It can feel intimidating to think about attending your first AA meeting. You might not be sure what to expect. The thought of sharing your struggle with a room full of strangers can feel overwhelming and unnatural. But the fact remains that AA is a highly successful program for most and keeps many people sober. This is a guide about what to expect at your first AA meeting.
Common Myths About AA
There are a lot of common myths out there about AA that prevent people from ever trying out the program. We’re here to dispel some of those.
Myth 1: AA Has a Low Success Rate
Some people convince themselves that they should never give AA a chance because they’ve heard it doesn’t work for most people. Of course, you could say this criticism of almost any program. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all addiction treatment that works for every person who tries it. There’ll always be people who try Alcoholics Anonymous and find it’s not for them.
Still, generally speaking, AA is an effective program for most people who try it. In fact, research indicates that AA may perform as well as other forms of addiction treatment in reducing heavy drinking.
Myth 2: AA Is a Religious Movement
Another popular misconception is that the AA program tries to push religion onto people. This belief stems from the fact that AA was originally a Christian-based program and the 12-step system does refer to “God” or a “Higher Power.”
However, AA has made it clear that it doesn’t define God for its participants, so people of all different religious backgrounds are welcome. And for those who are not spiritual, the term “God” can stand for various other things, such as “Group of Drunks.”
Ultimately, the mentioning of “God” is a reference to the spiritual awakening individuals must go through when completing their 12 steps. For some, holding onto a meaning beyond themselves can help people get through sobriety’s challenges. However, if this isn’t relevant or important for you, it’s easy to ignore mentions of “God” while doing your 12 steps.
Myth 3: You Must Get a Sponsor
We’ve all seen the movies where someone joins AA and is approached shortly after by another member to be sponsored. Sponsorship is an integral part of Alcoholics Anonymous. A sponsor is a veteran program member who acts as a support system for newer members, offering advice and being there in times of need.
However, it’s essential to know that not all AA members need to get a sponsor. If this doesn’t feel like the best option for you, it’s not something you have to participate in.
Also, if you do get a sponsor, it’s up to you how involved they will or won’t be in your life. Think of your sponsor like a hotline: They’ll be there for you if and when you need them, but they shouldn’t be overstepping (unless they think you’re in danger).
Myth 4: AA Is a Complete Cure-All Program
Lastly, there’s a common myth that AA is a one-stop cure-all program. If people think this, they may be disappointed when attending Alcoholics Anonymous and find that, on its own, it’s not enough for them. And that’s true for the majority of people.
AA works best when it’s supplemented with other necessary forms of treatment, such as therapy. Many individuals who have an alcohol addiction also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders they need to seek help for. Or, individuals may benefit from a rehab program to get over their physical dependence on alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous can be very beneficial, but it shouldn’t be viewed as a cure-all solution.
What To Expect at Your First AA Meeting
So, you may be wondering what happens at AA meetings and what to expect. We break it down for you:
How AA Meetings Are Conducted
A typical AA meeting might be held in a church or community center. Everyone arrives, and some people choose to mingle while others immediately take their seats. Coffee and snacks are often available, and the group size can range anywhere from five to 50 people, depending on your city.
The chairs in the room are typically set up in a large semicircle or all facing a front podium. The meeting chairperson for the day usually sits in the middle or takes the stage. People attending their first meeting are encouraged to sit close to a door so they can make a quick, quiet exit if they feel uncomfortable.
Once the meeting begins, it often follows a format of this structure:
- Some AA groups start by reading the Serenity Prayer.
- Different members in the group will take turns reading sections from the Alcoholics Anonymous book (also known as the “Big Book”).
- The chairperson may ask the group if anyone is present who’s attending their first meeting and if they’d like to introduce themselves. (Note, you don’t have to do this if you don’t wish to.)
- Sharing portion of the meeting begins where people start by saying, “Hello, my name is X, and I am an alcoholic.” Everyone responds with, “Hello, X.” When the person is done sharing their story, everyone thanks them. Sharing is purely optional.
- After the meeting ends, many people stick around and socialize. It’s up to you if you want to engage with others or simply leave.
So, how long are AA meetings? In total, they usually try to stick to the one-hour mark, but sometimes they can be longer or shorter depending on the engagement from the group that day.
How AA Meeting Structure Works
There are multiple formats of AA groups and different hosts for each one. While groups may take on a unique meeting structure, the four main types of AA meeting structures are:
- Single Speaker Format: The chairperson introduces a speaker who shares for 45 minutes. The meeting concludes with handing out chips for sober birthdays.
- Speaker/Sharing Format: A speaker shares for 30 minutes before opening up the floor to the group to share for the last 15 minutes.
- Big Book Study/Speaker/Sharing Format: The chairperson does a reading from the “Big Book” for 10 minutes, a speaker shares for 20 minutes, and sharing from the group happens for 12 minutes.
- Round Robin Sharing Format: An entire group sharing session for 45-60 minutes.
If you attend one AA meeting and find you don’t like it, remember it isn’t a reflection of all AA meetings. Don’t let one bad experience sour you. You may have simply not enjoyed that particular group, chairman or meeting structure. Try to give it a few more tries before deciding if Alcoholics Anonymous is right for you.
How To Find a Meeting
It may be easiest to talk to someone you know is in AA and ask for help! Otherwise, you can usually find AA meeting information:
- Via your doctor
- Via a counselor or therapist
- Via your rehabilitation clinic
FHE Health for Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction is a serious disease that impacts millions of Americans annually. Alcoholics Anonymous is a great resource, but it’s also important you seek professional addiction treatment and mental health treatment in conjunction with the program. FHE Health can offer you both and get you started on the road to recovery today. To find out more, call (833) 596-3502.