“What Should I Expect at My First 12-Step Meeting?”
AA has been around for about 85 years now and has helped millions of people get sober and stay sober. It has also spawned many other 12-Step programs based on the same format. These include Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and many others. Since these groups are free and widely available, they are often the first thing someone will try when they decide their drinking or drug use has become a problem.
These meetings are also helpful for people who have completed a professional treatment program. Meetings provide much needed social support and help keep you focused on recovery in the long-term. Therefore, they can help you transition from a treatment program back to regular life while providing support indefinitely.
Attending 12-Step meetings can be a great asset for recovery but many people are nervous about going to their first meeting. In addition to walking into a room where they don’t know anyone, they may have some mistaken preconceptions based on what they’ve seen on TV or in movies. The following should give you some idea of what to expect in your first 12-Step meeting.
What Not to Expect
Most people have seen a movie or TV show where a nervous first-timer is called on to introduce himself and share. Reluctantly, he stands up and says, “I’m Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.” The group says, “Hi Bill,” and then Bill proceeds to share the worst thing he’s ever done. While you will be given an opportunity to introduce yourself to the group during the meeting, you won’t be forced or even expected to. Still less will you be expected to share anything about yourself? Everyone there knows how hard it is to walk through those doors for the first time and they won’t pressure you to do anything.
Some people also expect to be swarmed when they walk in the door, as they might have been the first time they attended a church or youth group. For people who harbor some suspicions that 12-Step groups might be a sort of cult, an excessively warm welcome is the last thing they want. In reality, people will mostly leave you alone. Some people might introduce themselves to be polite but you are unlikely to feel like you’re in the spotlight.
How a Meeting Goes
There are several different kinds of meeting formats including a single speaker, speaker/sharing, step study, and round-robin sharing. They all follow the same basic structure. First, the chairperson will read the group preamble, then the Serenity Prayer, which you’re free to join in or not, then someone will read the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. After this, the chair will ask if there are any first-timers who want to introduce themselves by their first name. You can introduce yourself if you want to. If you decide to introduce yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to share. Next, the chair hands out chips, another well-known part of 12-Step programs.
After that, the meeting proceeds according to what kind it is. If it’s a single speaker meeting, then one person will speak for most of the time. If it’s a speaker/sharing meeting, the chair will introduce the speaker, who will speak for most of the meeting and then other members will share. If it’s a step study meeting, the chair will introduce a speaker to speak on a step or topic and then members will share on that same topic. If it’s a round-robin sharing meeting, everyone who wants to shares.
The meeting concludes with welcoming newcomers, announcements, and a prayer.
After the Meeting
People typically stick around for a while to talk after the meeting. You can go if you like or you can stick around and have coffee and doughnuts. There isn’t much opportunity to talk to people during the formal meeting, so after the meeting is the time to chat with other members. When you feel comfortable enough, you might consider introducing yourself to the meeting chair and maybe volunteering to help clean up afterward. This is an easy way to get to know people and be more engaged in the group.
Open vs. Closed Meetings
Some 12-Step meetings are open and most are closed. If a meeting is open, it means anyone can come, whether or not they want to stop drinking or using drugs. This includes family and friends of members as well as students and counselors who want to understand addiction or how meetings work. If a meeting is open, it will be listed as “open.” Otherwise, assume the meeting is closed.
A closed meeting is only for people who want to quit drinking or using drugs. Most meetings are closed because members typically prefer to share in the company of people who understand what they’ve been going through.
Bring a Friend
It’s normal to be nervous about going into a meeting where you don’t know anyone. If that’s the case, then consider bringing a friend for moral support. The ideal situation would be to attend a meeting with a friend who is already a regular member. That way, you already know someone and they can introduce you to other people and let you know what to expect. If you don’t know someone who is already a 12-Step member, bring a friend who is also interested in getting sober. That makes it easier to walk into the meeting and you can help keep each other accountable. If you don’t know anyone who wants to get sober, bring a friend to an open meeting.
12-Step meetings are a great way to take your first steps toward sobriety and a great way to transition from a treatment program back to regular life. It’s normal to be nervous about going to your first meeting but keep in mind that everyone in the room has been in your position and no one is going to pressure you. You decide your own level of engagement and you can take as much time as you need to.
Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.