Anyone who has participated in a Step Study or a small group through Celebrate Recovery has heard the five small-group guidelines. They’re supposed to be read aloud before each meeting starts, just to remind everyone or to inform any newcomers.
Most of the guidelines are obvious and make perfect sense on the first reading. Anonymity is vital and as people who are submitting to God as our Higher Power, we should realize that we are in no more a position to “fix” each other than we are to “fix” ourselves.
There’s one guideline that puzzled and even annoyed me at first, that pesky no. 2.
“There is NO cross talk. Cross talk is when two individuals engage in conversation excluding all others. Each person is free to express his or her feelings without interruptions.”
At first I really didn’t understand the guideline. “Did they seriously need to tell us not to talk to each other while someone was sharing?,” was my thought.
But as the guideline was explained further, I better understood. We aren’t supposed to respond or discuss what someone is sharing as it interrupts their flow and potentially inhibits their sharing. This includes reaching out to offer a supportive touch or even a tissue. “What, we can’t even hand each other a tissue? That’s rude!,” was my next thought.
I decided it would be just “one of those” rules that a person follows for the group’s greater good even if the person doesn’t agree.
As time went on, however, I came to not only understand but appreciate this guideline of no “cross talk.” For one, the obvious reason is that it allows the person to share without interruption. It’s easy for anyone to feel like they can’t share if they fear being interrupted by even a well-meaning group member.
But what about the emotional support? Small groups are divided between men and women. Women tend to be the more touchy-feely type of supporters. I came to realize that it was a comfort that we weren’t allowed to reach out and offer verbal or physical support when a person was sharing. I found this comforting because when there was a time I might have normally wanted the supportive gestures and didn’t receive them, it was because of the guidelines and not because the other people didn’t care. Can you imagine how hurtful it would be to feel the need for such support but not receive it, even as others in the group may have received the support? That’s a breeding ground for worry and negative feelings that are not productive in a recovery environment.