Many people believe meetings are the heart of twelve step recovery. I agree, but there are many other areas where great help and healing can be had as well, many other "hearts". First of all the meetings themselves can be much more valuable and rewarding if we really put ourselves into it. This means regular attendance at particular meetings, sharing at every meeting if possible, and really going deep to put our hearts into our share.
It also means reaching out to others before and/or after the meetings to make contact and connections. It means being open and honest, even vulnerable if possible, but only if safety and respect is ensured. Next, it is very helpful to meet with others before or after the meetings, what is usually called "social", at a restaurant or coffee shop to share in detail, make friends, and simply be there for one another.
Next, we use the phone to make "outreach calls" when we feel the need. The purpose is not to give or get advice or try to fix problems, but simply to listen and be heard. If you are not comfortable with calls or a certain person, let them know it just isn't going to work for you and say goodbye. Also it is often wise to set healthy boundaries for time and keep them. Do not allow yourself to be dominated by others or dominate them. If it doesn't feel right, bow out.
Within the meetings there is usually opportunities for being of service by reading, leading, or taking positions such as secretary, treasurer, literature person, phone list, group service representative, or others. We get much from the program in time, it is good to give back. This also teaches us structure, responsibility, community, and how to work with others. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else we learn to put principles before personalities as power struggles can easily arise.
It is common and normal, don't give up, use your program to work things out, that's what this is for. One of the greatest benefits is we can make good, sometimes "best" friends. I now find most of my friends are from 12 step, we simply think the same ways and speak the same language. We get together regularly and have a great time together. Often, you may hear of 12 step "events", where we get together for holiday celebrations, movies, plays, and so on to get to know one another and share common interests.
I'll never forget a wonderful trip to Yosemite with my 12 step buddies for hiking, biking, sharing, and meetings. There was also 2 times I set up events and no one came but I had fun anyway! You may be asked to speak at a "speaker meeting" where you get to share your story, experience, and strength for up to 15 minutes and then answer questions. I recently heard this changed someones life, I enjoy it very much as well. Another "heart" of 12 step is the "step study".
We go through a workbook usually meeting once a week. It can be a group of any size, even one on one, I've done both. here we have the chance to go really deep and wide with our recovery. Unfortunately, many drop out when the going gets rough in step 4 character defects so be ready to get past that hurdle. Like much of recovery, we would prefer it to be fast, easy, and painless. Sorry, it's probably not but it holds the promise of finally cleaning those old festering wounds and really getting significant healing, perhaps for the first time. I am on my third go round and more excited than ever.
The "big books" are a wonderful resource, well worth looking into as many wise people put a lot of work into making them helpful. Retreats are actually one of my favorite things in life, if I'm not there I'm looking forward to it. I go spring and fall every year to a mountain retreat but i'd go more if there was more. We have meetings of course, but also eat together, have amazing workshops on a variety of topics, talk casually in groups and one on one, carpool together, and do many fun activities like art, hiking, ping pong, vollyball, and swimming.
Just being there in the mountains for a weekend is worth it for me. I now have hundreds of people from near and far I can call friends from camp. It's a bargain too, usually $125-150 for all the lodging and meals Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Check local, state, and national websites for postings. Besides retreats, there are also weekend and mini conventions through out the year with much of the same opportunities to go to workshops and spend time together.
I can honestly say 12 step has greatly improved my practice of "prayer and meditation", two very important tools in my recovery and 12 step. Some areas have "marathon meetings" during the holidays so those who don't have or don't get along with there natal family can spend time with their family of choice: 12 step. These can be a great help getting through what can be a very difficult and lonely time. Some stay all day and treat it as if it were a retreat. Why do we retreat? So we can advance!
Some areas also provide opportunities to speak at "hospitals and institutions" to share our recovery with those who may not be aware of 12 step programs or able to attend in person. There are also now online and phone meetings available. "Sponsorship" is also a wonderful tool we have. In eastern traditions a teacher and mentor is considered the a necessity and key to real change and growth. It can be done as teacher and student relationship for those who are new or as co-sponsor for those with more time and experience.
Personally, I make a call once a week and spend a half and hour to an hour sharing with my cosponsor, more often if I'm struggling. In a way, I have taken this to an extreme, as I married a 12 stepper, so have a sponsor there everyday. It's damn hard at times too, but well worth it too. Last of all, you may want to start a meeting at some point to fill a need for yourself or the community. This can be very rewarding, but also difficult and enlightening.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to work your program, all very valuable in many ways. The alternative is working your disease and insanity. I've had enough of that, you probably have too. So here is all that 12 step has to offer, pick and choose what works for you (it works!). Good luck and good help and healing to you.