Alcoholics Anonymous and its famous 12-Step program for maintaining sobriety have carved out an impressive place in our pop culture consciousness. We see AA meetings in books and movies and television shows and on stage. Sometimes these meetings are played for laughs. Sometimes they are presented as somber times of reflection. Almost always, they are portrayed as a key part of our hero’s journey from a life of addiction to a life of sobriety.
How accurate are those media portrayals of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs? By and large, pretty accurate, aside from some romanticization (e.g., how attractive everyone is). Knowing that may make you feel more comfortable about attending your first meeting. Or it may not. Either way, here are some things you can expect the first time you go to a 12-Step gathering.
Hello, My Name Is…
You may be under the impression that every meeting starts with the attendees going around the room and introducing themselves using the same sort of call and response format: “Hello, my name is John and I’m an alcoholic,” someone says. “Hello, John,” replies the group. This formalized introduction process—especially if you are an introvert by nature—may give you the heebie-jeebies.
If so, we have some good news. Yes, when someone speaks during the meeting, they do introduce themselves and acknowledge that they are an alcoholic. And the group does greet them in return. But there is no requirement that you speak during an AA meeting and no mandatory introduction if you decide to keep to yourself. During your first few meetings (or even during all the meetings you ever attend during your recovery), you can participate as much or as little as you choose to.
The Standard Meeting Looks Like This
Generally, you will find chairs arranged in a circle and perhaps coffee on offer for attendees. The chairperson for the day will kick things off by reading the AA Preamble:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
The preamble points out another key aspect of AA meetings that might differ from your preconception. Many people believe that the religious component of Alcoholics Anonymous is a central—if not the central—characteristic of the organization. But while it is true the meetings include the Serenity Prayer after the preamble and end with the Lord’s Prayer, it is also true that no one is required to participate in the praying, and everyone is welcome regardless of the nature of their own faith (or lack thereof). If you are not a religious person, you may find the praying and the references to a higher power uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that AA has helped people of all (or no) faiths maintain their sobriety by providing support without judgment.
After a few more readings, often including a consideration of one of the 12 Steps, it is time for sharing. As noted, no one is required to actively participate in the sharing (or to acknowledge that this is their first meeting, though the chairperson may ask if there are any newcomers in the group). If you are uncomfortable sharing, that is perfectly fine. You may still find it helpful, inspiring, or comforting to hear the stories of others who have faced challenges similar to your own.
The Meeting(s) After the Meeting
As the formal meeting breaks up, it is common for small groups to form for some friendly socializing. This can be encouraging, particularly if you have found yourself feeling lonely during your recovery. These low-key conversations with others might be the highlight of your meeting experience. But again, these post-meeting conversations are completely optional.
Getting More Involved in AA
We’ve been considering AA meetings from the perspective of an introvert or someone who might like to get the lay of the land before fully committing to all aspects of the AA experience. But many people—perhaps you, for example—will feel comfortable from the get-go and eager to participate. You will be welcome to share your story when you are ready to do so.
Once you have identified yourself as a newcomer and alcoholic, the group may provide you with a schedule book of meeting times. The book will also include the names and contact information of people you can reach out to if you feel a strong desire to drink and need someone to help you avoid a relapse. As your participation in AA continues, you may develop a relationship with a specific person—your sponsor—who can be your lifeline at those moments when your sobriety is threatened. And eventually, you may find you are ready to serve as a sponsor for someone else.
Hello, We’re Here to Help
Wooded Glen Recovery Center is ready to help you address your problems with alcohol. We offer personalized, compassionate care, allowing you to build a foundation for lasting sobriety.