When starting the journey of recovery there are different obstacles to overcome. One of these is the issue of Social Challenges: Navigating how to talk to and get to know new people and how to become a part of a group or fellowship. These challenges are hard enough for the average person, but add to that doing this “clean and sober” – this can be a large feat even for the most socially geared among us. The early days of meeting people, speaking in front of people, making new friends, etc…can range from mildly uncomfortable to extraordinarily overwhelming. The following information is meant to be informative and helpful in both addressing these various areas and providing information in each individual area, as well as answering some common questions. This information is meant to be used both for personal enrichment, as well as a tool for helping others new in recovery.
1.) Getting through the door is by far probably the hardest challenge faced in early recovery. There are several reasons for this and some of them are:
a. A fear of what friends, family or even strangers will think if they see us going in the meeting b. A fear of seeing someone we know at the meeting c. A fear of how we will EVER get to know all the people at the meeting fit in. First, as a whole, many meetings are quite discrete. The average person or passerby will seldom recognize a meeting location. As far seeing someone you know at a meeting….well – “they are at the meeting too” – so at the very least you now know something else you have in common. Regarding getting to know all the people, it is advisable to look at it from the perspective of meeting one new person. Finally with regards to fitting in and becoming a part of the group – just remember…it happens one step and one person at a time.
2.) Meeting new people can be difficult. Let’s face it, when under the influence it was much easier, either because of feeling relaxed, more confident or just not really caring one way or another. In any case it wasn’t much of a challenge because of the “chemical buffer”. However being completely cleans and sober we face what now can often seem a daunting task of trying to accomplish this – exposed nerves and all. So how can the process begin? a. By first acknowledging the feelings you may be having and not denying that they exist b. By speaking with someone you already know about how you’re feeling (sometimes it helps to discuss it out loud) c. By asking your Higher Power (if you have one) for the courage to take that first step. (If you don’t have a Higher Power, but know someone who does – ask them to say a prayer to their Higher Power for you) d. Face that fear head on and take the first step! Upon arriving to the meeting walk up to the first person you see -introduce yourself and let them know that you are new. e. If the meeting has a “go around” (where everyone introduces themselves) use this opportunity to let the group know that you are new. f. Each time you return to the group, be sure to say “hi” to the people you have already met and set a goal each time to introduce yourself to 1 new person. In 30 days you will have met over 30 people.
By doing these steps you will soon find more and more of a sense of relief in attending the meeting.
3.) Sharing for the first time in a meeting is sometimes difficult, especially when in a room surrounded by people that you don’t know. Again there is the stark contrast to how perhaps speaking up was not difficult when chemicals were being used, without them it can create strong feelings of self-consciousness. The important thing is to realize that to initially share does not mean having to disclose personal information or even to talk for a long time – sometimes the best way to begin sharing is to simply say who you are and that you are glad to be there. Just keep it simple.
4.) Getting numbers and using them can be especially difficult. Some of the concerns are as listed:
a. Asking a stranger for their phone number. (Will they think it is strange? Will they say no?) b. The fact that men are told to get numbers from other men and women from other women. (For some, initially doing this can feel awkward) c. Being faced with the fact that if a number is requested, you are then in more of a position to actually use it d. Then to actually call someone can present challenges such as: Will they answer? Will they think I’m strange? What am I going to talk about? What do I say to even start?
Each of these areas can be faced in much the same way as going through the door of a meeting and meeting new people: Finding the willingness to take the first step and then just doing it. There is absolutely NO challenge you are going to face that others around you have not been through themselves. You are entering into a fellowship of people who want to do all they can to support you in your journey.
5.) Getting a sponsor brings into the picture a more personal social challenge, due to the fact that unlike the above mentioned areas of becoming active in a group or gathering numbers for a lesser form of a personal call – one is now faced with the prospect of asking another person to be the person that they will: Be accountable to; Will listen to; Will allow to provide guidance and direction; Will be honest with; Will reach out to for help and direction; etc… For an addict/alcoholic in early recovery this can seem like an impossible hurdle. However it is a necessary reality in order for recovery to actually begin.
The most common ways to go about getting a sponsor are:
a. Request a sheet of meeting member’s names and numbers. When you go home make it a point to call someone every day. In doing this you will be able to see what people have to say, who answers their phone, who returns calls, etc.. b. When you attend a meeting, listen to those who share and the people who say things that “click” with you – go to them after the meeting and ask for their number AND CALL THEM. c. Go to speaker meetings! It is a great place to listen to people share about their life and recovery – to see who you relate to. d. Ask potential sponsors questions about their own recovery – Do they use a sponsor? Go to meetings? Work steps? e. Once you have gathered your information, make a decision who you will ask and ask them to be your sponsor. f. IF a sponsor says that they can’t sponsor you – DON’T be discouraged! You might ask them if they sponsor someone who could sponsor you – often whatever qualities you like in someone’s recovery; it will be found in those they have sponsored as well. OR just move up your list and ask the next person. The important thing to remember is that our job is to do the foot work – the outcome is up to your higher power.
