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Recipe for Recovery: Dos and Don’ts to Sidestep Disaster

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10 Tales from Chef Karen on Cooking up Trouble

Whether you’ve taken the suggestions in the rooms of an anonymous program or you haven’t, you may have a few interesting stories about people who try to “get” and stay sober. Karen Zaccour, our “Chef” for this recipe and Stepping Stone alumna, pours light-hearted humor over tales she’s heard over the years that seem to reoccur within the rooms of anonymous 12-Step programs. Each tip below touches on suggestions from the rooms as far as what to do, what not to do, and why you do it. The first is a two-for-one, Enjoy! *Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of those in the stories below.

Meetings, go!

  1. DO: Go to a meeting right when you get out of treatment… DON’T: Take a vacation from your recovery.After getting out of treatment you may feel like you need a break from all that hard work, but getting to a meeting the first day out is a trick known to many who succeed (those who maintain sobriety, one day at a time).Chef Karen: I remember a girl, Shayla*, who just came out of treatment and felt like taking a break from all the therapy she just underwent. She gathered up some family members and took a weekend vacation. She hoped she would be able to relax and have some time for herself. Her parents missed her so much, they were more than happy to spend the time and money on her. As it turns out, they watched her every move, questioned every text, until it annoyed her so much Shayla said she went a little out of her mind. Not exactly the relaxing break she’d hoped.  She didn’t look up any meetings while she was out of town. The way she saw it, she was on vacation… from everything. Looking back now, she shared she wasn’t ready to get real or recover, yet.

People, Places, and Things

  1. DO: Change your phone number and/or delete your Facebook account.Or at the very least, keep your personal business on the down-low, especially your whereabouts. Chef Karen: When people found out Shayla was out of rehab (via social media), they kept calling her phone, blowing up her Facebook, and some even came by her house. For days, Shayla was hiding in her room and screening her phone. She didn’t know how to escape.  Had she at least changed her number like she talked about with her counselor, or just not told the world on Facebook that she was out, this could have been avoided. I know she didn’t know people were going to hunt her down, and she thought she would be strong enough to tell them she couldn’t talk to them anymore. Alas, it was harder than she thought, and Shayla learned her lesson.
  1. DON’T: Get all dressed up for the meeting to impress the cute addicts.Don’t be that guy/girl. If your outfit says, “I’m here to hook up!” instead of, “I’m here to get sober,” you’re doing it wrong. Try again.Chef Karen: Another girl I met in the rooms, Khari*, would dress up in sexy clothes for the 12-Step meetings. I’m not saying you have to wear collared shirts and button downs, but if you don’t want to be awkwardly stared at or hit on by every Joe or Johnny in the rooms, then I suggest you just come as you are. Khari shared with me that she bought a brand-new outfit with some tall, black, thigh-high, lace-up, heeled boots for her grand entrance into AA. When she got there, she was so distracted by all the potential suitors that she missed whatever it was the speaker was talking about. “I felt at home like I was at the bar without the alcohol.” Khari recalls, “Everywhere were, ‘my type’ of guys. I could relate to their struggles.” This is where “principles before personalities” come into play from the Traditions. Relating is great, but changing the way we look at ourselves and others is what we get from focusing on the program, not the members.

Steps are a Do

  1. DO: Work the steps in order, with a sponsor. Chef Karen: A guy I knew in the program, Wayne* worked steps with his girlfriend, Cassie* because she was tired of feeling like the odd one out of the group without a sponsor. After he agreed to it, you would hear her exclaim to any old-timer within shouting distance,

    “Heck yes I have a sponsor and we work the Steps!”

    He let her pick a step to start. Cassie picked step 12 because she liked the part about carrying the message to others. The people she talked to were nice, especially the guys. So she thought she was helping others by talking about all the horrible and exciting drug experiences she went through. Well-intentioned, but ineffective, she was hoping people could relate and find comfort in connecting with her. But instead, she was resisting recovery by rehashing the past, seeking validation from men, who were also losing their focus on recovery.

