What can you expect when you attend a 12-step or anonymous alcoholics meeting? If you’ve never attended one before, you likely have fears and reservations. Often times, your only exposure is what you’ve seen in a movie or TV show. What is the reality
These things that you think will happen in 12-step meetings may come from myths rather than typical events.
- You will be surrounded by “helpful” alcoholics.
- You have to get up and say, “I’m an alcoholic.”
- You have to share all of your secrets about my alcohol addiction.
- You need to take part in group hugs.
- You have to pray
- You are joining a cult.
- You may see people you recognize.
The First meeting
What is the reality for most meetings? The meeting can take place in a building connected to a church or community center. You arrive to find most of the people you see for Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There are a few people outside the room making coffee and talking.
People sit here and there in the room; some talk to each other, some sit alone. You take a seat by the door (just in case you want to get out quickly) and as people walk by, some say hello, some nod, some stop and introduce themselves, and some stay to themselves.
After about 10 minutes, 50 people are sitting in a semicircle of chairs. One person sits in the center of the circle. She is the chairperson of the meeting for that particular day.
How it works
The meeting begins with the chairman reading the AA preamble and then leading a group prayer, the Serenity Prayer (Summary), which approximately 80% of people recite. Various members of the meeting then read brief AA literature, How It Works, Twelve Traditions, and The Promises.
The chair asked if there were newcomers or first-time visitors attending the meeting who would like to introduce themselves by their first name. Some raise their hands. You may or may not be one of them as it is an option and not a requirement.
Step Study Meeting
The meeting can be a step meeting. The chairman announced which step he would discuss. After reading the step chapter from the book, Twelve steps and twelve traditionsThe chairperson asks if anyone has experience, strength, or hope in the step they want to share.
During the meeting, people just start talking. Everyone starts with the idea, “Hello, my name is (first name) and I’m an alcoholic.” Just like in the movies, everyone responds with “Hello (first name)!” After they finish their “story”, everyone in the room thanks them. Then the next person can speak.
After everyone has finished sharing, the chair will ask if there are any AA-related announcements. In some cases, she announces that it is time for the Lord’s Prayer, and everyone stands in a large circle, holding hands and reciting the prayer. You don’t have to join the prayer. Once the prayer is over, the meeting ends.
After the meeting
People gather, talk and there is now a social atmosphere for the meeting. Some may introduce themselves to you and ask questions. You can leave if you don’t want to socialize.
Different meetings have different procedures, but for the most part they are conducted in a similar manner. That said, there are a variety of meetings for different types of people, whether leaders, women, young adults, pilots or medical professionals, and each will have its own feel.
No two meetings are alike. Some will be big while others are small; Some are tied to a treatment program, and some meetings feel more religious than others.
In some meetings, people get random calls. The idea is that this prevents the same people from sharing all the time and overriding the shy, quieter people. In other congregations, anyone can say a popular AA slogan such as “Congregation Makers Can Do It” at the end of prayer.
Some sessions are purely discussion sessions where the topic is random and more inferred from an interest one of the members may have. In the speaking sessions, a person will be selected to share their experiences, strengths, and hopes for their recovery.
One member, Barb M., reports that what she was most relieved about was the unimpressive feeling she had when she first attended meetings.
“Nobody bombarded me with their religious slogans, nobody bothered me holding hands and praying, nobody cared whether I sat in the back or in the front, drank coffee or not, helped clean up, or ran away before the meeting ended . “You can actually meet someone you recognize or who does.
The only rules set are those of general respect, which can include:
- Try to be on time.
- No Smoking.
- No crosstalk with stocks
Have court vouchers signed at the end of a session
AA’s helping hand
If you’re not sure if you’re an alcoholic, find an “open” meeting near you. Many non-alcoholics can attend, and no one will assume you are an alcoholic because you are there.
Barb M. says she waited many meetings before deciding to introduce herself as an alcoholic and take her first chip.
A common practice is that when you introduce yourself to the group as a newcomer and an alcoholic, you will be given an appointment book with the names and numbers of people who can call you when you feel the need to drink and need help.
People who put their number in this book are doing so because they really want to help. No one is required to do this, but it is AA tradition that AA’s helping hand will be there when alcoholics call for help.
How to find a meeting
Your family doctor or psychiatrist can help you find a 12-step local meeting. You can also look old school for a meeting near you by searching for AA in the white pages of your local phone book and calling the number for information about meetings near you.
Headquarters, intergroup or answering machine numbers around the world are available on the AA World Services website. In larger cities, there are often brochures detailing “where and when” AA meetings during the week.
During the COVID-19 crisis, AA also offers virtual meetings, phone calls and emails.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Authority’s National Helpline (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357 Information about support and treatment facilities in your area.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.