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How to Deal with AA Meetings as an Introvert (that’s me)

When you attend an AA meeting, do you slip out the back as soon as it’s over?  Do you arrive just as the meeting starts to avoid small talk?

I’ve been there and done that.  While any meeting is better than no meeting, when I arrived late and left early I shortchanged myself for sure.

I’m a badge-wearing introvert

I’m a badge-wearing introvert.  I’m not much of a talker, except in small groups or with another person.  I prefer deeper conversations.  I bumble and stumble with small talk, but can become animated and engaged with small groups or with another individual.

In school I disliked group projects.  It’s not that I was or am shy; I simply prefer digging down and doing things on my own.

I don’t believe I’m anti-social because I enjoy social outings.  I enjoy my friends.  I enjoy striking up a conversation with someone in the coffee shop.  I enjoy AA meetings, even larger meetings.

In fact, despite being an introvert and my love for solitude, I fell victim to loneliness in early sobriety.  Having “lost” my drinking crowd, I craved getting social.  AA reconnected me with people.  I thrived in AA groups despite my penchant for being a loner at times.

Is AA more difficult for introverts?

I believe it is.  AA is a social gathering; some groups are large.  Extroverted people have an easier time meeting people and speaking in front of people.  It’s easier I believe for extroverted people to get plugged into a social group or make friends in AA.  Making friends and establishing a social connection in AA, at least for me, is an important and helpful part of recovery.

Nevertheless, even I, an almost off-the-charts introvert, “got plugged in” with people in AA.  It wasn’t easy.

During my early days in AA I avoided having to talk with people.  I arrived just on time and snuck out the back as soon as meetings ended.  I was never in the mood to chat with people despite my growing loneliness.

Sometimes I envied the “social butterflies” who knew everyone and who everyone knew.  They spoke confidently and had many friends.  I on the other hand suffered in silence.

Of course, my aversion to getting social in AA bordered on shyness and approached being anti-social.  Fortunately it changed.  It wasn’t easy and I’m sure had I been an extrovert, I wouldn’t have suffered in silence as long as I did.  C’est la vie … I’m an introvert which requires living at times in an extroverted world.  It was time to get off the pity pot and get plugged in.

I got social and it was a life-saver

I can’t really take credit for making friends and getting social in AA.

In both cities where I sobered up (I sobered up on one city the first time, another city the second time after a lengthy relapse), kindly extroverted people reached out to me. They struck up conversations, were interested, interesting and invited me out with other people they know.  That’s all it took.  Before long I was plugged into a social group.  Keep in mind I was in my twenties, single and so a social group in AA was more important for me than someone who is married, has family around and has non-alcoholic people in their life.  Nevertheless, I believe having a few friends in AA is beneficial for anyone getting sober.

Tips for thriving in AA if you’re an introvert

Seeing as I’m 10 years sober and have a good number of friends in AA across 3 locations (I’ve lived in 3 cities since I sobered up), I’ve learned a few things about dealing with the group and social dynamic of Alcoholics Anonymous as an introvert.  The following are my views on how to thrive in AA as an introverted person.

1.  Find small meetings

There’s no rule that you have to attend large meetings.  Large meetings can be intimidating.  They have their own vibe and are definitely different than a meeting with fewer than 10 people.

Call the local AA hotline and ask for smaller meetings.  Regardless of how large your city, there are small meetings available.

Small meetings are particular good for people who hate public speaking, which seems to plague introverts more than extroverts.

While sharing at a meeting isn’t required, it does become an important part of the recovery process so it can help to attend a meeting where you’re more likely to share.

2.  Accept that it’s uncomfortable

The first day on a new job is uncomfortable.  Entering the room of a large party can be uncomfortable (for introverts).  Giving a speech can be uncomfortable.  Attending your first AA meeting can be uncomfortable.  Life can be uncomfortable.  That’s life.  Part of getting sober is accepting uncomfortable situations.  The sooner you elevate your ability to accept discomfort, the sooner you’ll have happy sobriety.

If you’ve hit bottom and are willing to try AA, your drinking must be bad.  Therefore, accept that your first meeting or first few meetings will be a little nerve-wracking is important.  In fact, it’s a little nerve-wracking for extroverts.  Don’t sweat it.

Besides, once you’re a few minutes in your meeting, you’ll have forgotten all about the nerves.

3.  Reach out to one person

You don’t have to be the life of the meeting or AA community.  If you’re an introvert, reaching out to one person is often enough.  If that person knows other people, you’ll quickly be introduced in a gentle manner to many people.  Once you know some people, even on a “hello” or casual basis, going to meetings will be a joy.

4.  Don’t expect everyone to welcome you, embrace you or like you

AA is like any other gathering of people.  Some will like you.  Some will welcome you.  Some will embrace you.  Some won’t be interested in getting to know you.  That’s life in a social context.  That’s okay.  You won’t have done anything wrong.

The key is to keep in touch with the people who do want to get to know you; who show an interest in you.  Talk to them and foster those relationships.

In my mind, one, two or three close relationships are better than dozens of casual acquaintances.  In fact, this is a hallmark of being an introvert.  Embrace your ability and desire to establish and build closer deeper relationships.

5.  Don’t forget there are other meetings

If you go to one particular meeting for a few weeks or months and can’t seem to make a connection, try other meetings.  I have.  There are many dynamics in making friends and some meetings may not be for you and may attract people with whom you just can’t establish a connection.  That’s okay.  Move on.

6.  Avoid alienating yourself out-of-the-gates

Some people attend AA and the first thing out of their mouth is a series of criticisms, complaints and rants – either directed toward AA, the group or individuals.  This is rare, but I’ve seen/heard it.  This doesn’t do you any favors.  I’m not saying to censure yourself, but it’s hardly constructive at a personal level to levy criticisms to a group of people who likely enjoy their meeting.

That said, once you’re an established member, you’re more than welcome to seek leadership positions and suggest changes.  That’s your right.  All I’m saying is that AA is like any other group of people … treat it as you would joining any group from a social perspective.  If you join a club and the first thing out of your mouth is bad-mouthing the place, you won’t be embraced by the members.  Human nature is human nature and regardless of the purpose of AA, it’s still made up of people who don’t take well to whiners and complainers.

7.  Force yourself to participate in the social element

There’s a strong argument that the social times before, after and outside meetings are just as much a part of AA as the formalized meetings.  I actually buy into this.  The informal sharing with friends can be powerfully effective in recovery.

If you do as I did in early recovery, which is avoid the social elements (before and after meetings), you’ll short change yourself and miss out on opportunities to meet other people.  I know the thought of standing all alone in a big room is scary.  I’ve been there, but it’s a small price to pay to meeting good friends who can be a terrific support group on a social level.

Just because AA is a group does’t mean introverts can’t thrive

When I think about the fact that I’m 10 years sober, I can’t believe it.  I remember being 1 month sober observing the “old-timers” with 10, 15 and 20 plus years of sobriety and thinking how they had it made.

Well I don’t have it made in the shade, but I’m extraordinarily grateful for my sobriety.  I’m also grateful I persisted in AA as an introvert.  It wasn’t always easy, but few things worthwhile in life are easy.  No risk, no reward.

Why am I writing about introversion and AA?

Because I’m reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” which is all about introversion.  It’s excellent and a must-read for any introvert.  Extroverts will find it interesting as well because it will help explain why the introverts in their life are the way they are (i.e. quiet and not always gung-ho for exciting parties and group stuff).