Most people today come to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings through an intervention, though not necessarily the kind of “intervention” done on reality television. Sometimes they hear about these 12-Step recovery meetings from a friend who sees their troubles and tells them about A.A. Sometimes a family member insists they stop drinking and refers them to A.A. Other times, mental health professionals will require clients not to drink in order to work through emotional problems or relationship problems they are having, and recommend A.A. as a way to help stay sober. Some people come to A.A. through court/legal systems when they have broken laws in relation to their alcohol use/abuse.
Finding an A.A. Meeting
However you are introduced to A.A., it is a world unto itself that may seem intimidating and foreign at first. First of all, the various 12-Step meetings are listed in what is termed a “directory." Usually each area (several towns or an entire county) has a list of the different A.A. meetings or related 12-Step meetings. Or, you can go online and search under Alcoholics Anonymous. Hundreds of listings will appear, because A.A. has meetings all over the world. In larger cities there are, literally, hundreds of meetings every week, at all times of the day and night. In more rural settings, the selection will be slim. However, few places on this globe have no meetings available, and you may be able to find an online 12-Step meeting or group.
Looking at an A.A. directory, one will find strange initials next to the time and day of the meeting. Here are some of the most common initials used directories and what they stand for:
B: Book (Study of the Big Book of A.A.),
C: Closed meeting (for alcoholics only),
O: Open meeting (for those who do not identify as alcoholic; a good choice for a first time attendee),
CL: Candlelight meeting,
G: Gay meeting(or LGBT meeting, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender),
D: Discussion meeting,
M: Men only meeting,
W: Women only meeting,
NS: non-smoking meeting,
SP: Speaker meeting,
ST: Step Study meeting,
P: Participation meeting
T: Topic meeting.
Becoming Involved in A.A.
Going to a meeting where you can listen in or observe without participating is usually most comfortable for a first timer. Speaker meetings are good for those who want to learn about A.A., because the speaker will generally share his story—something that allows the new person an opportunity to hear someone else’s reason for coming to A.A. Open meetings are the best for those new to A.A., no matter the format, because the only attendees at closed meetings are those who are willing to call themselves alcoholic. Members of closed meetings may ask non-alcoholics to leave.
After finding an A.A. meeting in your area that is appropriate, you will be ready to go. You'll find the meeting and arrive at the location. Meetings generally start right on time, so it is important to arrive a few minutes early to find the room and a seat. Some meetings will have hundreds of people in them, and others will have only 5-20 people. The size will depend on the type of meeting, the location, whether you are in the city or in a rural setting, and what night of the week it is. Plan to arrive early to assure that you do not interrupt the meeting by arriving late, an important etiquette in A.A.
Getting Comfortable at an A.A. Meeting
Most meetings will have a coffee area set up, sometimes with cookies or other snacks. Some larger clubs have a coffee bar with vending machines or a full cafeteria or lunch counter. Most meetings have a coffee pot or two, with hot water available for tea, etc. Coffee and accompanying condiments are expensive; so please pay for your coffee. If there is not a contributions jar at the coffee bar, then add another dollar to the basket when the 7th Tradition is observed (members make volunteer contributions to ensure that A.A. is self-supporting).
Find a seat and be sure to turn off your phone. Phone calls and texts are a rude interruption for those who are sharing in the meeting.
What Happens in the A.A. Meeting
The A.A. meeting typically begins with readings taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Each group has its own format. Some meetings have a theme they discuss at the beginning of the meeting. Observe the beginning and save questions for after the meeting or during the break. It only takes a couple of meetings to catch on to the format of each group. One of the Traditions of A.A. is that each group is autonomous, which means that the group is run by the group. They decide, by vote of the collective group, how the meeting is going to be run, what the format is, and which readings they will do at the beginning.
Meeting groups will assign a secretary who is responsible for opening and setting up the room, turning on lights, making coffee, and choosing the topic and/or Leader for that meeting. Larger meetings have several people performing these tasks. They are called trusted servants, because they don’t get paid to perform these services; it is a privilege to be elected, as these members have demonstrated that they can be counted on to do these things consistently.
As the meeting progresses, the topic under discussion will be addressed by various members. In a participation meeting, people will share their stories and how they are staying sober, or their personal experience with the topic. Members do not TELL anything, nor should they have question and answer sessions in the meeting, unless that is the specific format. When a member has a question, it is best to speak privately to someone after the meeting. New people frequently make this mistake and get upset when they are asked to wait. Members are supposed to share only THEIR EXPERIENCE, not their opinions or bring up topics that are considered “outside issues.”
Being Respectful of Others in A.A.
Most meetings are either one hour or an hour and a half long. Members are urged to keep quiet about what is shared in the meetings, but they are seldom able to do so completely. Expecting that they are perfect examples of recovery is discouraged. Their recovery is always in progress. It is wise to share in meetings only what is okay to be broadcast, because human nature is human nature. Many members are new and have not yet learned about anonymity or how to practice it. It is important to know that no one is supposed to mention anything they hear or anyone they see in the meetings once they are outside the meeting!
As previously mentioned, the 7th Tradition is a collection taken by the group to fund the meeting. Expenses are coffee, condiments, rent for the meeting space, and any other expenses the meeting may incur. Some meetings provide literature about A.A. to the membership. They sell literature at their cost; no profit is made by the meeting. Meetings donate money left over from expenses to Regional, H&I committee work, and A.A. in New York for expenses of operation. All money given to A.A. is elective, there are no charges or fees forced on any members or attendees.