Why Should I Continue to Attend 12-Step Meetings? The Power of Hope.

Welcome to the New Year!

After the rush of the holiday season, I am enjoying a breath or two of quiet reflection time. My kids are back in school, the Christmas clutter has been cleared, and I am feeling an overall re-set energy in life.

Certainly, the New Year is an apt time for reflection as well as forward-looking.

What do I want this New Year to look like? What adjustments do I need to make?  What do I want to move toward? What do I want to move away from?

There are times when working recovery feels like, well, work. I have heard various sponsees ask me, “How long is this going to take?” “Am I going to have to do this forever?”

Recovery takes time and effort, emotional energy, and mental focus. And seeing the fruits of all the work, realizing the deeper changes in tangible ways…well it just takes so darn long.

We may even find ourselves asking, “Why should I continue to attend 12-Step meetings?” Maybe we’re feeling like we’re out of the crisis, or we just need that 90 minutes of our life back.

I am approaching the 6 year anniversary of our Rock Bottom. That’s 6 years of attending meetings at least weekly. And I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Or ever. Why?

My husband has been sober for almost 6 years. Trauma triggers are rare, and boundaries are well-established. Why do I continue to attend 12-Step meetings for sexual addiction when much of my life has settled back into a more “normal” normal?

Well, for one, I have enough experience with the up and down roller-coaster ride of addiction to know that we’re never out of the woods. Any day, any moment, could be a new rock-bottom. If we’re not actively moving toward recovery, it is inevitable that we will slide back into addiction and trauma. That’s just the way this works.

But, even more than this fear-based reason, I keep coming for one word.


Nothing has brought more hope into my life than seeing the 12-Steps transform myself, my husband, and our life together. Nothing reinforces that hope more than attending 12-Step meetings and hearing, week after week, how God is showing up in the lives of the people around me.

Nothing opens my eyes more to the ways He continues to support, guide, and bless me than working my Steps, and staying involved in a community that helps me to focus on my own spiritual progress, to row my own boat.

And hope may be the most powerful force on the planet.

I learned at Group about a fascinating experiment performed in the 1950’s by Johns Hopkins professor Curt Richter. Richter took 12 domesticated rats and placed each in a bucket of water. He watched as they first swam furiously on the surface for a few minutes, then dove to the bottom of the bucket, nosed around the edge, and died only a few minutes later. The average survival time was 15 minutes.

Then Richter changed the experiment. Right when he expected the rats to give up and die, he reached in and picked them up out of the water. He gave the rats time to be held, comforted, dried, and acknowledged. There was a reprieve from their suffering. There was a feeling of being rescued.

When these rats were put back in the water, the results were astounding. They survived not one hour or two hours longer, but these rats swam for 3 full days before succumbing to the water and drowning. 72 hours. That’s 228 times the initial average survival time.

Richter’s conclusion from this experiment: “After elimination of hopelessness, the rats do not die.”

That’s the power of hope.

This experiment made quite an impact on me as I reflected on the rescue I have received from my SAL community of strong, courageous women. When I first found myself drowning in a bucket, I was desperate and flailing. There was a part of me that just wanted to go down and be done.

How would my life have been different if I hadn’t found this community of women who showed me through their own experience that there was hope to get through this with grace and dignity?

How would my life have been different without that 90 minutes each week, that felt like the reprieve of being plucked out of the bucket and allowing myself to be held, comforted, heard, and understood?

SAL 12-Step meetings have given me and continue to give me the power of hope in my life, one day at a time.

Hope that I am not alone.

Hope that people get through this.

Hope that some marriages make it.

Hope that whether or not mine does, there is a stronger, wiser, more resilient, more empathic me on the other end of the struggle.

Hope that there is a Higher Power of my very own understanding who is actively engaged in my life and walking with me every step of the way.

He is real. He is mine. And nobody and no circumstance can ever take that away from me. In Him is all my power.

No matter what challenges I am currently facing, I am always in need of hope. Hope gives me the power to move forward. It gives me the reason to keep swimming.

It is the gift I can give to those who are in the shoes I have worn, and who desperately need the reprieve from the struggle when it feels the most desperate.

What is the power I get from and give to my SAL 12-Step meetings?

It’s the Power of Hope.

Keep coming. It Works When You Work It. And You are Worth It.

4 thoughts on “Why Should I Continue to Attend 12-Step Meetings? The Power of Hope.”

  1. This post came at the perfect time for me. I was studying trust and hope. I really liked the example from the rat experiment so I read the original study. Though the presentation of the findings was a bit distorted, the concept is correct. The experiment was far more extensive than a few domesticated rats and was actually started to prove other factors. The hopelessness hypothesis came as they were trying to figure out the variables contributing to varied results.

    I would suggest reading this fascinating study, and have two thoughts that I would like to add.
    1) I would suggest that the wild rats had learned “helplessness” from their trapping process. [“Learned helplessness” is a term I was taught in therapy]. That sense of helplessness contributed to the hopelessness of being trapped in the half filled containers of water.
    2) I also wonder if any of the first set domesticated rats who keep swimming had been used in other experiments and thus saw this as another puzzle to be solved instead of a hopeless situation.

    Either way, it was amazing to me to find out how much our sense of hope is learned and not just something we are born with. I am learning so much through this process of recovery that I would not have found in any other way. If I could go back and change things I would not wish to go through this pain of betrayal, but I also would not want to give up the growth and learning that have come as a result of it.

  2. Ok I get the point , but the animal cruelty sent me down. How awful to give hope when there was no hope, that is how I have felt, tricked. Like a fool tricked into thinking .. hope… then finding what a fool i was. I drowned. The rat example broke my heart.

    1. This was a sad example of animal cruelty . They were domesticated rats , basically an animal that trusts humans . Very sad example . 🙁

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