Socializing becomes rather difficult for some of us when we enter recovery. Perhaps we once excelled at making friends. But as substance abuse gradually took control over our lives, many of us lost touch with this particular skill set. We didn’t know how to meet people outside of bars. We shunned those in our lives who didn’t drink as much as us, or who didn’t use the same drugs. Now, we find ourselves stuck. Outside of AA or NA, we may not know how or where to meet people in a sober environment.
This rings especially true for those who enter recovery at a young age. In our teens and 20s, drinking tends to be involved in most social events to which we might receive an invitation. Sure, we can develop new hobbies and make friends that way. In fact, most would recommend this course of action. Nonetheless, while we may not wish for AA or NA to become our entire social life, socializing at these meetings is still a priority. We need to get in touch with our group. In this way, we can truly become a part of our fellowship.
Many AA and NA meetings hold special events, such as fundraisers or marathon nights. For instance, some meetings have marathon meetings on days such as Christmas and New Year’s, as struggling with addiction during the holidays often intensifies our sense of isolation. But we should never feel alone when we can always lean on our fellowship. This is why the art of socializing at 12-step meetings is so important. Below, we’ll cover some tips on socializing both before and after your AA or NA meeting. We’ll also cover some general topics that you might want to avoid altogether. Some social skills require practice and the ability to read others. But the tips below should help you get started.
Socializing Before the Meeting
The first thing you’ll want to remember when socializing before a meeting is to try and arrive about 20-30 minutes early. This time may vary, depending on the attendance at your group. But when you arrive early, you gain the chance to meet everyone who walks through the door. You can also learn how to help set up, which will mean quite a bit to the regulars who often set up on their own. Small acts of service work go a long way toward demonstrating our willingness to become part of the group.
Also, remember that you can’t make friends without also being a friend. Keep an eye out for people who seem like they need help. For instance, we know of one meeting where the members sit at four different tables. Sometimes, only two tables will fill up. Yet newcomers often enter and sit at a different table by themselves. Group members usually respond by approaching these newcomers and inviting them to their table. No matter how your meeting is set up, you can embrace this idea. When you see someone who appears to feel isolated or out of place, go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Even if you’re relatively new yourself, this will mean something to the other person.
When talking to others before the meeting, various recovery topics often enter the conversation. At this point, we must remember that socializing doesn’t always mean talking. Listening is a part of socializing as well. If a few old-timers decide to talk about things we don’t yet understand, we shouldn’t necessarily sit out the conversation on the sidelines. Ask questions. Tell people about your own struggles. Not only will your honesty gain you points with the group, but you’ll also learn more about recovery.
Sometimes, you might not feel much like socializing. Instead, you might feel like hiding behind your phone, or a cigarette, or some other form of material shield. Fight this instinct. When we hide behind our phones, we broadcast to others that we don’t feel like talking. And if we then feel upset that no one approached us, we have no one to blame. Instead, do your best to be the first person who says “hello” or asks others how they are doing. Smile, and remember that this smile not only brightens your day, but that of others as well. Socializing becomes much easier when we realize that others benefit from our friendliness as much as we do.
Socializing After the Meeting
If you’ve been socializing before the meetings, then you can approach many of the same people afterward. Thank them for their shares if they were meaningful to you. More importantly, ask for phone numbers. Don’t try to “13th Step” people by only requesting phone numbers from the opposite sex. Instead, request the numbers of those whose shares resonated with you the most. Sponsors are important, but it’s always good to have as many phone numbers as we can. On that one occasion when our sponsor doesn’t answer, we need others in our support group.
Much as we should arrive early to help set up, we should consider staying late to help close. Again, this type of service work pays off. It shows people that we wish to become a part of the group. They will appreciate this, and they will become more willing to help guide us through our recovery. If we wish to expand our support network, we should demonstrate that we intend to do more than take. We should demonstrate our willingness to give back as well.
During a meeting, some people might share about particular issues currently threatening their sobriety. Most groups suggest that we not give unsolicited advice during the meeting. Some groups even suggest that we not give advice afterward. If someone shares about something that causes us to feel a kinship with them, we may give advice if we do so properly. First, we approach them and tell them that we understand their feelings. Then, we ask if they might like to hear our own two cents on the situation. This is acceptable. But under no circumstances should we simply approach someone and tell them how to live. This will not benefit our attempts at socializing. If anything, it may drive others from us.
We should remember a few more things when socializing after the meeting. First, remember that many people lead chaotic lives and must struggle to fit meetings into their schedule. If they end your conversation abruptly, don’t take it too personally. They might simply have other matters that need attending. Second, accept invitations if you can. Some people go out to eat after the meetings, and you should join in when your schedule permits it. Socializing with group members outside of the meeting will help you strengthen your bond with the fellowship. Third, remember that coming fresh from a meeting does not mean you must talk only about AA. Get to know people. Share in the levity of frivolous conversation. Just be sure to avoid a few topics that might be seen as contentious.
General Topics to Consider
People say that you should never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. During the 2016 election season, we discovered that we could lose friends simply by posting about such topics on Facebook. Clearly, these two subjects bring about controversy—something AA attempts to avoid by way of Tradition Ten. And while the Tenth Tradition actually refers to AA as an organization, the relevant chapter in the 12&12 notes that members themselves never enter into heated discussions about these subjects.
If you’ve been going to AA or NA for a while now, you’re probably laughing at the above statement. Of course people argue about politics and religion at meetings. It may not happen often, but it certainly happens. And when it does, you might feel the urge to join in. Perhaps someone says something that offends you. Maybe you believe them to be wrong and feel the need to correct them. Hearing such arguments becomes a test of our ego. If we truly care about socializing properly and becoming comfortable in our group, we must accept that others possess different opinions. We may feel that our opinions are right, but they feel the same way about theirs. We cannot change that, no matter how passionately we argue. Making enemies does nothing for our socializing, nor does it aid our sobriety.
This doesn’t mean that we can never discuss these topics, but we must do so judiciously. Wait until you get to know people. You’ll eventually gain a sense of people’s personalities and ways of thinking. In doing so, you’ll learn that many people can discuss politics rationally and respectfully. And if you wish to engage in such discussions, you must learn to do the same. You can disagree with someone’s viewpoint and still respect the rationale behind their beliefs. Naturally, some people make this easier than others. But if you know that a person becomes easily triggered by these topics, or that they would simply rather avoid them, you should respect their space. And if you think this veers too far into political correctness, it really doesn’t. It is a matter of basic civility. We gain nothing from going out of our way to offend someone.
Socializing, like many things in sobriety, takes time. With every interaction, we learn which buttons not to push. We learn what which beliefs we share with others, as well as how we differ. This applies not only to socializing at 12-step meetings but to our interactions with everyone we meet. Develop these skills with your 12 steps recovery program group and you can start applying them in the outside world. Meetings do not have to comprise our entire social life, nor should they. But they do provide us with an excellent starting point. We may as well make use of it as best we can.