6.) Telling another person about your private business presents challenges for even the most socially adept newcomers. Let’s face it, this is someone that you are eventually supposed to discuss all of the private areas of your life – including your secrets. For most the knee jerk response to this is “NO WAY!” But the most important thing to do is once again “Keep it Simple”. The sponsor is someone that you get to know and develop trust with – it is a process and it takes time. Unless a person is comfortable jumping right in a talking about the private matters, then the suggested way is to not become “extreme” (all or nothing) with a sponsor. Why not just start with normal “getting to know each other conversation”. The rest of it will come in time and will come when “you” are ready.
7.) Calling myself an addict/alcoholic for some is not comfortable. It may feel as if somehow this is criticizing yourself. Yet in the 12-step community, (especially in closed meetings), it is required that each person in attendance identify themselves generally as either: Addict, desire to be clean or problem with drugs (NA/CA); alcoholic, desire to be sober or problem with alcohol (AA). By acknowledging yourself in this way outwardly, it is also causing the individual to acknowledge and admit their own limitation when it comes to the issue of addiction/alcoholism. Remembering how we ended up in the rooms of recovery to begin with, combined with practicing the spiritual principle of willingness – this challenge can be overcome quite easily. With regards to it being a criticism of some sort – it is not. It is simply the acknowledgment of an illness that a person has begun the road of recovery from.
8.) Volunteering or service work is encouraged early on in one’s recovery. There are a few reasons for this, which include:
a. It is a great way to get out of our problem “self” b. It is another wonderful way to get to know other people c. It increases the sense of personal belonging and purpose in a group d. It is the best way to become a part of and active in a “home group” – For example: You might not feel compelled to clean a friend’s house, set it up, make decisions about how its run, etc… Why?? Because you are just a guest. However, in your “home” you would certainly do these things. Why?? Because it is YOUR home. A home group is no different. We may visit other groups, we in our HOME GROUP we should do things to contribute to the home. e. Ultimately doing volunteer/service work will only strengthen your recovery and make you feel good about yourself. There are plenty of days that this is needed to get out of a rut or escape a day that may have been full of difficulty.
9.) Dealing with Cliques is not a problem that always arises in meetings; however it certainly is not uncommon to see this occur. 12-step groups are like any other group – they are FULL of human beings. Part of being human is a draw to making friends and often bringing familiar friends together to form a group. One thing, (happily), is that among people who are truly working a program of recovery, these cliques are generally open to others becoming a part of them. It is advisable to simply work on getting to know people “one person at time” and develop friendships – if this is done you will find yourself comfortable and welcome in pretty much any group of people.
10.) Avoiding trouble is definitely an important part of overcoming social challenges. For many coming into early recovery there is a natural tendency that if there is trouble to find – it WILL be! This includes a knack for hooking up with exactly the wrong people. Because the “radar system” for detecting trouble might not yet be in working order, it is important to find people with a strong program of recovery and who have been in recovery several years. Remember that the people who have been around, have also been right where you are. They can help in learning the “social art” of finding the “right people” that will contribute to the health and success of your life. *People who might be trouble by definition are not BAD people, they are sick people (Some are sicker than others). Typically they are individuals who are not putting action into their recovery, are headed back to the old way of living and simply don’t want to go alone, so they get others to go with them.* So in summary of Social Challenges: These are just the primary challenges that ALL new comers face in one form or another. The suggested solutions listed are simply that… suggestions that are based on the experience of long term recovery. In the next portion we will look at 10 of the top questions often asked with regards to Social Challenges.
Questions Regarding Social Challenges in Recovery
1.) I see other new people in the rooms and they seem to be progressed farther along in their recovery than me – Is there something wrong with me?
NO there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone is different, we have not all come from the same places, we are not all dealing with the same issues among other things and due to this, our journey in recovery will not take an identical path with someone else. It isn’t supposed to. What brought us to the rooms is the same – the disease. What keeps us clean and sober is the same – God. The path to that solution is the same – the 12 steps. Other than that…it is all different. If our paths were the same, then my recovery would not be “mine” …it would be “Hank’s” (humor). It is important to focus on the actions you are taking in your own recovery. There is no need to ever compare your journey with anyone else. Each journey is as unique as the person taking it!
2.) Is it ok that I don’t like everyone?
Absolutely! There is no social environment on the planet where every single person likes “everybody” they are around. The only thing to be mindful of is that a person be able to say “YES” to the following two questions: a. If the person that I don’t like were in danger of drinking and needed my help, would I be there for them? b. If I were in danger of drinking / using and that person was the only person available to help me, would I accept their help?
While it is not required that you “like” every person, you “do” need to be willing to extend your hand to give or receive help no matter who that brother or sister in recovery may be. If there is someone that you would not feel that you could meet these two areas for – when you get a sponsor, discuss these feeling with them so that resolution can be found. 3.) Are other new people in recovery as uncomfortable as I am?
It is safe to say that in some, if not all areas, everyone who is new to the rooms struggles in some manner. People show their discomfort in different ways: Some are loud and entertaining or irritation (whichever the case may be); Some are extremely serious; Some are quiet and withdrawn; and Some appear angry most of the time. There are many different ways that people handle discomfort, but it is a safe bet that new people all over are dealing with it and feeling it in some way. You are not alone.
