“What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
– Charles Bukowski, German-American writer, and author of “Women”
Arriving at a building you’ve probably never been in before, maybe even a church or library, with a real mix of people standing around, some chatting, some smoking, some silent and apart from the others, waiting for those doors to open, and there’s you – yes, you got the right place, for sure (thanks, Google Maps – to my rescue… again), and your first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting is about to get under way.
Not knowing what to say to the others standing there, you lean against the wall, and wait quietly. The doors open, and you step inside, with the odd smile and knowing look directed your way. You sit towards the back (it’s just like being back at school, with your first day nerves), and again wait quietly, not looking at anybody, wondering if this is really going to work for you, to keep you clean and sober as you begin your first proper week of addiction recovery.
That was pretty much my recollection of my first of many AA meetings in Philadelphia. I hardly said anything that evening, except to say thanks to the woman who passed me a coffee, and a nod of appreciation to the guy with the donation jar, after I’d put a couple of dollars inside.
Before I attended that first meeting, I’d spoken to one of my rehab center counselors to ask what I was to expect. What follows is basically all the informative things he told me back then, and my first AA meeting panned out just like he said would.
First, though, a little sentence or two about the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous…
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a global fellowship of men and women in recovery from alcoholism, and is, by far, the most widely known support group for former alcoholics. Describing its international fellowship as “nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere,” AA has no entry requirements, only the desire of those attending meetings to do something about their drinking problem.
Now on its 4th. Edition, the “Big Book” (the basic text for AA) is the perfect introduction to the fellowship for all newcomers, and includes many inspiring stories of real-life recovery from alcoholism.
So here are your “4 Positive Things to Expect from Your First AA Meeting”:
The clue’s in the name, as they say. No-one should ever feel guilt or shame about suffering with alcohol use disorder (AUD, and more commonly, alcoholism). However, to encourage as many people as possible to attend its supportive meetings, AA is all about anonymity. What’s said there, revealed there, and by who, stays there. Members can then freely attend meetings, and share their own stories and thoughts openly, without having to be concerned that they’ll suddenly become the latest target of gossip in their local neighborhood.
A violation of this has always been regarded as a serious breach of trust between members, and could lead to you being banned, and rightly so, from attending future meetings.
A very common misconception among the general public is that AA is a religious organization. Wrong – it’s a spiritual one. Here’s why:
- The 12-Step program refers to a higher power, and although the word God is used, and even the Serenity “prayer” is spoken at meetings, any new member should understand that the term “higher power” can refer to anyone or anything that you believe has more power than you.
- Don’t be misled by the fact meetings are often held in church halls. It’s because either they’re often free to use or can be hired just for a small fee – essential for a fellowship that relies on donations.
- AA welcomes both people of all religions and nonbelievers.
The AA fellowship encourages its members to speak, or “share,” at meetings – to feel comfortable and safe so they tell their own stories. Long-time members understand that this is perfectly normal for newcomers, and you’ll be under no pressure to do so.
Often, after the meeting has finished, members also share time socially, at a coffee house or other place. Again, zero pressure. However, many members meet long-term sober friends through the AA fellowship.
4. Open & Closed Meetings Available
AA runs both “open” and “closed” meetings. Open meetings accept anyone, such as an accompanying friend or family member, even if they have no issue with alcohol. Open meetings provide a good introduction to the program, and tend to center on one or two “key speakers” who share how AA helped them with their alcohol abuse. Closed meetings, for alcoholics only, will talk more about sensitive individual problems.
Support When You Need It…
AA has helped millions of people around the world find sobriety and then maintain that sobriety. However, it is only a support group, and not a cure. Alcoholism is a dangerous disease; for example, stopping your heavy drinking abruptly and without help can be fatal. For active alcoholics, a far higher level of care (and medical care, at that) is needed.
However, as a support group, AA can help those in addiction recovery maintain their sobriety. To summarize, here’s what to expect from your first AA meeting:
4. Open & Closed Meetings Available