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What an Open AA Meeting Is

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An open AA meeting is just an AA meeting where anyone can go.

By anyone, I mean anyone, whether you’re an alcoholic or not.

Why Open AA Meetings Are Good

There are a few things that make open AA meetings really great.

The first thing is that, because anyone can go, it makes people who aren’t sure if they’re alcoholics or not feel more comfortable going.

One of the biggest problems with AA, in my opinion, is that they kind of force you to label yourself, especially in closed meetings.

Closed meetings are supposed to be exclusively for alcoholics, which means that you have to label yourself if you want to stay.

Some people who have a problem drinking just don’t feel comfortable labeling themselves like that. In fact, it might be detrimental to someone who isn’t sure — making them call themselves something they’re not.

That’s step one in a nutshell — calling yourself an alcoholic. It’s a bit more nuanced than that, but that’s the gist of it. If you’re working with a sponsor, and you refuse to call yourself an alcoholic, they’re probably not going to be willing to work with you.

So open meetings are great because people who are having a problem with alcohol aren’t required to label themselves and therefore will probably be more open to listening to what people what to say in the meetings.

Another reason that open AA meetings are great is that people who are supportive of someone who thinks they might have a problem with alcohol, or who are sure they’re drinking alcoholically, or who just need someone there for them, can go.

Oftentimes, these people are not alcoholics themselves. Allowing them to show up is good for someone who is new because, otherwise, they might not go.

Finally, open AA meetings are good because they allow people who are studying to be counselors or nurses or doctors to come into the meetings and learn what they’re all about.

This is actually more common than you might think. I’ve seen them more than once at AA meetings. It’s actually required by many medical programs of study. I think that the more people in the medical community learn what we’re all about, the better for us.

When someone walks through their doors and has a problem with alcohol, they’ll have a better idea of what to recommend to them.

Why Closed AA Meetings Are Good

One of the problems with open AA meetings has to do with anonymity.

In AA, we try to be as anonymous as possible, even from each other. In fact, sometimes especially from each other.

I’ve sponsored a lot of people. That’s not to brag — it’s just the truth. On more than one occasion, I’ve sponsored people who have become pissed off at me. I’ve even had a few people I’ve sponsored become a little obsessed with me.

Let’s be real — I don’t know these people. I’m willing to help them, but that doesn’t mean I want them to know where I live. I’ve definitely become good friends with a handful of my sponsees, but when these weirdos come along, I don’t even want them to know my last name.

Because I’m so open about my recovery, that’s sometimes kind of impossible, but I’ve had to block a couple of these people who have become really angry with me or who have become obsessed with me, making me wary of going to an open meeting of AA.

They’re not people I want to run into at a meeting or on the street, both of which are possible.

Fortunately, anonymity means, for most people who sponsor, that these weirdos don’t know who they are or where they live. This protects everyone, especially people who are sponsoring unstable people.

The fact is that there are quite a few people in AA who have severe mental health issues, are mentally unstable, and have a history of violence. We need anonymity to protect ourselves from these people.

Another reason we need anonymity is that alcoholism is still stigmatized, and for many working professionals, if it became known that they have a problem with drugs, they could lose their jobs or licenses or both.

At an open meeting, because anyone can show up, it’s possible that someone who isn’t an alcoholic can find out that a professional in their industry or someone they work with is — and they might say something to management to get that person in trouble.

This is a serious problem, which is why many people go to closed AA meetings only if they’re working professionals.

I know of at least one instance where a woman who was a teacher went to an open meeting, another woman brought her child to that meeting, and the child recognized the teacher as working at their school.

The child then, predictably, said something to someone, and it got around to the administration, and the woman lost her job.

Because it was an open meeting, it was okay for that child to be there. The teacher shouldn’t have been there if they didn’t want to be recognized.

So having closed meetings of AA is critical to protecting our members, while open meetings or AA are important for the reasons I’ve listed above.

Go to the Meeting That’s Right for You

If you need to go to an open meeting of AA for one of the reasons above, then do it — it might save your life or someone else’s life.

But if a closed meeting is important to protect you or someone else, then maybe closed meetings are the only meetings you should be attending.

What do you think? If you agree that open meetings of AA are good to have, let me know in the comments.

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Adam Fout

I'm a speculative fiction and nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others.

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