The Power of Community in Recovery

The following excerpt from the primary text of the fellowship of Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA), commonly known as the Big Red Book, expresses the beauty of connection and support in recovery. Although written specifically for ACA, it is relevant to anyone on a trauma recovery journey.

Sit with your journal as you read this passage and note:

  • What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
  • Do any feelings, physical or emotional, come up?
  • Do you have an aversion to any words or phrases? 
  • Have you had experiences—either as the supporter or the supported—like the ones described here? 

We learned about respect at our first ACA meeting. We learned that we were respected and accepted for who we were. There were no pledges to sign or promises to make in ACA. We did not have to people-please or placate anyone in the meetings. We were respected for having survived our family of origin and reaching out for help. At our first meeting, we were offered unconditional acceptance and respect. We realized we could focus on ourselves and respect ourselves as well.         - BRB, p. 404

Notice how many times the word respect is used in this paragraph. One definition of respect is “an attitude of admiration or esteem; courteous regard for other people’s feelings.” In unhealthy family systems, there is rarely authentic respect. There is often blatant disrespect (i.e. shaming or dismissing others, lack of boundaries, or “respect” that is fear-based). 

Being part of a community that offers respect and acceptance is a new experience for many people. Not having to “people-please or placate” may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first, but that’s the beauty of community—you have a safe place to work through that unfamiliarity.

The section goes on to say:

Gradually we learn to trust others, but trust begins with ourselves. We cannot trust another until we trust ourselves. We got our first inkling of trust from our ACA support group. This is perhaps the first group of people who truly accepted us and allowed us to recognize trust. We can talk openly in ACA about our lives without being judged.

That said, our groups are not perfect. Fellow ACA members have let us down, but for the most part, we know we can trust our group to listen to us and support us when we do not feel good about ourselves. They also share the good times with us. Our group members celebrate our growth and recovery with us.

With this kind of trust, we feel more confident in risking our feelings and hopes with another person. We know that we have a place to talk about our relationships and lives when things get clouded. We are not alone anymore. With trust we let go of control in our relationships. We can trust another person to be who they are without having to monitor their thoughts and actions. With trust, we lay down a hypervigilant watch for signs of abandonment. We have exposed our false belief that we are not good enough. With the help of our home group, we have faced our fear that abandonment is inevitable.     - BRB, pp. 404-405

These words give a picture of what’s possible. Those of us who’ve experienced childhood trauma usually don’t know that this kind of support and connection is available, but it is essential to trauma recovery.

The experience of childhood trauma is often characterized by secrets, relational betrayal, loneliness, fear, and shame. Trying to walk through trauma recovery on your won’t address those wounds. It is only in the context of relationships that those wounds can be fully  acknowledged and healed.

We are relational beings. We are wired for connection. Feeling apprehensive of community and connection didn’t start with you. It comes from what you learned about relationships, help, and support in childhood.

The necessity of community in trauma recovery isn’t just a concept for me—it’s lived experience. I wouldn’t have gotten this far in my recovery if it weren’t for those who’ve walked and continue to walk with me, nor if I hadn’t had the opportunity to walk with others on their recovery journeys.

Here are a few closing thoughts as you consider the importance of community on your trauma recovery path:

  • If you feel nervous or freaked out or shame comes up when you think of letting others help and support you, you’re in good company. It’s a common experience for those who’ve experienced childhood trauma.
  • Don’t try to rush or force community and connection. Stay as open as you can; it usually unfolds in the way that is right for you.
  • Remember that you have as much to offer others as they do to you.
  • A few places to look for community and connection: 12-Step fellowships, support groups, therapy groups

Peace on the journey,