. Self-inventory, also known as step four, is scary. It's real. It takes brass ovaries and a good mirror, and you have to be able to see yourself clearly. The only way I could do what was necessary to truly know who I am, was to examine every thought, feeling, and action I had. It was painstaking, but until I did that, I didn't realize that I had a lot to learn about myself.
This is the person I want my children to see, and it would be a delight if I could teach them to see themselves just as clearly, too.
Saying Sorry Is Important
One gripe I will always have with my mother is that she can never apologize. It's like her mouth does not know how to form the words, "I'm sorry." This literally is the most frustrating thing, even to a grown-ass woman like myself because it makes me feel like I'm nothing and she's Beyoncé, which I know is a fallacy.
Steps eight and nine of the 12-step program teach you the importance of making amends. I do not want to fall in my mother's footsteps and, thanks to a 12-step program, I won't.
Carry Forth The Good Word
OK, this is totally cult-like sounding, I'll give you that. However, I'm not apologizing for it because this message is not only positive, it's so true of motherhood. I don't want to be a mom who lives in a miserable, sad, and gloomy place, where life is not fun, no one is to be trusted, and moms shame other moms. I grew up getting those vibes from my own mother. Even now, when she has something negative to say, I feel it break me a little.
The final step of the 12-step program is to share your recovery with others. Some people think completing a 12-step program is like having a spiritual awakening. I wouldn't go that far, but it's drastically changed my life by giving me structure in solidarity. It if works for you, that's awesome, but like the adage goes, it only works if you work it.