Not Sure What to Say at 12-Step Meetings? How to Make Small Talk

Showing up is everything when it comes to getting something out of 12-Step meetings and giving them the chance to help you stay sober. The thought behind that theory is that, at least when you are there, you are not drinking or getting high.

But when you do more than just show up – when you actively take part, raise your hand to share your story, and try to connect with others before and after meetings and on breaks – you can help yourself to stay sober in between meetings more easily as well.

If you are shy or just not interested in making human contact, however, this seemingly simple task can feel overwhelming enough to avoid the whole thing entirely. Here’s how you can simplify the process of speaking up, taking part, and making the small talk with strangers that can help you to get the most out of meetings.

Not Sure What to Say at 12-Step Meetings? How to Make Small Talk
  • Know you are not alone if you are disinterested in taking part. You may be bored, irritated by other people’s shares, or focused on other things going on in your life the entire time, but you should know that you are far from the only one. Even those who have years in recovery will have days where they are not showing up mentally but they still go through the process because it is what they do to stay clean, and many will talk about that feeling when they share.
  • Try smiling. Even if you have to fake it, studies show that smiling can trigger the release of neurons associated with good feelings in your brain as well as a positive response in others.
  • Be honest. Whether you are raising your hand to talk about the fact that you don’t want to be there but you feel like you need to be or you are getting to know someone during the break, it is a good idea to stick to the facts and avoid exaggeration or implying things that are not true. For example, saying that drugs made you a widower (because you feel like your wife abandoned you emotionally during addiction) is not honest because others will infer that your wife is, in fact, physically dead. In the same way, if you are not excited to be there, do not try to fake enthusiasm as it can read as phony and turn off people who might otherwise be interested in making an honest connection. Many people lie about little things without even realizing it, according to one study, so make an effort to make sure that the things you are saying are true.
  • Ask questions. When you are standing around and having a hard time connecting with the people you see standing near you, try asking a question that cannot be answered with “yes,” “no,” or another simple response. It can be recovery-related or more general as long as it is a conversation starter, like “How do you know Jamal?” Or “Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
  • Actively listen when other people talk. Whether or not you generated the conversation with a question or someone raises their hand to share, when someone is talking, actively listen to what they are saying. Look them in the eye rather than scanning them up and down, and hear the content of their words without judgment or wondering if or how they are judging you. When they stop speaking, consider how you will respond rather than thinking about your response while they are talking or, worse, cutting in and taking over the conversation.
  • Keep it light if you can. It is true that recovery is hard, addiction is deadly, and you may very well be working through trauma and hardship every single day in recovery, but you do not have to dwell on the worst parts of life in every conversation. Choose to focus on something positive that you have in common, something funny that happened, and things you are looking forward to or that the other person is excited about to keep the conversation from getting too dark and heavy.
  • Have an exit plan. Many people avoid making small talk at meetings because they do not know how to end the conversation if it gets boring or goes to an uncomfortable place. Rather than just walking away, you can have a few one-liners in your back pocket to throw out to end a conversation without making an uncomfortable situation worse. You can simply say, “I’m going to hit the bathroom before the meeting starts up again. Good talking to you.” Or if the meeting is over, you can say, “I’ve got to get going but it was good talking to you. I’ll see you around next time.”

When you take the time to share what you are going through with others and connect with and listen to what they are going to as well, you begin to build a solid network system in recovery that can give you the support you need as you build your new life in recovery. The truth is that this doesn’t happen overnight, and you may “kiss a few frogs” as you meet new people and continually go through the process of determining which of your new acquaintances will become friends as you move forward in life.

Are you ready to speak up at your next meeting?

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