Two people meet. They may do a little “harmless” flirting. There may be a light, slightly lingering touch on the arm here and there, and they might hold each other’s gaze a little too long to be just casual.
There’s no denying the chemistry that sparked immediately when their eyes met for the first time, and maybe every time after that. They trust the feeling and move on, letting their giddiness carry them to wherever it may lead.
This could be a scene right out of a chick flick. Or one that would go down in a bar or at a friend’s get-together. But those two people could be members of a recovery group or those attending treatment at the rehab center. Those last couple of places may make you stop and wonder: Since when does hooking up happen there?
The reality is it is more common than one would think.
This “scene” may look a bit different if it goes down in a nightclub or a romance novel. But when it happens in recovery, particularly 12-step programs, it could be the beginning of what is colloquially known in those circles as “13th-stepping,” when someone who has been sober for a year or more hits on a person who is just starting out their 12-step sobriety journey.
To be clear, it is not an official step of any 12-step program. However, it is a term that calls attention to the fact that not everyone who attends recovery meetings shares the same goals or intentions of others in the group.
Who’s a 13th-stepper?
The person could be a man or woman, older or younger. They could be husbands, wives, or singles looking for a quick fling, sex, money, or any other thing that meets their needs.
For the 13th-stepper, the support group rooms are prime hunting grounds for the next prey they can seduce, the next unsuspecting person who really has no idea that the person who is smiling at them and offering advice is really setting them up for other purposes that they have no idea about.
What the 13th-stepper knows that newcomers to the group don’t know is that the beginning is a ripe time to take advantage of people who are afraid, needy, and still close to the edge of falling back into the hole they just got out of. The 13th-stepper is looking for vulnerable people who can be easily swayed to do things they shouldn’t do, especially those that put them closer to relapse than recovery.
There really is no one way 13th-steppers look, but their actions, if examined closely, could give away their true intentions.
Wrong place, wrong time…?
People in recovery are advised to focus solely on getting better and achieving a life of sobriety one step at a time for at least a year. The idea of dating, casually or seriously, during the early stages of one’s new drug-free life is generally discouraged, but some still seek out companionship anyway, sometimes from people who can’t– and shouldn’t–be trusted.
Some people join recovery groups with the aim to date newcomers who are not emotionally or physically ready to do so. Instead of supporting them in their recovery, they will do the opposite and encourage behavior that moves them away from their goals.
There are many postings and first-person accounts about 13th-stepping online–both from those who have 13th-stepped and those who have been 13th-stepped. Some people say they knew they were 13th-stepping the newcomers in the recovery group and likewise, 13th-stepped newcomers knew something wasn’t right but went along for the ride anyway.
Look before you love
In these cases, you will have to examine closely to see if they’re in your corner or on your downfall. The post-rehab haze is hard enough to clear without the extra baggage.
As you set out to put your life back together, there are things you can do to avoid 13th-stepping. Consider these tips.
Know who is in your recovery group. Some recovery groups are generally open to anyone who claims to have the desire to stop drinking or doing drugs. In theory, the shared goal of getting and staying clean and keeping one another on track is the reason people come together in 12-step groups. And for many, this model works and leads to a successful run of living a healthy and substance-free life. Some groups have a mix of men and women, and some say mixed company in these groups leaves room for anything to happen.
Some members join the group voluntarily while others may be ordered by a court to attend. Whatever the reason, get to know as much as possible who is in your recovery group and observe their actions to see if they are sincere and knowledgeable about the steps. Try to identify who is keeping up with their recovery and is committed to helping themselves and others stay on the straight and narrow.
Develop a healthy skepticism. We have our intuitions to guide us, but we also have a brain, so we must use it and listen to it when something doesn’t add up. Check in with your gut and listen to the questions that arise when reviewing situations that you are facing. Remain aware of what is going on around you and in you, and if something doesn’t feel right, honor that and address it. You must remain open to others as much as you can so you can feel connected. However, being aware can help you avoid unpleasant people and situations.
Gauge your attractions to people in the group. If you find yourself magnetically drawn to someone in your recovery group for other reasons that really have little to nothing to do with the reason you attend meetings, you may have to reevaluate your reasons for seeing that person. Take an honest assessment of where you are mentally and emotionally at this stage in your healing process and decide what path your life will take if you get involved with this person.
Some people who have been on the receiving end of 13th-stepping have said they weren’t always thinking clearly when they got involved with someone who didn’t have their best interests in heart or mind. Some also say they were lacking in other areas of their life and that at the time the person temporarily filled an emotional or physical void. Keep a support system of patient and nonjudgmental people who you trust and whose opinion you respect. Your network of support doesn’t have to include people in your recovery group, but it can. The idea is to identify someone who is sincere and cares about you, your story and your journey.
Establish solid boundaries. Leave no room for gray areas here. You know what you need for your recovery to work, so set firm boundaries for yourself and others to follow. Find trusted people who will hold you accountable, and likewise, associate with people who you feel you can hold accountable and be accountable to. Setting boundaries can be difficult to do as you are fighting urges and desires to connect with someone and allow yourself to experience feelings you may not have felt in a while. But think of what could happen if the situation doesn’t work in your favor? Think of how you would recover from the relationship and what you plan to do in the case that it doesn’t work out.
What to do if you’ve been 13th-stepped…
If you find you have been 13th-stepped, whether willingly and knowingly, or not, take a step back to collect your thoughts. Now’s the time to put together a plan that moves you away from the confusion and closer to achieving clarity and direction.
First, have compassion for yourself and your experience and allow yourself to fully be in the moment. Be honest and upfront about what has taken place and prepare for the road ahead. Evaluate your roles in the situations that have taken place and take responsibility for them and then make the effort to change.
You may have to go to a different recovery group or find a sponsor who can keep you on track. Break off communication with the other person and resolve to steer clear of any further involvement. Make it clear that you wish to move on and find ways to ensure that you move on, too. You may want to take up a hobby, exercise or spend time with people who make you feel grounded and emotionally stable. Make a point to keep yourself safe and at a safe distance from any emotional or physical ties until you can figure out your next move.
Clarity, respect above all else
You deserve a recovery experience where you are safe and respected, one that allows you to hold your head up and be strong as you rebuild your life. One thing to keep in mind is that while people do get together in recovery, be it right or wrong, you don’t have to take the 13th step or allow people in your life who urge you to do so. Many people do, but it really is a personal decision. That’s entirely up to you. In one light, it could be a test of your commitment to stay on track and get your life together for you.
At California Highlands, we offer a unique approach to recovery that gives our clients the dignity they deserve. We can help you, or your loved one, with substance abuse and addiction. We are available 24-7 to guide everyone who calls toward a treatment program that can work for them.
Call (888) 969-8755 today and learn about our rehab facility and treatment options. At California Highlands, we provide a unique approach to recovery, delivered with dignity and respect.