What Can I Expect at a 12-Step Meeting?

You Don't Have to Say Anything, Pray, or Hug Anyone

12 step meetings
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 What can you expect when you attend a 12-step or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? If you've never attended one, you likely have fears and reservations. Often, your only exposure is through what you've seen depicted in movies or television shows. What is the reality?

Common Myths and Preconceptions About AA Meetings

These things you may think happen at 12-step meetings, but may by myths rather than typical occurrences.

  • You will be surrounded and by "helpful" alcoholics.
  • You have to stand up and say, "I am an alcoholic."
  • You have to tell all of your secrets surrounding my addiction to alcohol.
  • You have to participate in group hugs.
  • You have to pray.
  • You are joining a cult.
  • You might see people you recognize.

A First Meeting

What is the reality for most meetings? Barb M. shares details of what is a more typical first meeting. The meeting might be held in a building connected with a church or a community center. You arrive to find most of the people you see are there for the meeting Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Outside of the room are a few folks making coffee and talking.

Inside the room, there are people sitting here and there; some talking together, some sitting alone. You take a seat by the door (just in case you want to make a quick exit) and as people passed by, some say hello, some nod, some stop and introduce themselves, and some keep to themselves.

After about 10 minutes, there are 50 people who are seated in a semi-circle of chairs. One person sits in the middle of the circle. She is the meeting chairperson for that particular day.

How It Works

The meeting begins with the chairperson reading the AA Preamble, then leading a group prayer, the Serenity Prayer (short version) in which about 80 percent of the people recited.

Afterward, different members of the meeting read brief AA literature, "How it Works," the "Twelve Traditions" and "The Promises."

The chairperson asks if there are any newcomers, or first-timers, attending the meeting who would like to introduce themselves by their first name. A few raise their hands, You may or may not be one of them, as this is an option and not mandatory.

Step Study Meeting

The meeting might be a Step Meeting. The chairperson announces which step they would be discussing. After the step chapter is read from the book, "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," the chairperson then asks if anyone had any experience, strength, and hope relating to the step, which they would like to share.

Sharing Experience, Strength, and Hope

During the meeting, people simply begin talking. Each starts off by introducing themselves as, "Hello, my name is (first name) and I'm an alcoholic." Just as in the movies, everyone responds with, "Hello (first name)!" After they complete their "story" everyone in the room thanks them. Then the next person can speak up.

After everyone completes sharing, the chairperson asks if there are any AA-related announcements. Then 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 do not have to participate in the prayer. Once the prayer is over, the meeting ends.

Meeting After the Meeting

People gather, talking, and there is a social air now to the meeting. Some may introduce themselves to you and may ask questions. You are free to leave if you don't want to socialize.

Different Meeting Formats

Different meetings have different ways of doing things but for the most part, they run the same. In some meetings, people are randomly called on, the thinking being, that it prevents the same people from constantly sharing overriding the more shy, quieter people.

In other meetings, at the end of the prayer, everyone may say a popular AA slogan, such as, "meeting makers make it." Some meetings are purely discussion meetings where the topic is random and more derived by an interest that one of the members may have.

Speaker's meetings feature a person chosen to talk about their experience, strength, and hope in regards to their recovery.

"No One Pestered Me"

Barb M. relates that the thing she was most relieved about was the non-imposing feel that she got when she first began attending meetings. "No one bombarded me with his or her religious slogans, no one pestered me to hold hands and pray, no one cared if I sat in the back or sat in the front, drank coffee or didn't drink coffee, helped clean up or ran off before the meeting ended."

The only set rules are those of common respect which may include: Try to be on time. No smoking. No cross talk during shares. Have court vouchers signed at the end of a meeting.

You may indeed run into someone you recognize or who recognizes you.

The Helping Hand of AA

Barb M. says she waited for many meetings before making the decision to introduce herself as an alcoholic and to accept her first chip.

One common practice is that when you introduce yourself to the group as a newcomer and an alcoholic, you will receive a meeting schedule book with the names and numbers of people who you can call if you feel the need to drink and need help. People who put their number in this book do so because they really do want to help. It isn't required of anyone to do so but it keeps with the tradition of AA, that when an alcoholic calls for help, the helping hand of AA will be there.

If you aren't sure if you are an alcoholic, find an "open" meeting to attend in your area. Many non-alcoholics may attend these and no one assumes because you are there that you are alcoholic.

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