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How Do 12 Step Meetings Work?

Each Group Decides Its Own Format

By Barb M.

Updated May 16, 2014

Those who have never attended a 12-step meeting have some misconceptions about how the meetings actually work. Barb M., a long-time member explains what you can expect at your first meeting.

Since that first meeting I have learned that different meetings have different ways of doing things but for the most part, they run the same. In some meetings, people are randomly called on, the thinking being, that it prevents the same people from constantly sharing overriding the more shy, quieter people.

In other meetings, at the end of the prayer, everyone may say a popular AA slogan, such as, "meeting makers make it." Some meetings are purely discussion meetings where the topic is random and more derived by "a burning desire" that one of the members may have. Speakers meetings are just as they say where a speaker is chosen to speak about their experience, strength and hope in regards to their recovery.

Regardless of a meetings "platform" the main thing I was most relieved about was the non-imposing feel that I got when I first began attending meetings. No one bombarded me with his or her religious slogans, no one pestered me to hold hands and pray, no one cared if I sat in the back or sat in the front, drank coffee or didn't drink coffee, helped clean up or ran off before the meeting ended.

There seemed to be no set rules other then those of common respect which may include - Try to be on time. No smoking. No cross talk during shares. Have court vouchers signed at the end of a meeting.

As far as running into people who would recognize me? Well, that did happen but it was no big deal. Surely not the big deal I used as an excuse for years prior for not attending a meeting.

The decision to introduce myself as an alcoholic and to accept my first chip did eventually happen. I attended many, many meetings before that point and although people did slowly learn my name, I still to some point keep a distance. The nice part of AA is that I'm allowed to! It may not be the best way to work the program but for me, it is working for now.

One common practice however, is that when you do introduce yourself to the group as a newcomer and an alcoholic, you will receive a "meeting schedule" book with the names and numbers of people who you can call if you feel the need to drink and need help. People who put their number on this book do so because they really do want to help. It isn't required of anyone to do so but it keeps with the tradition of AA, that when an alcoholic calls for help, the helping hand of AA will be there.

Good luck! Just remember, there is nothing to be afraid of! If you aren't sure if you are an alcoholic, find an "open" meeting to attend in your area. Many non-alcoholics may attend these and no one assumes because you are there that you are alcoholic.

Part One: What Can I Expect?

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