Social Anxiety and 12-Step Meetings
Despite its history as the gold standard of addiction recovery, the 12-Step approach is not universally beloved. Some find it out of date or too “religious.” Others cite toxic relationships between support group members—a common enough problem to rate its own nickname, “13th Stepping.”
Such issues typically pertain to individual groups rather than the 12-Step approach itself. But some recovering addicts struggle with the whole concept of peer support. If you have social anxiety disorder and are terrified of meeting “strangers,” you could look at a hundred 12-Step groups and a dozen non-12-Step options, and find them all wanting because every possibility requires some social contact.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety might be confused with a naturally introverted personality, but introverts play essential roles in the interactive human community, while social anxiety isolates a person from interaction. Those with this disorder:
- Become obsessed with the fear that others are judging them
- Picture themselves being ridiculed, rejected, and irredeemably humiliated if they do anything “wrong”
- Avoid interaction—even passing contact in public restrooms—with anyone outside their intimate circle
- Impair their own vocational progress by failing to network or develop “soft skills”
- Avoid speaking or making eye contact with others
- Assume a rigid, arms-crossed posture, as if braced for attack
- Experience physical anxiety symptoms (racing pulse, sweating, trembling) when addressed
On any suggestion of joining a 12-Step group—a circle of strangers or near-strangers opening up to each other—the socially anxious person’s gut reaction is, “No way. It’d kill me.”
Fifteen million adults in the U. S. have social anxiety disorder, and 10–20 percent of these also have substance addiction issues, which makes a lot of people wishing it were easy to stay sober and isolated. But it is possible to function in a 12-Step group despite social anxiety.
Warm up Slowly
If you’ve been through detox, you’ve already practiced talking with professional therapists and fellow detoxers. Ask them to recommend specific 12-Step meetings: knowing someone who knows the group will reduce anxiety.
Start your group participation as a background observer, giving yourself time to adjust to the setting. No one will force you to tell your life story immediately: peer groups understand how hard this can be, and chances are there’s at least one other person in the room who’s struggled with social anxiety.
Be as Realistic as You Can
Social anxiety gets its power from a belief that something catastrophic will happen if you make a bad impression. Question that belief, and social anxiety loses power. Ask yourself honestly:
- Do I despise others when they perform imperfectly? Then why should anyone despise me?
- When have I been “humiliated” before—and survived?
- What people do I know of who are widely admired and open about their struggles?
- What’s really the worst thing that could happen at this meeting? Would it be all that bad?
- What positive results can I expect from attending this group?
Consider long-term cognitive behavioral therapy for coaching in realistic thinking.
Beat Social Anxiety by Multitasking
Multitasking is usually unadvisable because each task distracts from the others. But doing something else at the same time also distracts from social anxiety, an important consideration if uneasiness might become paralyzing.
In a 12-Step meeting, the best second-task choice occupies your motor skills while the comprehension area of your brain concentrates on the program. Options include doodling, crocheting, and sipping/nibbling on refreshment. (Don’t, however, consume too much caffeine and sugar, or you may get stimulant jitters and become even more anxious.)
Think about What You Can Do for Others
Instead of worrying about what the group might think of you, think about them: what they have to teach you, where you can contribute an encouraging word or kind thought. Rejecting the idea that you’re alone at the center of the world is a guaranteed way to reduce social anxiety.
Individualized Addiction Treatment
Fear of opening up to peers doesn’t have to keep anyone from recovery. At Beach House, we believe in meeting individual needs, and in treating social anxiety (and other psychiatric disorders) along with addiction. Contact us to learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment program and how we utilize a 12-Step approach with consideration of every client’s comfort zone.