As a quiet and reserved recovery member, I understand the struggle with sobriety programs that ask me to interact with others frequently. I am an introvert at heart and become exhausted when I spend a lot of time with groups.
I used to think this character trait was a deep flaw I needed to conquer. I saw everyone in AA engage with the world as though they were successful socialites. I was jealous of how easily they started conversions and moved through them while I sat near the back, keeping to myself.
Thankfully I found that introversion isn’t a condition that means 12-step programs won’t work for you. Introversion doesn’t have to stop you from fully engaging in peer support programs and getting the most out of them.
Here are some steps I eventually discovered for engaging in AA despite my introversion.
- Look for others in the room who stood off.
- Make situations for one-on-one talks rather than big groups.
- Encourage yourself into new, uncomfortable social situations
- Find a few close friends rather than making a huge network.
- Attend the same meetings to build up relationships
- Make a social goal, such as sharing in every meeting.
- Try to be helpful rather than trying to look good.
- Accept that you need alone time rather than berate yourself.
- Make your alone time more refreshing.
Look for others in the room who stood off.
I came with the false assumption that every in AA preferred socializing. When I went to a meeting, there were already groups of people laughing and carrying on loud conversations. I felt like I didn’t belong.
I started noticing others who didn’t join in and stayed alone. I tried to break the ice with them and start conversions individually. This social situation is more comfortable for me and comes with ease.
It didn’t take long before I started to gravitate toward these people in meetings because I found they, too, were introverts. If they weren’t introverts, they usually had a pressing issue where talking about it would help, and I could be of service to them.
This approach also led to building the strong friendships I have now. I clicked with certain people during one-on-one conversions, and we eventually started talking long-term.
Make situations for one-on-one talks rather than big groups.
Finding other introverts is easy. They usually sit by themselves, further from others. It made it easy to sit next to them and strike up a conversation.
The same approach applies before and after the meeting. When others are gathered just outside the room and talking, I look for the guy standing off from the leading group. Or in the group, I look for the guy who doesn’t seem interested, and I try to start a side conversation with him.
You can spot them because they are doing what you would do in the same scenario.
Encourage yourself into new, uncomfortable social situations
It was difficult to accept, but I found that engaging in difficult social situations made them less scary the next time. I can’t ask myself to be in these situations 24/7, but avoiding them entirely kept me in fear.
I was often asked to lead discussions during meetings. At first, I would instead ask to be the chairperson, and the other guy could lead. The chairperson only had to read from a script, which was easier for someone who hates public speaking.
My heart raced, and my thoughts sometimes went blank while trying to explain the topic. But after doing this for so long, most people eventually wanted me to lead it. So I grit my teeth and dove in.
Nobody noticed or cared that I was anxious. The meeting went on fine, no matter how I delivered the topic.
After enough attempts, I became more comfortable leading discussions, and people have come up afterward telling me that they got to know me better after leading.
In all, making myself wade into uncomfortable situations placed me in the middle of the group. It would never have happened if I didn’t walk through the initial fear. It made me a part of, rather than apart from.
Find a few close friends rather than making a huge network.
Walking into a meeting gives the impression that everyone is a close friend of everyone else there. That may be true for a few attendees, but for an introvert, that’s a lot of work.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be a socialite to be a member of a 12-step group. Most of us build a small network of guys we reach out to regularly. The relationships may be a group you could count on one hand.
The closer connection usually means we talk with them about the real things in our lives, rather than the superficial.
Calling out to many people means we never get to know them honestly. Newcomers get the impression that they need to call the most people they can rather than build a strong network.
Fortunately for introverts, this approach comes naturally since it’s the standard way we maintain relationships.
Attend the same meetings to build up relationships
At first, I went to a variety of meetings. I rarely made the same meeting week over week. This meant I didn’t get to know many people at the meetings unless they attended the other meetings I tried.
The best advice is to stick to a few meetings you like and make a point to get to them weekly. We must admit, some meetings are unbearable.
Either the format doesn’t feel right, or there are some personalities we don’t like and can’t avoid. If it feels like torture to attend a meeting, that may not be a good one to make our regular.
After going to the same weekly meeting for a few months, we get to know the other regulars deeply and look forward to seeing some of them. The meeting starts to feel more fun rather than a chore.
As the main benefit, we lose that dreaded feeling of being the new person in the room, where we feel an obligation like we have to small talk with everyone.
Make a social goal, such as sharing in every meeting.
Just like the example of diving into discussion leading, it helps to set a goal for ourselves when it comes to building relationships.
One of the best ways for other strangers to get to know us is to share in meetings. Most introverts worry about what they say and if it’s “right,” so they avoid sharing altogether. You likely have profound insights that others would like to hear.
Generally, you can’t go wrong with discussing your progression through the steps and recovery. Just share about where you are now and what you’re doing.
This is the main reason the meetings exist: For newcomers to gather and share their progress or problems with recovery. We learn from others who have been there so newcomers can cross over to sobriety.
Sharing in meetings is a great goal that can stretch your comfort level as an introvert. But there are plenty of other plans you can come up with that work for you. For example, getting one phone number at a meeting or talking with two new faces may be a goal.
Try to be helpful rather than trying to look good.
Introverts ruminate about what they would have said or done differently to leave a “better” impression on others. I’ve learned none of that self-preservation mattered as much as I thought. One method I learned to remove the anxiety of socializing is to focus my attention on being of service.
Instead, people noticed if you were there early to talk or make coffee. They took more interest in someone who was helping out. I got to know many people by attending business meetings and taking the role of treasurer. Taking on service positions got me out of my head.
When I had the task of being helpful, I lost the fear of making a good impression on everyone. I gauged my success by what I did rather than how I sounded.
Accept that you need alone time rather than berate yourself.
Even though I tried new social activities that were difficult, I had to accept who I was. I could be around large groups only so much time of the day. It has been exhausting, no matter how comfortable I get with it.
I can’t change who I am. I still get the most energy and rest when I am by myself. It doesn’t help to beat myself up when the extroverts see it as a flaw. They have their way of approaching the world; I have mine.
Twelve-step meetings can sometimes make introverts feel flawed. The discussions seem to offer plenty of the louder folks the space to stand out and get praised.
After all, the meetings revolve around sharing, and some people have the charisma that entertains the group. Introverts may feel they could never reach that level, and that’s what “good” AA members have to do.
This is a false assumption. If you pay attention, you’ll find that all personality types can get sober.
Make your alone time more refreshing.
In summary, I also tried to make my alone time the best possible. I had to put aside the habit of rumination and rehashing all the past conversations where I could have said something better. That was a waste of my precious alone time.
I had to find new hobbies to engage in that energized me during my downtime. Website development became one. Journaling became another. These were better than laying in bed being lost in my thoughts, which usually made me feel worse.
Now that we’re sober, our alone time doesn’t have to revolve around getting more drugs and alcohol. We can turn that time into activities that are the most beneficial to us.