  1. DON’T: Postpone your happiness by trying to do it without help.Those who have struggled with addiction, like most people, are concerned with their personal sense of freedom.A common misconception is that a sponsor will tell you what to do. This is not true. A sponsor’s job is to put your hand in the hand of your Higher Power. It is the most freeing thing any person could do for you because this is your Higher Power, as you understand Him (Her/It).

    Chef Karen: I recall another member from the rooms who waited and waited, and waited and waited, and waited to get a sponsor. Although things were not getting easier and she was having a lot of cravings to drink, she did not want to ask for help. Her name is Hannah*, and though my dear friend Hannah wanted independence more than anything, she became dependent upon will power and did not find the Higher Power until much later. Lacking guidance from a sponsor or a conception of her own Higher Power, she mostly enjoyed talking about her problems, rather than turning toward a solution. Subsequently, Hannah relapsed and we haven’t heard from her in some time.

Boys, Girls, What’s the Difference?

  1. DO: Differentiate sponsorship between men and women. Chef Karen: Wayne became jealous Cassie was chatting up so many other men. Cassie told him she was working the 12th Step, and she had to do this to stay sober. When he asked her to work with women, she expressed to him that she relates better to men than women, and they were just friends – totally harmless Wayne became just a little too aggressive about it, and lost his temper. Shortly thereafter, his rehab program didn’t allow him to attend meetings anymore.
  1. DON’T: Let up on structure to get more freedom.Instead, let structure bring you freedom in recovery, even if it’s just one service commitment you honor, it’s one time you are standing by your word – and that feels good. Suddenly you are being impeccable with your word – there is freedom in that.Chef Karen: This other couple, Rocky* and Katie* were tired of meetings, so they just hung out at the house all day while Katie’s mom was at work. They would go to the clubs and dance at night and didn’t drink, but they were wandering quite aimlessly. In group, IOP and service work were suggested, but Rocky was helping out at the front door of the night club without getting paid, and that was enough service for them. Katie was helping Rocky so she thought that was enough to serve a purpose at the time. Both were retreating to old habits of laziness and their recovery started to slide to the backburner of their life together.

Be real

  1. DO: Work an honest program.The giving basket is to pay the bills for the meetings, not your own.Chef Karen: Katie got pregnant, but no one knows by whom, so Rocky left her pretty quickly thereafter. She got kicked out of her mom’s house for lying to her about not working or going to meetings. Katie was broke, and hard-pressed for cash. She came to a meeting and saw plenty of cash in the giving-basket floating around, and so she took some. AA is very lenient about things of this nature – but we learned this one in kindergarten – don’t steal, and treat others as you want to be treated. It works, we all know it does.
  2. DO: Acknowledge how your living environment is affecting your ultimate goal – sobriety.Self-worth is what happens when you make the decision to do what’s best for you.Chef Karen: Poor Katie. She ended up staying with old drinking buddies for a while. At first, she told me she felt comfortable there, just like old times. But then, she was starting to stress out. They seemed to be having fun and she was not. She ended up drinking and taking new drugs she never tried before. Katie was too scared to call any of her sober friends. Poor Katie was miserable and in worse shape than she started out.


  1. DO: Give yourself a DO-OVER!Start from Scratch.Chef Karen: One day, after some time, a friend from the rooms, Dorothy*, saw Katie. Dorothy knew Katie from the beginning when she first was attending meetings after treatment. Their paths crossed at the grocery store where Katie was asking for money and they talked for a while. Dorothy had no judgment for Katie because she had been through it too. They swapped numbers, and Dorothy took her to a meeting that night. We all saw Katie walk back into AA, ready to start anew. She shared she was ready to do it all differently, without getting in the way of herself. Katie began her journey again, at the kindness of Dorothy’s heart, to take suggestions, and commenced her journey to recovery.

Karen Zaccour has been sober over seven years and works as an Alumni Coordinator and Recovery Coach at Stepping Stone Center for Recovery. Guiding men and women along their path to recovery, she connects people in treatment with others in recovery, so they can work toward a healthy, happy, sober lifestyle.

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