What to Expect at Your First AA Meeting

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If you have never attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting before, the idea of walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your story can be intimidating. Always remember, you are not alone. Feeling anxious or overwhelmed before your first AA meeting is normal. But if you push beyond your discomfort, you may find that 12-step meetings provide you with the extra support you need to keep you on track in your recovery and abstain from drugs and alcohol. 

In this video, Isabel Donnelly, addiction specialist, and Mountainside Alumni Outreach Coordinator, shares a few helpful reminders to make your first AA meeting go more smoothly. 

Everyone has their “first” AA meeting.

During 12-step meetings, you will hear a lot of the same phrases, about the Big Book*, more about the steps, and different prayers. It is okay to not understand everything that is going on. Everyone in that room was new at one point and learned along the way. Know that no one will judge you. In most cases, group members will be more than willing to help you gain a better understanding of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and how it can aid your recovery. After all, helping others is a big component of the 12 steps. 

There are many different types of meetings, and it’s important to understand what each one represents, so that when you choose your first meeting, you’ll choose one right for you. At the bottom of this article, there is a list of what certain types of AA meetings offer. 

Introduce yourself.

Once the meeting has started, you don’t have many opportunities for small talk. But if you show up 10 minutes early, you can find the moderator or meeting chair and let them know that it is your first AA meeting. It is their job to welcome newcomers and help them feel at ease. They will likely introduce you to some long-standing members or particularly nice and welcoming group members who will help you navigate your first meeting. After the meeting is over, be sure to stay for a few minutes and introduce yourself to others. You never know who a great source of support could be. 

Be open and honest.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the 12 steps, and if you go into your first AA meeting with your mind already made up, you will likely not get much out of it. Be open and give the experience a real shot. First, you’re not required to speak if you don’t feel comfortable. Just try listening to others and finding the similarities and connecting to their words. Maybe you don’t know what being homeless is like. Perhaps you haven’t lost your job due to your addiction. Or maybe your “rock bottom” is worse than theirs. You may have also watched addiction affect your loved ones.  

No “Crosstalk” allowed.

Depending on the type of meeting you go to, you may want to decide to share your story. One of the common fears about AA meetings is that other people may try to talk over or interrupt you. Luckily, there are rules in place that discourage participants from offering advice or sharing their opinions about someone else’s life. Some make the argument that even positive comments could lead to a slippery slope of neutral and negative statements over time. So, it’s best to eliminate crosstalk to create a safe and organized environment for everyone, so people aren’t talking out of turn. Keep in mind, that you don’t need to have your whole story planned out either. You can just talk freely and say whatever is on your mind. If you are new, there are other members there to help. 

Bring a friend to your first AA meeting.

If you are an introvert, or if you are simply not ready to go to a meeting by yourself, consider bringing a friend along. Having someone you know by your side will help you feel more comfortable and more likely to let your guard down. If you know someone who attends 12-step meetings, ask them if you can tag along. If you don’t, grab someone you know from treatment and attend your first meeting together. If you’d rather bring a loved one along who is not in recovery, find an open meeting. These meetings are open to those in recovery and anyone who supports them. (See more about this below). 

Try out different groups.

If you go to a meeting and decide it doesn’t feel right for you, try another one. Every meeting is different, and it might take you a few tries until you find the meeting that matches your needs. If you ultimately decide that the 12 steps aren’t right for you, there are other alternative support groups that you can benefit from, such as SMART Recovery. So, don’t give up after one try, and always keep working on your sobriety. 

If you are struggling with alcohol or other substances, attending your first Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting can be a great step to overcoming your addiction and becoming part of a caring community. 

What Are the Different Types of AA Meetings?

If you’re looking for meetings online or have a physical meeting list, you may not understand what each type of meeting is and what it represents. Beyond the most common abbreviations below, there are also meetings just for women, men, youth, LGBTQ+, Spanish-speaking, and more.  

Generally speaking, O stands for Open, and C stands for Closed. A closed meeting is designed for AA members, keeping in mind the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. In other words, you can’t bring family and friends to closed meetings (unless they are also in recovery or considering it).  

Also, D stands for Discussion, and S stands for Speaker. Some speaker meetings follow an alternative format, but in general, one person shares their story for 45 minutes to an hour, followed by a very brief discussion. A speaker meeting is often a great start for a first-time meeting-goer. You get the opportunity to hear someone’s story, connect with it, and meet other AA members, all without the anxiety of feeling you need to share or worried about being “called on.” Other abbreviations include: 

  • BB: Closed or open discussion on readings from the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous 
  • DR: Closed or open discussion on readings from the Daily Reflections 
  • 12&12 or ST: Closed or open discussion on readings from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions  
  • LS: Closed or open discussion on readings from the book Living Sober 

You may also find other meetings that are 12-step in nature but don’t use official AA literature. Some meetings, for example, use The Little Red Book or The 24-Hour Book from Hazelden, or other books, such as Drop the Rock. Other acronyms could mean: 

  • CCP: Childcare provided 
  • ABSI: Meeting on readings from the As Bill Sees It book 
  • NS: No smoking 
  • BEG or BG: Beginner’s meetings (for those 12 months sober and under) 

AA meeting lists should also note if a particular meeting space is ADA-compliant or not.  

  • The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to the main literature for the AA program. It is a large, blue book with the Alcoholics Anonymous program laid out in great detail, complemented by personal stories of those who have long-term sobriety. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
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