Saturday, June 18, 2011

Feelings Check At Recovery Group Meetings

Why do we have times of feelings checks at our group meetings? Last week in our Wednesday night Route1520 meeting we talked for a while about why we have times of "check in." I think it is a really good question because sometimes the value of group feelings checks can be lost just like many other very valuable things can lose their value. After that discussion and a couple of conversations today, here are a few of the benefits I see to having a time of check in during a recovery meeting.

• Feelings check shows me that everyone is human and everyone struggles. Sometimes I get to thinking I'm the only one who is struggling or some people have it together and I don’t so I better act like I have it together while I'm in this room. That is not true. These rooms are places where we are to connect at human weakness then talk about the strength and hope that Christ provides. If we never connect at the point of human weakness, we start to get to a place where we miss the fact that the strength comes only from Christ and not from ourselves.

• Feelings check gives me times to hear about and thank God when a brother is doing well. This is the flip side to the first point. Week after week I might hear how a brother is struggling but when he comes in and is doing well he can share with us hope for us to have strength from the same place he is finding strength.

• Feelings check makes "hiding in recovery" harder. We addicts can hide almost anywhere and that includes recovery. If all I do at meeting after meeting is talk about what I know about the program I can come off as someone who doesn’t have any struggles and can come to meeting after meeting without letting anyone know that I'm struggling. We have all known hiding in shadows but the truth is that we can hide even while talking at length and sharing great knowledge of the 12 steps and recovery in general.

• Feelings check helps me get in touch with and describe my feelings because I am hearing other people describe their feelings. Let's honestly face this. We have trouble describing our feelings. If Tal is asking me how I feel about something he normally has to tell me several times "That is what you are thinking. I want to know what you are feeling." I will take whatever help I can get to put my feelings to words. There is something about talking about my feelings in front of three other brothers that is different from talking about my feelings with just one other person. As I continue to grow in recovery I will be able to get in touch with my feelings and describe my feelings better. As I talk about my feelings with others who are newer in recovery they can better know how to describe the feelings they are feeling. A quick sidebar (you can tell I have been watching the Casey Anthony trial) - Check out The Feeling Wheel

• Feelings check helps me know better how to pray for my brothers. Honestly, we don’t talk to each other enough about how we can be praying for each other. Until we get better at that, I see a focused time of feelings check as something that is needed to begin to see James 5:16 realized in our recovery groups. We all want to see healing and healing will not come without confession.

• Feelings check gets all of the garbage out on the table so we can then focus on the solution. A lot times I sat through meetings just thinking about the crap I was going through rather than really listening to the strength and hope others were sharing. This is one of the reasons we do feelings check at the beginning of our group meetings. Once we move into the discussion time I am actually feeling a little more freedom than I felt when I walked into the room and that freedom can allow me to focus on the light of Christ rather than the darkness of my day.

• Feelings check show new people that it is ok to share your feelings with others and that others in the group really want to hear how their brothers are feeling. When I was new to recovery groups I was scared to share my feelings with others because I thought no one would want to hear about my problems. When a new comer can hear others share their feelings and see that no one freaks out and see that the rest of the group is really concerned with how each member is doing he can be free to share his feelings with us and know we will care about his feelings too. Beyond that, he will really care about hearing your solution because he has some more reason to believe that you really care about him.

While there are many more benefits to having a time of feelings check in group meetings most of those benefits can be experienced checking in with a sponsor one on one and are probably best experienced checking in with a sponsor one on one.

Now, there are a few reasons people give for NOT doing feelings checks at meetings that are actually very good concerns. The top reasons I have heard are that it turns meetings into places to just emotionally dump and it keeps groups focused on the problem rather than focused on the solution.
1. If I come to a meeting and all I hear about is how all of these guys acted out over the week I am going to leave that meeting more triggered, down, and depressed than when I entered and by the way thanks for the new ideas on how to act out because you spent the majority of your time describing exactly how you can access porn without your wife knowing and you said the exact same thing the last time I was in a check in group with you.
2. This isn't your therapy group (namely because there is no therapist there) so don't treat it as such.
3. This isn't the place for you or me to get free therapy from quasi therapist wannabees. Quit looking for that.
4. This is not a place for me to get an audience to hear me go on and on week after week about the resentments I hold so deeply. I need to share that stuff with my sponsor (if I dont have a sponsor I need to get a sponsor immediately) so he can help me apply the steps to it and hopefully get to a point where I canadmit my part in the resentment, admit where I am wrong, and let go of that resentment.
5. I do not come to these groups to just get stuff off my chest or just hear other people get stuff off their chest. I come here to hear about strength and hope that is born out of experience and share the strength and hope I have experienced. Thank God for the things I have heard Jim C say at the meetings he leads. Talk about experience, strength, and hope!
Obviously, I too think that many (DEFINITELY INCLUDING MYSELF) have abused feelings check times and have turned them into very negative things that can ruin meeting times.

So, at our Wednesday night Route1520 meetings we have come up with a few practical ways to counter those negatives.
First, we use a timer when people are checking in. People get 3 to 5 minutes to check in. This makes my time of sharing tight and helps me stay off rabbit trails, which I love to go down. Second, groups are limited to four people. Checking in with three other brothers is just a little more intimate making me pay more attention when others are speaking and letting me feel like others are paying more attention when I am speaking. Also, when there are only three other people in the group I feel less of that "great I have an audience" feeling. With the timer and 4 person limit, the overall check in time is around twenty minutes per meeting, giving us seventy minutes to focus on the solution. Third, we do check in at the beginning of the meeting so that we can move on from that to spending the rest of our meeting focused on the solution. Doing check in first, keeping it tight, and making sure it is not the majority of the meeting helps us experience the benefits of checking in and somewhat protect them from turning into the negative times of pity parties they can many times turn into.

I would love for us to add to this practical list! What have you experienced in your groups? Do you have times of feelings checks? How do they go?

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