What to Expect at Your First AA Meeting
If you have admitted to yourself that you have a problem with alcohol, you may be considering attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous but feel somewhat anxious, wondering what to expect. You may have heard any one of a number of rumors about AA and other 12-step programs. For instance, you may have been told AA is some kind of cult or that you can’t belong to AA if you are not a religious person. You may think that sober people are boring, and that AA turns newcomers into equally boring people.
If you believe these stories, you’re wrong, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to learn what AA and the people who belong there are really like. One thing to keep in mind is you should always try more than one meeting before you come to any conclusions about AA. There are many types of AA meetings, and many different kinds of members, so if you go to one meeting and hear things that make you uncomfortable or feel like you don’t belong, try a different meeting.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are based on 12-step programs. They offer suggestions of steps for you to follow as you make a plan for your sobriety and your life. References are made to God, but they are usually also followed by the phrase, “as we understood Him.” This means that it’s OK to go to AA even if you don’t believe in God. Your concept of God can be very different from everyone else’s and you are welcome to attend AA even if your higher power is only the group itself or a pet or the sun.
The Basic Format of AA meetings
AA meetings are led by a chairperson who will probably make a few announcements and read the preamble. The chairperson may read excerpts from AA literature or may ask volunteers to do the readings.
What happens next depends on the type of meeting. If it’s a speaker meeting, one or more speakers may come forward to share their stories, and there may or may not be a discussion after that. If it’s a discussion meeting, members may share randomly, or, at some meetings, the chairperson asks to go around the room so that everyone can share. Discussion meetings may be centered on a topic chosen by one person, or they may be focused on the Big Book of AA, or the 12 steps. If you are new and are asked to share but don’t want to, it’s OK to simply pass or say that you’d just like to listen. No one will force you to speak.
During discussions, you may hear things that you don’t understand or that you disagree with. Plan to attend several meetings with an open mind before you come to any conclusions. If you have questions, approach a member after the meeting or ask for some phone numbers. AA is self-supporting, so a basket will probably be passed for members to make donations if they choose to. If you don’t wish to contribute, that is perfectly fine. Most meetings last approximately one hour. As the meeting comes to an end, a volunteer will probably offer chips for people who have attained certain lengths of sobriety. If someone is celebrating an anniversary, that person may share briefly. Most meetings end with a prayer.
Alcoholics Anonymous is made up of human beings, so at times you may run into personality conflicts, or people who try to make other people believe what they believe, especially when it comes to religion. That’s not what AA is about though, and if you run into people who push you away or turn you off, check out different meetings. The purpose of AA is to provide a safe haven for people who want to stop drinking. In meetings you will learn how to stay away from alcohol one day at a time, and you will meet many other people who want to do the same.