12 Questions About the 12-Steps: Do I have to talk? 

2 min read · 3 sections


If you go to a 12-Step meeting, do you have to talk? The short answer is no.

You will never be forced to share. If you are asked, you can decline. Not sharing at your first (or first few) meetings is fine and normal! It gives you time to feel comfortable and get acquainted with how the meeting flows. You are free to wait until the time feels right for you.

Active Listening

Listening is just as important as talking in a 12-Step meeting. If you are going to your first 12-Step meeting, you may not have been living a sober lifestyle for very long. Listen and learn from longtime members who have had more experience with living sober. Recovery is ongoing, and you may continue to encounter new challenges as time passes. Learn from other speakers what to expect or how to work through the steps. Gain perspective and new insight from AA veterans.

A good way to practice active listening is by following meeting etiquette.

Although AA meetings do not have many written rules, it is of course good to be polite and respectful of other members and the process.

Meeting Etiquette

  • Be on time to the meeting!
  • No cell phones. Turn your cell phone to silent, and put it away. Even if it’s on silent, do not scroll though apps or text during the meeting.
  • Use the bathroom or get water or coffee before the meeting starts so you don’t have to get up while someone is speaking. (If you must get up, try to wait for a pause between speakers.)
  • Do not interrupt or talk while others are sharing.
  • Never discuss things shared in AA outside of AA. Respect other members’ anonymity.

Although you do not have to talk at any AA meeting, you should share at some point. By sharing problems you encounter while working on the 12-Steps and striving to lead a sober life, other members can offer you suggestions or new perspective. By not sharing, you run the risk of not seeing other perspectives. If you are having a difficult time or you are on the verge of relapse, lack of perspective could fuel denial. The simple act of talking out loud about difficult subjects can be cathartic. Many people feel better after having a chance to vent or unload in a safe space. Sometimes you have to let it out before you can figure it out. Sharing builds community. Even if you attend every AA meeting, if you never share, you may never truly feel like part of the community or reap the benefits of membership.By sharing you may also help others. One of the greatest feelings in life is realizing that you aren’t alone, that your experience is a shared experience. It validates your feelings. By sharing your story, someone else who is struggling may realize that he or she isn’t alone.
  • Be honest.
  • Follow the meeting’s procedure for sharing such as raising your hand or waiting for your turn.
  • Try to only talk about yourself. Don’t criticize others or talk about others’ experiences unless asked. Share your own experiences.
  • Stay on topic. Many meetings will have a topic such as discussing a specific step. If the meeting has a topic, try to stick to it if you do share.
  • Remember the time constraints. Try to stick to the point you want to make or the specific story you want to share instead of adding unnecessary detail or backstory.
  • Don’t use crude language.

Why are you hesitant to share?

After a few meetings, if you are still too worried to share with the group, ask yourself why.

Are you concerned about confidentiality? All members of AA should respect your anonymity, and you should respect theirs. It only works if everyone follows this rule. If you are still not comfortable, you don’t have to speak in specifics when you share. Don’t use names or identifying features.

Do you not feel comfortable with your group? Come a little early and stay a little late to try to meet group members one-on-one. This can be less intimidating than sharing in a large group. If all else fails, try a different group. Many cities offer more than one meeting and groups that serve specific populations based on gender, age, or other demographics. Learn more about finding a meeting here.
Do you feel as if you don’t have anything valuable to share? You do. As someone struggling with addiction, your experiences matter. The way you choose to work through the 12-Steps is important and personal. You deserve to share your experiences and to learn from others. You may also help someone else who feels the way you do without even knowing it.
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