4.) Why is it that sometimes when I share people laugh – and I’m NOT trying to be funny?
The laughter that can almost always be found within a meeting is not a “negative” nor is it a “criticism” of any kind. As a general rule people laugh out of relating to what is being shared than anything else. Perhaps someone is really angry about how unfair life is or shares that they are only in a meeting because of a DUI – not because they are alcoholic…you will often see many smiles and some laughter. They are not laughing at the person who is sharing – they are laughing because they used to be that person sharing and there comes a time where we find that we have grown, but remember warmly where we used to be. It can actually be a very good thing to allow yourself to not push away from this experience, as a large help in recovery is found through the venue of humor. It is much easier to learn to laugh at ourselves with the help of those around us, than to try and do it on our own.
5.) Why do they tell me to keep coming back?
It can be a very strange feeling to first attend a meeting with a group of strangers and have more than one tell you to keep coming back. For one thing, they are strangers who don’t know you at all and for another – most of us would think “If they did know me, I don’t think they would be asking me back!” In our past being asked to “not return” was a bit more the norm. However the reason that they do is because you actually are “in the right place”. You are among people very much like yourself, who have also walked the difficult path that leads everyone to that door. They ask you to keep coming back…because someone asked them to keep coming back and it made all the difference.
6.) Is it a bad sign that I am less than thrilled about the fact I am supposed to go to 12-step meetings?
No! There is not one thing in the world strange or bad about feeling “not happy” about the prospect of being involved in meetings, for what we often overwhelm our brains with thinking – “the rest of my life”. Given a choice would we not rather be able to have as little change as possible in our lives? Perhaps be able to return to our old watering holes? The very thought of being in a new place with people we don’t know isn’t appealing to MOST people, much less when they are 12-step meetings. In addition to this, these meetings are a constant reminder to us of “who and what we are” in part. The important thing to remember is that these meetings and being an alcoholic/addict does NOT define ALL that we are or our ENTIRE identity. It is a part of who I am and meetings provide a venue and a path to never have to return to the person I was or the life that I had.
7.) Why do I need to have the fellowship found in meetings?
Because “No man is an island unto himself” ~ John Donne~. Human beings are social by nature. Even those among us who view themselves as “lone wolves” are social beings. This is why you will always see people coming together as groups at particular times and in specific places. Whether it is a religious place, someone’s house, a restaurant, a stadium, bars…even in addiction among the most isolated you will find dope houses and on the streets there are always those “corners” or “porches” where people come together. It is a need that we have to be with others. For the most part the only time we don’t have this need is in the latter stages of addiction when we often begin to use alone. For recovery it can cause sometimes overwhelming feelings of aloneness and isolation. The easiest and most available cure for these emotions is found in the rooms of recovery. It is not even necessary to always speak to anyone, just going and being in the company of others like ourselves and listening to them share can often be just the right medicine to pull us out of a rut.
8.) What should do about the fact that I resent the very idea of having and using my sponsor?
This is an honest program, so the best thing to do right from the start is for you tell on yourself! The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that the 3 essentials for recovery are willingness, honesty and open-mindedness. The honesty it is referring to begins with honest within yourself – the acknowledgement that “We are not our own solution and that the solution lies outside of ourself.” The best thing to do is to be honest with your sponsor about your feelings. What you are likely to find is a sense of relief for having spit it out and that your sponsor will actually not be shocked or have hurt feelings over this. In fact your sponsor will more than likely share their own story of dealing with this challenge. The important thing is NOT that you WANT the sponsor…but that you are willing to use the sponsor regardless of how you feel.
9.) So far I REALLY don’t like the meetings that I have been to – How do I find a meeting that I am comfortable being a part of?
Meetings are all different. There are meetings that have predominately young people or older people; Meetings that are all male or all female; Meetings that are big and meetings that are small; Discussion meetings, Speaker meetings and Book study meetings; There are meetings that are very orderly and meetings that not orderly at all; There are meetings that have a lot of people with long term sobriety and meetings with mostly new people – there are all kinds of meetings because there are all kinds of people with all sorts of needs. The meeting we might like the first year of recovery – we may not want to be involved in later on. The best thing to do is to go to determine for yourself things that you like and things you REALLY don’t like. Based on that you will have a little better idea of what you may be looking for. Then go to as many different types of meetings as you can. It is a certainty that if you want to find a good group for you then you will.
10.) I have heard that in recovery we will make lifelong friends – So how do I make friends?
For some, making friends comes easily – for many it does not. In fact depending on when we started active addiction, some of us don’t have any idea what it is to have or much less to be a friend to anyone. Friendship is a process that is basically built on getting to know someone and building trust through a process of seeing them demonstrate or to be the one to demonstrate honesty, acceptance and trust worthiness. The best way to begin the process is simply to begin talking to people. You will eventually find that you click with some more than others. Meet people outside of the rooms and allow the process to happen – It WILL happen!!
© Rebecca Balko