How Can I Become Comfortable Sharing During AA Meetings?

Peer support groups can be incredibly helpful to people in recovery. Research shows that people who participate in support groups, particularly sharing during AA meetings – are less likely to continue using alcohol or other behaviors that pose drug-related health risks and less likely to experience cravings.1 Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are among the most popular peer support groups found outside formal treatment settings.1

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking during your AA meetings, you are not alone. Fear of public speaking, discomfort in a group setting, feelings of shame, or simply not knowing what to expect from meetings can make many people uncomfortable and hesitant to open up. Perhaps you’re worried about sharing too much and losing your confidentiality. All of these are valid concerns.

AA meetings typically consist of members telling their stories, and you may be invited to speak. However, if you don’t feel comfortable, you can decline. AA members are encouraged to share, but it’s okay to listen and observe for a while until you feel more comfortable and become more familiar with how AA meetings work.

Why Sharing During AA Meetings is Encouraged

That said, sharing your story is an important part of recovery. Members are encouraged to share and actively participate during meetings. Presumably, you are attending AA meetings to get or stay sober, prevent relapse, and improve your life, and there are many benefits to sharing with other group members. Sharing during meetings can help you relieve stress, gain a new perspective on your struggles, remain accountable, and build relationships with other group members. Being open and honest about your life experiences—in the form of thinking and writing as well as speaking—can lead to greater overall life satisfaction and improved physical and mental health.2

 

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Sharing during AA meetings can help keep you from slipping into denial about your substance use. One of the rules of recovery is to be completely honest as much as possible, except when it may harm others.3 If you do not spend time thinking about and talking about your struggles, it will be challenging to be completely honest—with yourself or with others.

Going to meetings but not sharing is also a risk factor for emotional relapse.3 Emotional relapse refers to a state in which you are not yet using alcohol again, but your actions and emotions are setting you up for relapse in the future.3

Sharing with other group members also helps build a sense of community. If you attend meetings but don’t share, you may never truly feel like part of the group. It’s normal to feel uncertain about whether you belong or to feel like an outsider at first, but you may never fully experience the benefits of your peer support group if you aren’t an active participant.

Sharing your story can also help others. You never know who in the room has had a similar experience. Someone else may be afraid to voice a particular aspect of their experience if they’ve never heard anyone else mention it. When you speak openly and honestly about your experiences, it shows others they aren’t alone.

Guidelines for Sharing During AA Meetings

AA does not have many written rules, but most meetings adhere to certain guidelines that encourage respectful and effective communication. Following these guidelines may help you open up more initially and become more comfortable sharing over time.

  • Be completely honest about yourself and your experiences. There is no benefit to lying or exaggerating in an attempt to impress others. Of course, it’s normal for this to feel uncomfortable, but aiming for complete honesty will help ensure that you aren’t just going through the motions of participating.
  • Raise your hand when you want to share and wait to be selected.
  • Use your speaking time to talk about yourself and your experiences. Use “I” statements to keep the focus on your own understanding. Do not criticize other members or give unsolicited advice.
  • Avoid cross-talk. This includes signaling out an individual instead of addressing the group as a whole or interrupting someone when they are speaking. If you want to address someone individually, save it for after the meeting.
  • If the meeting is devoted to a specific topic, stay on topic and not take the conversation in a different direction.
  • Do not share personal beliefs or promote your causes.
  • Try to share positive elements about your experience. It can be difficult for others to listen when someone is only sharing negative experiences.
  • Keep your time short so that everyone who wishes to share has an opportunity to do so.

Pay Attention to Meeting Type

There are different types of AA meetings, and some involve more group participation than others. AA meeting schedules will typically state whether a meeting is closed or open or another type of meeting. Most AA meetings are “open,” which means that anyone is welcome to attend. This may include friends and family members or anyone interested in learning more about AA. Bringing a trusted loved one to an open meeting may help you feel more comfortable about opening up and sharing your story together.

“Closed” meetings, on the other hand, are open only to AA members. This may include visiting members from other groups. At closed meetings, attendees are generally encouraged to participate in the conversation.

If you do not feel comfortable speaking, start by attending meetings that require less participation. For example, speaker meetings feature experts who speak about topics related to addiction and recovery or share their own stories. Speaker meetings are generally open, have more people in attendance, and typically leave little or no time for individual sharing.

AA also offers beginners’ meetings, which focus on the fundamentals of early recovery and relapse prevention. While beginner’s meetings typically involve some sharing, they provide an excellent opportunity for learning more about AA, getting more comfortable with the meeting structure, and connecting with others who are at a similar place in their recovery. Therefore, you may want to primarily attend beginners’ meetings until you feel like you have a good idea of how meetings are structured and what to expect.

If sharing your personal story feels too difficult for you, you may be more comfortable in a structured meeting like a study group. Big Book meetings involve discussing the main AA literature, also called Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also Step Study meetings, which focus on AA’s 12 Steps and 12 traditions.

 

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Find Opportunities for One-on-One Interaction

AA meetings typically end with a social period, during which refreshments may be offered. If you’re more comfortable talking to people one-on-one, stay for socialization.

Other members may introduce themselves and ask questions. Once you’ve established a rapport with several other group members, the group as a whole will likely feel less intimidating.

Arrange to attend the same meetings as members with whom you feel comfortable so they can lend support as you begin to open up more.

Practice Active Listening

It’s easy to spend an entire meeting rehearsing what you want to say in your head. But if you do, you’ll miss out on really listening to others and learning from their experiences. Show others the same courtesy you would want from them, and listen as they share their experiences.

Practice active listening, a form of listening that involves paying attention to the other person’s words and non-verbal cues, such as their body language and tone of voice. Turn towards the speaking person and make eye contact with them if they look your way.

Active listening can help you understand others better and empathize with them. It can also help you establish good relationships with other people in the group.4

When they see you paying attention to what they’re saying, they’ll likely do the same when it’s your turn to speak.

Learn More About AA

Learning more about AA—how the 12 Steps work, what’s expected of members, etc.—will help you feel more comfortable at meetings in general. Being more familiar with the 12 Steps, why they’re important, and how they work will help you see elements of your own experience that are relevant and worth sharing.

Talk to a Sponsor or Senior Member of the Group

If you still feel uncomfortable opening up, talk to your sponsor or a senior member of the group and let them know how you’re feeling. Chances are, they felt the same way when they first started attending AA meetings. They can help make sure that you don’t feel pressured to speak if you aren’t ready and will also gently encourage you to step outside your comfort zone to experience the full benefits of your support group.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, contact us today at 800-839-1686Who Answers?. We can help you find a path to treatment that best meets your needs.

Resources

  1. Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 7: 143–154.
  2. Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L., & Dickerhoof, R. (2006). The costs and benefits of writing, talking and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(4):692-708.
  3. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
  4. Topornycky, J., & Golparian, S. (2016). Balancing openness and interpretation in active listening. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching, Vol. IX, 175-184.

 

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