New or Returning to AA? What to Expect for Your First Meeting, AA Etiquette, & More...
First off, if you're reading this and about to got to your first AA meeting ever or you're returning after a period of time "out there", allow me to say... YOU ARE BRAVE! It takes some honest to goodness courage and vulnerability to admit defeat, pick yourself up, and walk through the doors of AA where a bunch of strangers are all chatting, laughing, and drinking shitty coffee. You feel like the outsider, and in a way you probably feel like an outsider to your own life, and are just longing for the hurting to stop, and the healing to begin. But how?
Finding a local meeting is quick and simple these days. Type "AA meetings near me" into any search engine, and it will yield a plethora of results that you can sort through. Most metro areas have dozens of meetings a day. If you're in a remote area, there might only be a few meetings a week, but they will likely list a phone number you can call in order to get in touch with someone that can help you ASAP.
Alright, now you've found a list of meetings... but what will it be like when I get there? Are there going to be weird initiation ceremonies? Will they make me take a vow? What are the rules? What are the people like? What if no one can relate to me? All of these are questions I personally asked myself, and for a period of time I allowed these questions to be the very reasons I stayed away from AA for years. The fear of the unknown is real! Especially if you're going through a physical detox, have made an enormous mess of your life, and now you are trying to find something, anything that will help you put the drink / drugs down.
Here's what you need to know for your first meeting... actually, you need to know the different types of meetings that AA offers, and which one will best suite your personal needs. Each meeting schedule will have a little symbol that will let you know which type it is. If you have a meeting schedule, and are looking at it with confusion, that's OK! Please refer to the link at the bottom of this page.
Ok, ok - now you're set for your first meeting, you're in the car and you're just about to arrive. Anxiety has set in, you're sweating from the alcohol DT's, your skin is on fire, and you're shaky. Ugh, do I remember that feeling all too well. The next few moments feel like you're walking out of nightmare, but don't know if you have what it takes to stay out of the nightmare. Do it, go through the door... this very step will be the first step you take towards your new life. It's your's if you want it. Take it! Please take it!
Meeting 1 - You'll likely be offered a cup of coffee and be greeted by an "old timer". These folks are the gems of AA. They have an incredible amount of knowledge, wisdom, and use curse words when sharing their stories. They're awesome. You'll take a seat, sip your shitty coffee, and look at all the different types of people that are in "The Fellowship". The chairperson will start the meeting by introducing themselves. When AA's introduce themselves, they identify by their addiction. So for me, when I am in a meeting, I introduce myself like this, "Hi, my name is Lindsay. I am alcoholic, and an addict". It's a way for all of our outside titles, and roles to be stripped away. It's meant to unify all of us as equals in the rooms of AA. No one is above anyone, and no one is below anyone. We are all there for a common purpose, to stay sober and help others to stay sober, one day at a time.
The meeting will likely open up with the Serenity Prayer, which goes something like this, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Pretty powerful, yet so simple. And that's the basis of the AA program; it's simple, yet very powerful!
Ok - next the chairperson will typically go through the formalities of starting the meeting. There's usually a series of readings that various members will each read. Most AA meetings open with the following; the AA Preamble, How it Works (describing the program and 12 step process), and The 12 Traditions of AA ( these point to how AA is organized and the suggestions for keeping order). They will then ask if there's any announcements for the good of the group or AA. Next, they will ask if there's anyone there for their first, second, or third meeting since their last alcoholic drink...
This is where you will feel like all eyes are on you, and you question if you should admit that this person is you. If your'e serious about your desire for sobriety and a new way of living, this will serve as your first action item on your new journey. At this point, the only thing you'll do is raise your hand and introduce yourself by your first name only. It's completely your choice if you want to further add that your'e an alcoholic, addict, or both. This first step is usually followed by a feeling of overwhelming defeat and sadness. That's ok - you're in a safe place where everyone sitting in that room as been in your exact place before. Relax, take a breathe, cry if you need to (someone will get you tissues), and really absorb the words that are being shared.
You're the most important person in that room. The people of the group will be open and receiving of you. Remember, this is your journey and if you're closed off and un-willing to be open to the group, then you'll really be shutting yourself off from the sunlight of The Fellowship. Your only job today is to listen. Listen to the members share their own experiences of where they were, what happened, and what they are like now. Find commonality in the shares that you can relate to. More so, allow yourself to relate to the feelings that are shared as a result of someone's story. Take what you need, and leave the rest. Try not to focus on the differences you have with the stories. Your disease will trick you into doing this. It will tell you that you're different from the people in the room, and that you don't belong here. To that I say, if you were a normal drinker you wouldn't be in AA or questioning your drinking. Normal drinkers don't think like this.
Alright, now the meeting is wrapping up. Everyone stands up, and forms a circle where you'll hold hands. The meeting is usually concluded with The Lord's Prayer or The Serenity Prayer. After that a little chant will be done that will be some variation of, "Keep coming back! It works if you work it, and you're worth it!" I felt ridiculous the first bit of time in the program doing this part. We're grown-ass adults holding hands, shaking them up and down, and chanting. Really? Yes, really... and it's awesome. Once your ego is checked at the door, and you eat a bit of humble pie, you'll enjoy it. I promise.
Plan on some members of the group coming up to you and talking. This is the part where real action will be needed if you want to give your sobriety a real shot. These people are wanting you to feel welcomed, and will likely have a Newcomer Packet and an AA "Big Book" to offer you. The book will likely be free for you. Take it. Take all of it. These are your tickets to your new life. Accept them with the same vigor and willingness that you accepted your alcohol with! In that packet will be a list of men or women's phone numbers. I suggest you find 10 minutes of time during your day to call one person from that list while you're new.
Alright, what next; well, that silly chant we just did... it literally tells you what to do next. Keep coming back! It's a program of action. And if you keep coming back, take the suggestions of the members that are staying sober each day, you'll lay a solid foundation for your new found sobriety! Know this, I believe in you. You're not alone. You reached your hand out, and it was received with the Fellowship of AA. Your miracles are just around the corner. Don't give up 5 minutes before you receive them.
Check out My Book Shelf to grab some books to light your way.
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Link to Types of AA Meetings: