What can you expect from your first 12 step, or AA, Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? Most people begin their recovery with some trepidation when attending their very first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For many, just the thought of talking in front of strangers can make them feel exposed or unusually vulnerable.

Nevertheless, attending an AA or 12-step program meeting is often the first step towards long term sobriety, regardless of your level of recovery. The experience can even encourage you to look for alcohol rehab centers for further treatment.

In this article, we’ll give you an idea of what to expect at your first AA or 12 step meeting. We’ll also leave you with a few tips on how you can make the most out of it.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous

Broadly speaking, Alcoholics Anonymous defines itself as an international fellowship of people who have all struggled with a drinking problem. The group’s singular aim is to “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.” Their only requirement for joining is that you must have a desire to stop drinking.

The promise of absolute anonymity makes AA attractive to alcoholics from all ages and demographics. Furthermore, the group is supported by voluntary member contributions. Additionally, AA is not allied with any religious sects, denominations, political affiliations, organizations, nor institutions. AA also does not endorse nor oppose any causes, making it a truly inclusive space that welcomes all comers.

Debunking common myths about 12 Step meetings

Movies and television shows have portrayed AA meetings with various degrees of realism, sharing a few enduring commonalities. Though Hollywood has depicted some aspects correctly, it doesn’t quite hit the mark completely.

Indeed, AA meetings are often conducted in neutral spaces such as function halls connected to churches or community centers. However, you are not and will never be obligated to use the phrase “I am an alcoholic” at any point during any of your meetings. Additionally, the atmosphere is not as heavy nor as austere as popular media makes it out to be.

If you’re worried that you may be forced into any number of actions at an AA meeting, fear not. You won’t be required to join a group hug, do any storytelling, or disclose any personal information, especially now when meetings are online.

You don’t have to talk in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting

In reality, you can attend a meeting without having to say a word. You can choose to only listen for the entirety of the session, as you’re allowed to decline when asked if you’d like to speak. Hence, you do not have to share anything about yourself or your situation if you don’t want to. Everything in AA is self-motivated, which means you can do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

What a typical 12 step meeting is like

Generally speaking, 12 Step meetings tend to follow a simple structure, though there is no standard format that groups are required to follow. In some cases, meetings may be conducted like open sharing sessions.

Regardless of how the meetings are structured, you will be in the company of other alcoholics willing to speak about their lives, their experience with alcohol, and how becoming addicted to it has affected them. They will also talk about what actions they’ve taken to deal with that addiction, what has changed since then, and how they’ve been faring since.

At the start of each meeting, the chairperson will ask if there are any first-timers in attendance. This is your chance to introduce yourself if you wish, though this is never mandatory. You may notice that some attendees will come over to introduce themselves to a new face, while others may choose to keep to themselves. More often than not, you’ll find that at least a few people who will acknowledge your presence with a nod or a smile.

How to make the most out of the meetings

It is common to hear unfamiliar 12 Step jargon during your first few meetings, such as “the Twelve Traditions” or “the Big Book.” If you don’t understand what these terms mean, don’t be too hard on yourself. There’s no shame in not knowing, especially if you’re new to the 12 Steps. Besides, you’ll learn along the way in succeeding meetings.

And while it’s optional, it’s still a good idea to introduce yourselfto the group. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to socialize with everyone immediately. At a bare minimum, try approaching the chairperson a few minutes before the meeting starts. This small interaction can go a long way towards feeling more at ease with the rest of the group.

Keep an open mind. Your first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting may not be the right group for you

Finally, keep an open mind. People who come to AA meetings with their minds already made up typically do not gain much from the experience. Instead, make an effort to listen attentively, let your guard down, and commit to the process.

Given all of this, remember that no two AA meetings are ever the same. If you attend one and realize that you don’t jive with a specific group, don’t hesitate to try another AA meeting in your area. It may take a few tries, but finding the right AA support group could make a significant impact on your recovery process. 


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