What to Expect During Your First Meeting
Thanks to Hollywood, when you think of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA), Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) or any other type of 12-Step meeting, you may imagine sipping cheap coffee in a dank, smoke-filled basement while listening to harrowing tales of woe and loss. In truth, however, this dramatization is wildly inaccurate.
If you're attending your first 12-Step meeting, it's important to understand that nothing is expected of you. And to be honest, the coffee is usually pretty good.
Breaking the 12-Step Ice
Many first-timers are amazed by the cordial, relaxed atmosphere of 12-step meetings and the eclectic mix of people in attendance.
Firstly, you should know that are two types of "traditional" 12-Step support group meetings: open and closed. Open meetings are for anyone who would like to observe, while closed meetings are solely for individuals suffering from addiction who wish to recover.
- Open or closed meetings may have:
- A speaker who shares his/her specific story
- A general discussion meeting
- A study meeting where sections of the Big Book are reviewed
- Beginner meetings are also held, typically involving an introductory Q&A format
Opening Up to the Group
Although the notion of "sharing" your personal story during a meeting is often depicted as the "basic function" of a 12-Step meeting, sharing your thoughts is only one aspect, and newcomers are not, by any means, required to speak - at all.
You are more than welcome to share, but 12-Step meetings are informal. They are not a forum for intrusive questions, meeting expectations or obligations. In fact, listening to others share - rather than feeling obligated to speak - is usually encouraged for first-timers. As the saying goes, "Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth."
Obligations and Expectations
Many first-timers expect they'll be bombarded with 12-step obligations during that first meeting. Will they ask you to sign up as a permanent member of the group? Are you supposed to give money to the group? Do you have to join one group and never leave?
Turns out you don't need to worry about any of these things. In truth, you are not obliged to pay dues, find a sponsor, provide your personal information or join anything. After meetings, the "regulars" tend to socialize for a while. If there's anything you'd like to know about the group, it's the perfect time to ask questions and get to know a few of the members.
Although 12-Step groups are similar in philosophy, the meetings themselves can greatly vary. It's vital to find a 12-Step group where you're comfortable and your recovery process is supported - these should be your sole expectations.
A fellow struggler responds:
This is a great topic. Thank you so much for covering it. I've been sober in SA for over 5 months now and I was always scared of going to a meeting. I imagined I would meet all my closest friends there, which in reality is totally insane, though now I wish some of my closest friends would join. The feeling of warmth was so powerful I was almost drunk from it. It was a total cultural shock to be cared for in such a deep way. Everyone offered assistance but no one pried or tried shoving anything down my throat.
Regarding the twelve steps, you don't start them until you're ready.
Thank you so much for giving me the scariest advice of my lifetime almost six months ago, that I need live meetings.
Thank you so much!
A member writes:
Well, last night I finally went to my first live meeting as you suggested. Over the last couple days I was just planning, imagining and getting nervous. I was literally shaking from fear of going to a live meeting. It may just happen to be that I know someone there or someone may see me walking in. What will I say while at the meeting? I was practically scared to death, until... I just walked through those doors. I decided I'll find my corner, and thank god no one knew me. That worked for about five minutes until someone I knew very well walked in... I thought I was finished! I mean literally chopped meat! Until it dawned upon me, just like he knows me, I know him! Just like I'm not going around telling anybody, he's not going around telling anybody.
At the meeting, I thought it would be a real serious place. No! Everyone was joking around with me. They all gave me a hearty welcome, a hug and offered to assist me in any way.