What to Expect at Your First AA Meeting

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The first thing to expect at your first AA meeting is to be a bit nervous. Much like the first day at a new school or new job, there’s a natural tendency to feel a bit of stage fright and the feeling that everyone is looking at you. But congratulate yourself for getting past the nervousness and showing up. Everyone there had a “first day” and experienced that hesitation about whether or not they belonged. By the end of the first meeting, you’ll have a good idea of whether AA is right for you.

Different types of meetings

Some are surprised at how different AA meetings can be. Since each group sets its own agenda, the variation means there is no exact format and you may find yourself at one of several different types.

  • * Step Meetings: These are designed to follow the 12 steps outlined in Alcoholics Anonymous. Each meeting will focus on one of the steps. The step will be read and commented on by members. Not everyone in the group will be on that step, and the earlier steps tend to have more meetings assigned, but everyone gets a chance to talk about what the step means to him or her. In some groups, a new member will trigger a meeting about the first step.
  • * Big Book meetings: As the name implies, these meetings use a reading from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to spark discussion. Several pages may be read aloud by whomever wants to volunteer, and members take turns, each reading a portion. Then there is a round of discussion about whatever the topic is.
  • * Speaker meetings: These meetings are less participatory because a single speaker will be talking for most of the meeting. The speakers usually recount their experiences with alcohol and AA in a manner meant to instruct and encourage members. Some of these meetings will be open to the general public in contrast to other meetings where only those seeking sobriety are welcomed.
  • * Location specific: Where you go for a meeting will also determine how formal the setup is and how many people attend. As few as two people can meet and hold a meeting, while some club meetings can have several dozen. Church meetings (those run by a church, not necessarily a meeting held at a church) may be styled toward whichever religion is sponsoring the group. There are also smoking and non-smoking meetings, with smoking meetings slowly falling out of favor.
  • * Special purpose: AA clubs, because they have many members and many meetings, will often put on alternatives to traditional drinking opportunities. So you might find alcohol-free holiday meetings and parties – these are often more social than functional. It becomes a safe place for alcoholics to go for the Super Bowl or a Halloween party, for example. Other meetings might focus on an event in a club member's life – a wedding or death of a loved one, or anything for which group support is warranted.

A basic structure

Diversity is welcomed in AA, and meetings are shaped by the membership of any particular group. However, there is a general flow that many do adopt:

A volunteer (sometimes the same person, and usually someone with some “sober time”) calls the meeting to order. The group then recites some standard AA text, like the Serenity Prayer.

This is followed by a reading, often one suggested by a member in attendance. There may follow a round of comments. If there are new members (you!), they may be asked to introduce themselves. Do not feel as though you have to follow your first name with, “...and I’m an alcoholic,” or that you have to give any personal information at all.

After that comes the main part of the meeting, usually one of the styles mentioned above. As a closing, if there are any AA announcements or “birthdays” to recognize, they will happen before the close. A birthday is an anniversary of a sobriety date. Coins may be issued for various milestones as well – one week, two weeks, a month, a year and so on. Some groups will also pass the hat for collections at this time; don’t feel as if you need to donate anything. Groups are self-funded, so if you continue to attend you should put a couple of bucks in now and again.

Finally, the meeting is closed, either with a prayer or another short reading.

What should I get from my first meeting?

The most important thing is to listen. Listen carefully and see if you hear your own struggles in what others say.

The next most important thing is to be yourself. The people at these meetings are very familiar with alcoholism, warts and all. If you feel like sharing, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too. They understand you’ve made a significant step just by showing up, so no one should pressure or judge you.

Quite often, you will be approached after a meeting by someone who has taken an interest in you. This person may offer you a book or a contact phone number. Some will take the opportunity to pass along a meeting schedule for the area. Accept whatever help you feel comfortable with, and politely decline what you aren’t.

Most who attend with an open mind will realize one critical thing at an AA meeting: They aren’t alone and others have and are struggling with the same issues. It’s a very powerful thing to hear your own thoughts spoken aloud by someone else. For a first meeting, that’s enough – to find out there is help and that you aren’t alone.

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