No doubt you want to know what to expect at your first AA meeting. Understandable. I don't know what it is about that first meeting. It can be absolutely terrifying. What's ironic is that, generally speaking, you will not find a more understanding or caring group of people on earth.
Still, there's something frightening about the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers and admitting a problem with alcohol.
You know what?? You don't have to.
You do have to walk into the room and take a seat. From there, all you really have to do is listen. And you'll soon discover that the people will feel less and less like strangers once you realize the common bond and understanding you share. Chances are, you will feel more welcome and accepted than you have in a long, long time.
Every AA meeting has a set format and structure so that there are no surprises. I like that. When you go back for your second meeting, you can expect pretty much the same format. The only thing that changes is the topic of discussion. Even that is predictable.
You'll soon discover that there is a certain culture and protocol at an AA meeting. For instance, if the meeting starts at 8:00 p.m., the meeting usually starts at 8:00 p.m. - and usually on the dot. It will last one hour, no longer.
People often show up for their first AA meeting looking for someone in charge. You won't find anyone. One of the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous is that members are all but trusted servants; no one governs.
You will, however, find a Chairperson who has volunteered to lead (or chair) that particular meeting. Usually this will be someone who has a number of years in AA recovery.
The following is an example of what is typically read at the beginning of every AA meeting. This is what is known as 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 A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. 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."
By this time, the chatter has quieted and the chairperson will open the meeting with a moment of silence, followed by the Serenity Prayer. If you don't know it by heart, hopefully you will soon. As a Christian, I love the long version of this prayer. It seems to give me that sense of calm and perspective that I so often need. And it gives me hope in whatever circumstance I find myself.
Next are a few preliminaries - like a welcome statement that goes something like this:
"Welcome to [Group Name] of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a closed AA meeting. Closed meetings are limited to persons who have a desire to stop drinking. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you are welcome to attend this meeting. In keeping with our Primary Purpose, we ask that all who share limited their discussion to problems and solutions related to alcoholism."
"Is there anyone here for their first AA meeting?" (That's you!) While no one will ever make you do or say anything in an AA meeting, it's suggested that you speak up, raise you hand, whatever . . . and introduce yourself with your first name.
That's it, no more. If you feel the urge to explain why or how you ended up at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, resist that urge! Now is not the time. Just introduce yourself, so everyone knows you're there. Believe me, they KNOW how you got there. They already know your story, and they also know how to help you.
Usually, introductions are made around the room. Because of the AA tradition surrounding anonymity, AA members generally use their first name only. Many groups make it optional to give a sobriety date during the introductions. So I would say, "My name is Julie and I'm an alcoholic. My sobriety date is September 11, 1995."
If you choose, this may be the only time you'll have to share anything with the group. Not too hard, huh?
So what about the part where you say you're an alcoholic, you ask?? That's up to you. If you're not sure whether you qualify, don't feel pressured to say it just to conform. Remember, there are no "rules" in AA. The tradition of saying, "My name is Julie, and I'm an alcoholic" goes back to the beginning years of AA. It may sound corny, but it reminds me of that all-important First Step every time I say it. And THAT's the reason I'm at an AA meeting in the first place!
Most groups read How It Works, from Chapter 5 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This passage outlines the Twelve Steps of recovery. Don't worry about understanding these right away. Be patient with yourself. You'll come to know them well in time. As they say, take ONE STEP AT A TIME. Go slow. Take it easy.
For now, just concentrate on one thing only:
Just commit to going to LOTS of AA meetings in the beginning. Shoot for an AA meeting every day for 90 days. Yes, you read it right . . . 90 days.
So a lot of ground has been covered in the beginning of the meeting. It may sound like a lot - like the hour-long meeting should be up by now. But all these preliminaries really only take a few minutes at the beginning of the AA meeting.
A topic of discussion is suggested either by the chairperson or by someone else in the meeting. Maybe someone has had a particularly bad week, dealing with some issue that relates to their recovery. Or perhaps someone is struggling with a particular Step that they are working on and wants to hear some feedback from the group.
Every meeting will differ as to the topic of discussion, as long as it relates to the primary purpose of the AA meeting:
"Staying Sober and Helping Other Alcoholics to Achieve Sobriety"
When I first started attending AA meetings, it was not what I expected at all in terms of a "meeting". But there was something reassuring to me in the structure.
Usually, when a group of people (whether large or small) gather together for discussion of any kind, you expect a lot of interchange back and forth. The more outgoing people tend to dominate while the more reticent hang back and listen. People tend to talk over each other or interrupt (whether meaning to or not). The topic can sometimes take a different turn, even getting WAY off track.
You can expect none of this in an AA meeting! So if you are a "talker", you'll have to learn to listen and to wait your turn to speak. It's just the way it is. Try going to your first few meetings and JUST LISTEN. You'll get a feel for the structure and protocol.
So what if it comes your turn to share and you JUST DON'T WANT TO?
Then don't!! Simply say this: "My name is _______, and I think I'd like to listen."
At the end of the meeting, 7th Tradition contributions are made. In other words, we pass the hat! AA is fully self-supporting through contributions from its members. Again, you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. Most groups suggest that if it is your first meeting, to refrain from contributing.
How much do we contribute?? A buck or two. Not a bad deal for an hour's worth of HOPE!
At the end of every AA meeting, members always stand together, hold hands and say a closing prayer. Again . . . totally optional.
What's the "Closing Prayer", you ask? In my opinion, the very BEST prayer: The Lord's Prayer. It's short, sweet, and says it all! Reciting this prayer, holding hands together, at the end of each meeting has been a tradition in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous for decades.
If you think you're too cool to hold hands and say a prayer
. . . JUST DO IT! Just my suggestion. If you don't know the words, just listen. No one will notice or care if you don't know the words. Here they are, just in case:
And that's it! You've just attended your first AA Meeting! Now hang around afterwards and get to know some of the people . . . but only if you want to! Remember, no one will ever MAKE you do anything. Nice, huh??
If you'd like to read more about what to expect at your first
AA Meeting, do some surfing around the official website!
I wish you the very best, and I'll be with you in spirit at your first AA meeting!
The most important advice I can give you is something you'll hear all the time at AA:
Just keep showing up, whether you want to or not. You'll be so glad in the long run that you stuck with the program. Miracles happen there! Don't miss out on yours.
Here's a wonderful book that will really give you a taste of what goes on in an AA meeting. Some of the wisest people on earth can be found in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Really! Through this book, you can take away a little bit of that wisdom until you can make your next meeting.