Mastering the Language of AA: Key Terms You Need to Know

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been a lifeline for countless individuals seeking recovery from alcohol addiction. One of the crucial aspects of engaging with the AA community is understanding the unique language and terms used within its meetings and literature. Before we dive into the vocabulary, let’s look at what AA is all about.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a globally renowned mutual support organization dedicated to helping people struggling with alcoholism achieve and maintain sobriety. Founded in the 1930s by Bill W. And Dr. Bob, AA follows a twelve-step program that emphasizes personal responsibility, spiritual growth, and fellowship among its members.

One of the most important aspects of AA’s philosophy is the belief in sharing experiences and offering support in a non-judgmental and confidential setting. In some cases, a main speaker will lead an AA session and decide on a topic, but other times, it will be an open discussion. During meetings, members can share their challenges, successes, and fears related to alcoholism. Attendees can pass if they prefer to just listen.

AA has had a positive impact on the lives of countless individuals, fostering a sense of community and offering a lifeline to those who wish to stop drinking. That is not to say Alcoholics Anonymous is for everyone – there are plenty of other pathways that people have followed to find recovery.

What Are Different Kinds of AA Meetings?

There are different types of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and you might have to try out a few to see what works best for you. Here are the most common ones:

  • Open AA meetings – Anyone can attend an open AA meeting. The group is open to people with and without an alcohol use disorder. Members might bring their family or friends along so they can learn more about substance abuse. Open discussion-style meetings usually focus more on an AA topic that is brought up by a member and discussed by the group.
  • Closed AA meetings – Closed meetings are just like open meetings, except in regard to who can attend. There is no intake process, and you must have a desire to stop drinking in order to join.
  • Beginners’ AA meetings – Focuses on the fundamental needs of early recovery that help with avoiding relapse. You can share your experience, learn about resources and literature on recovery, and begin practicing the 12 Steps.
  • Demographic-specific meetings – Part of why many individuals find AA useful is the community of individuals who have shared or similar experiences to theirs. Demographic-specific meetings include men’s and women’s AA meetings. LGBTQ AA meetings are also available for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and other members of the queer community.

Exploring Common Words and Phrases in AA

No matter what kind of meeting you attend, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the most popular Alcoholics Anonymous words and phrases you might hear:

Big Book: The Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which describes the 12-step program and how one can recover from addiction.

Carry The Message: The primary purpose of AA is to help members stay sober and to have them, in turn, help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

12 Steps: The spiritual program is guided by the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The purpose of the steps is to help individuals recover from compulsive, out-of-control behaviors and restore manageability and order to their lives.

12 Traditions: General guidelines for healthy relationships between the group, members, and other groups.

12 Concepts: Principles to help ensure that various elements of A.A.’s service structure remain responsive and responsible to those they serve.

Three Legacies: The Three Legacies of Alcoholics Anonymous are Recovery, Unity, and Service.

Anonymity: AA is totally anonymous, not only to protect individuals but also the organization. Members are not allowed to speak on behalf of AA to the media.

Fellowship: A term for the society or fraternity of AA.

Member: Based on the Third Tradition, the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Home Group: Meeting that an AA member attends on a weekly/recurring basis.

Sponsor: An AA member who serves as a mentor to a newcomer in the program. A sponsor typically helps a sponsee to work the 12 Steps, shares their personal experience, strength, and hope, and helps the sponsee stay on the recovery track.

Chair: Service position, filled by an AA member, that runs the meeting.

Preamble: The short description of AA that is often read out loud at the start of AA meetings.

Crosstalk: Crosstalk is giving advice, questioning, interrupting, or speaking directly to another person rather than to the group. It is prohibited at most meetings.

Service Position: Any position at a meeting that serves the greater group: chair, co-chair, secretary, greeter, treasurer, hospitality, etc. These positions are elected during the business meetings.

Secretary Break: Secretary makes any announcements pertinent to the meeting and proceeds with the 7th tradition.

7th tradition: Meetings are self-supportive and rely on donations from members to pay for expenses such as rent. A basket is usually passed around to collect money, although it is not obligated to provide.

Anniversary: Members are asked to share their sobriety milestones of 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, etc. up to 1 year and then 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, etc. This usually happens during the secretary break.

Chips: Members receive coins to mark milestones such as 90 days or a year.

Burning Desire: Usually, at the end of the meeting, the chair asks if anyone has a burning desire to use or drink or harm themselves or others. This is also an opportunity for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to share, to share.

Clichés: Most AA meetings display a set of small posters with messages like: “First things first,” “Easy does it,” etc. These are often called clichés.

It Works If You Work It: A popular saying that members use to encourage members to be fully involved in the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions.

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