Whether you’re trying to recover on your own and attending 12-step or are recently out of a drug and alcohol treatment center and ready to move on to aftercare, going to 12-Step is huge personal commitment. 12-Step meetings like AA or NA are one of the most common ways to support long-term addiction recovery, providing individuals with accountability, routine, and constant reminders of why they chose recovery. 12 Step is very much a voluntary thing. Unless you have a court order, no one has forced you to be there, no one has done anything but point the way to a group that will offer support. You already have the motivation to go, and you can use that as motivation to share.
At the same time, sharing at a 12-Step meeting can be incredibly daunting. Even if you don’t suffer from stage-fright or any form of social anxiety, it’s difficult to stand up and admit to your problems and your struggles. It’s difficult to share emotions with others. And, it’s difficult to show a side of yourself that is weak. But 12 Step is about that emotional sharing, it’s about bonding with your peers, and it’s about gaining accountability through that bond. There are at least an estimated 2 million active 12 Step members, so when you are ready to share, you are not alone.
Listen in at First
At most 12-Step meetings it’s okay for new members to sit and listen and get a feel for what’s going on and why before contributing. You can talk with your sponsor or the meeting leaders to get an idea of the typical meeting format. This will help you to familiarize yourself with the content, help you get to know the individuals speaking, and will allow you to see what and why information is being shared.
It’s common for some people to start out by perceiving 12-Step meetings as a form of a hostile environment. It may seem that people are being forced to share very personal information in an environment where they can be judged, and doing so can result in newcomers feeling ridicule, disgust, or stage-fright. But no matter what your initial reaction, it will eventually pass as you become more familiar with the meeting.
Pay Attention to Topics
Many 12-Step meetings are formatted around specific topics or themes, which can help you to share a great deal. Simply having guidelines with which to share can give you a place to get started that doesn’t seem as intimidating as pouring your heart out to a group of (semi) strangers. Take your first few meetings to watch and listen to how other people follow the theme of the meeting.
Following a topic or theme allows you to contribute your experience in a specific scenario with very little pressure. This can be a great way to accustom yourself to sharing because it’s easy to answer a question, even in a group environment.
Get to Know Your Peers
Seeing your peers as strangers is often one of the largest barriers to sharing at a 12-Step Meeting. Chances are, the first time you see what appear to be a very disconnected group of individuals sharing amongst themselves, it can be disconcerting. How can you openly share with people you don’t know, who have very little in common with you, and who have not experienced the same things you have?
Once you get over that mindset, sharing will be easier. The best place to start is to get to know people. You can do so when listening to them speak and share. You can also do so before and after meetings in periods traditionally set up for socializing and getting to know each other. If you already have a sponsor, they are the best place to start. If you can sit at a meeting and look around and not know who everyone is, what they like, what they do, and how they are feeling, you still have work to do.
- Introduce yourself to people
- Ask questions, learn about them
- Share information about yourself when asked
- Sit down and have dinner with people where possible
Getting to know people will take the pressure off sharing, it will give you motivation to share because you care about people, and it will help you to better understand who you are sharing to.
Understand Why You’re Sharing
Most people feel silly when they get up and share something about themselves. You shouldn’t and you don’t have to. 12-Step is about sharing to give yourself relief from things that you cannot often share anywhere else, to provide commiseration with others, to provide inspiration to others, and to provide hope to others. For this reason, 12-step meetings often involve bad stories (I did this, and this is what happened) and positive stories (I’ve been clean for X time, This X thing happened in my life because I’m clean, etc.). Both of these sharing formats are valuable and offer value to yourself and others.
- Sharing negative information allows you to get it off your chest and share with others. Alcoholics and addicts often have PTSD issues related to addiction. Even talking about something that causes you pain in relation to the past or your past drug use can help you to deal with it and manage it.
- Sharing negative information tells others in your group that they aren’t alone. Individually, everyone who has been addicted to a substance will have felt and done things that made them feel bad. Sharing that and hearing it from others tells you that you are not alone, others have gone through similar circumstances, and there’s always a way forward. There are better ways to heal than numbing away pain.
- Sharing and hearing negative information serves as a reminder of why you’re in recovery, why you don’t want to go back, and why staying clean and sober is the only option.
- Sharing positive information works to remind you why you’re moving forward. It provides inspiration and hope to yourself and others, gives you an outlet to be proud of yourself in, and gives you an outlet to be proud of and recognize the achievements of others.
Understanding why you are sharing something will make it easier to say. Here, everything is easier if you know your peers and care about them first.
Start with a Small Truth
It’s never easy to start at the top and work your way down. Instead, you should try sharing small things until you’re ready to move on. It’s a lot easier to share a few words when you’re nervous and uncertain that you want to share at all. Most 12-step groups offer space for individuals to contribute minimally at first, giving you time to build up to a point where you’re ready to share larger truths, more painful stories, and to be proud of yourself and your progress.
Here, you can contribute even by sharing for others. For example, you could follow up on someone else’s story with something like, “I understand where you’ve been and I’ll share when I’m ready, but I’m proud of all the changes you’ve made and hope I can be there too someday”. This king of minimal sharing may elicit questions for more, which you may be comfortable asking, but will mostly allow you to contribute in a meaningful way, while you accustom yourself to speaking up and revealing information about yourself.
12 Step Groups are very often about acceptance and giving yourself space to grow. Chances are, no one will ask you to stand up and give a speech about yourself or your problems on day one or even week 3. When you are ready to share, you should do so knowing that you can trust your group to support you, to understand where you are coming from, and to listen to you nonjudgmentally. The best way to get there is to start sharing, which means that you should work to put yourself out there as much as possible from the start.