How I Came to Feel Welcome in AA
For many of us, our first visit to Alcoholics Anonymous or any other self-help group like Narcotics Anonymous is off-putting. We don’t want to be there. We don’t want to be one of those people sharing or oversharing. The rituals and process are difficult. The reliance on a higher power is outdated. It’s natural that you seek and find many reasons to feel hostile, unwelcome, and unwanted when you move into an AA group. In fact, nearly everyone does.
Making that realization is key to feeling welcome at AA. Because, while you might feel hostile, unwelcome, and different – so does everyone else. And, for most of us, putting those differences aside and finding motivation and healing together is the driving force behind recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous helps you to find recovery in social groups and social accountability – by helping you to meet peers who inspire, drive you, and hold you accountable for your own recovery. And, that starts with feeling welcome.
No One Is Good at This
Stepping into AA the first time can feel intimidating. After all, many of these people have been in recovery for years. They’re all further along than you. They might judge you. They might bombard you with questions and expectations the moment you step in the door. You might not be good enough. You might not make friends. You might hate everything about it.
That’s fine and normal, but often based on illegitimate concerns, mostly the ego. We all want and need to be liked. We all want and need to be the center of attention sometimes. We all want and need to be good at things. None of that will come into play in most AA meetings. Instead, you’ll get a casual gathering of not-quite friends, where everyone has to quickly become comfortable with each other.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that many of us going through recovery are far from social butterflies. People use drugs and alcohol to relax, as a social lubricant, or might even feel like a pariah after potentially years of engaging in behavior most of us see as unethical. The thing is, everyone there has the same problem. You might have the occasional outgoing person, but for the most part, recovering addicts are struggling with mental health problems and that makes it difficult for all of us.
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Everyone Has Common Ground
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been struggling with alcohol abuse or drug abuse, exactly what you abused, or why – you have common ground with everyone there. Every one of you made choices that resulted in addiction. Every single one of you is making choices to recover and get your life back. That duality of having things in common but in different perspectives can also be immensely helpful in helping you to connect with others and to find inspiration in recovery. Listening to others can help you to understand your own mistakes and decisions. It can give you insight you didn’t know you needed. And, because it’s from the lens of someone who has gone through similar things to what you have, you never have to question the motive, you never have to question if they are judging you, and you can always look at the things they share from the perspective of someone who has been addicted.
That can be immensely freeing – both in being able to share and in being able to listen. Rather than feeling like no one understands where you’ve been or why, you can push those thoughts of alienation aside and recognizing that you are sitting with people who do understand – even if similar experiences rather than exactly the same.
Everyone Wants to Help
One of the first things that most people do when leaving recovery is realize that they can help others get clean of drugs and alcohol. Doing so can be immensely empowering. Yet, for most of us, it’s not safe to put ourselves in the shoes of helping others with recovery until we are well on our way in that journey. That can take years. At AA, that isn’t the case. From the moment you walk through the doors, everyone wants to help and you can help everyone. And, you do so by showing up, by contributing, by sharing, by listening, and by making friends.
- You won’t have any friends and you won’t know anyone the first time you step into a meeting. That’s okay. Everyone starts out that way. You also don’t have to make friends. You can participate and add to things by simply showing up.
- You won’t have an AA sponsor until you get to know people. There’s no pressure. Contribute where you can, share when invited, and talk to people when they try. The best you can do is reciprocation and being kind to others.
- You don’t have to know what’s going on. No one walks into an AA meeting knowing what to expect – no matter how much you read up on it on the Internet.
- Be yourself. Don’t worry about people judging you or disliking you. Everyone has problems, everyone is awkward, everyone has a bad history behind them.
- Bring a friend if you want – providing you’re going to a guest or open meeting. However, keep in mind that having people you know at a meeting can make it harder for you to share. One of the perks of AA is that it puts you in an environment with people you don’t know – so you’re less afraid of being judged for who people think you are.
Eventually, everyone steps into Alcoholics Anonymous feeling nervous, uncertain, and potentially even hostile. It’s important to accept that, to attend, and to talk to people. And, that’s true whether you’re going because you want to go or because you’ve been given a court order. Taking time to accept that hostility and wanting to refuse or find reasons to disregard help is part of addiction and part of addiction reacting is important. Taking time to accept that you don’t have to be good or the best person is important. And taking time to sit down and listen to what others have to say and why they’re saying it can help you to make connections and to meet people who help you to stay clean and sober.
Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t for everyone. But, it does provide powerful social motivation to invest in recovery, to stay clean and sober, and to continue moving forward one day at a time, because you do have people there who understand, who are looking forward to you checking in and confirming you’re still sober, and who want to help you recover because they know what it’s like.