If you’ve decided that Alcoholics Anonymous could be helpful for your recovery but have no idea what to expect or how it works, this article will guide you to your first AA meeting.
What to Expect from Your First AA Meeting
Be prepared for some level of awkwardness. This is not a group of people looking for friends, and it isn’t uncommon for them to be standoffish or even downright rude. There will also likely be some people who aren’t sober, which may make you uncomfortable at first.
Don’t worry about being the only one there; chances are good that there will be other newcomers in attendance, even if they’re not immediately obvious. You’ll find that many people prefer anonymity when starting, especially if they’re embarrassed about their drinking problems or hesitant about how others will react when they tell them how long they’ve been drinking.
Meetings are held at different times and places. Still, they usually begin with an opening which includes the AA preamble, a discussion of how the meeting has started and how it will be conducted, followed by readings from the literature on alcoholism/addiction.
At this point, the chairperson introduces him or herself as a recovering alcoholic/addict who has been attending meetings for some time. Some groups have written introductions that members can use during meetings; others allow individuals to introduce themselves orally; others use an open-membership format where anyone can speak at any time during the meeting.
At some meetings, people may share their stories informally; other groups have prepared speakers who talk about specific topics related to addiction recovery (e.g., relationships). The group usually closes with announcements and final comments before adjourning until next week’s gathering.
People will be curious about why you’re there when you don’t share. They may ask you about your drinking or reasons for going to AA. You can share if you want to—or better yet, just say that you’re new and aren’t ready to share today.
You’ll instantly notice that many people start sharing something like, “Hi, my name is X, and I’m an alcoholic.” This is a time-honored tradition called “identifying” yourself as an alcoholic. You don’t have to do this if it feels strange or uncomfortable for some reason; just say hi and let them know what brought you there in the first place (e.g., “my friend told me how helpful this group was”).
After the Meeting
Once the meeting concludes, people will gather, talk, and continue chatting informally. At this point, the meeting turns into a social atmosphere. Some may introduce themselves, ask questions, and continue discussing topics. You’re free to leave if you don’t feel like socializing.
During these times, most people will find their AA sponsors. Sponsors can help you figure out how the 12 steps apply to your life and advise when things get tough. They’re not therapists or psychologists; they’re just people who want to share their experiences and strength with others.
What You Shouldn’t Expect from AA Meetings
You should not expect to be the only person in the room who is there for the first time. You might be surprised that many people have never been to a meeting before and are nervous about going, but they will welcome you and help you feel comfortable.
If you are religious or don’t believe in God, this isn’t going to change at AA meetings. People will attend every meeting and pray when it is time for prayer.
Many members do not pray during meetings because they do not believe in God or find it offensive that everyone prays together. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, so even though everyone may be an alcoholic with similar problems, they may all have different opinions on religion or spirituality.
Also, don’t expect any specific rules or set of imposed customs. These meetings are a safe space for people to get together and share their experiences with alcoholism. The only rules relate to not smoking, no cross-talk during shares, and trying to be on time for meetings.
How to Find a Meeting
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, ask your primary care physician or mental health professional for assistance. You can also search online for local resources. The Alcoholics Anonymous website has a handy meeting search tool to help you find 12-step meetings near you.
If you’re looking for help with your drinking, you should try attending an AA meeting. There are a lot of misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous, but it can work well if you’re open-minded and willing to share honestly.