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What To Expect At Your First AA Meeting

Going to your first AA meeting can be pretty stressful, especially if you don’t know anyone or have any friends who go to AA, so I’m going to tell you what to expect at your first AA meeting so that it’s not so scary.

There are a lot of preconceived ideas and thoughts about what AA is and how the meetings are, especially when it comes to the way Hollywood portrays AA.

I hope that I can clear up some of those falsehoods and maybe even provide a potential newcomer with a little bit of encouragement if someone is considering attending their first AA meeting.  

Here is what to expect when you go to your first AA meeting. 

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

I have personally been going to AA now for most of the last 10 years. It took quite some time before I became willing to take the suggestions given to me by the counselors at the various treatment centers I had attended early on in my recovery. 

I thought that going to treatment would fix me, but turns out, going to treatment was really just a first step in the right direction. I didn’t start to really get well until I got a sponsor and worked the 12 steps that are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

As outlined in the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

This is something that you will hear read out loud at the beginning of any AA meeting that you will ever attend. The only requirement to go or be able to attend is to simply have the desire to no longer consume alcohol. 

This means that you don’t have to share in front of anyone if you don’t want to. You don’t have to get a sponsor if you don’t want to. You don’t have to put money in the basket that goes around either at the beginning or towards the end of the meeting. You don’t have to work the 12 steps if you don’t want to. You simply just need to have a desire to stop drinking.

That’s one of the main things to expect at your first AA meeting.

What To Expect At Your First AA Meeting

When you walk through the front door of your first AA meeting, the first thing that you might notice is the strong aroma of coffee that is being brewed for those that are there for the meeting. I have never been to a meeting that doesn’t serve coffee and have always been greeted by its strong aroma upon walking through the door. 

You will notice that there are obviously people there, most of which seem to be very enthusiastic and happy not only to be at the meeting, but happy to see a newcomer such as yourself at the meeting. I was nervous about how I may or may not be welcomed when I went to my first meeting.

I think that this is normal for everyone. I felt a sense of peace after so many people got up and went out of their way to validate my existence by shaking my hand and greeting me. You might notice too that for the first time in a long time, you no longer feel alone. You might feel a bit shy or overwhelmed by the number of people that will want to introduce themselves to you. This is also completely normal.

After everyone gets settled and when the meeting starts, you can expect there to be a person who is leading the meeting. We call this person the chairperson. He or she is not the leader of the meeting nor does the chairperson have any authority over anyone else. There are various service commitments available at every AA meeting that I’ve attended, and these commitments typically rotate on a monthly basis. It is strongly suggested to get a service commitment at a meeting, especially at the beginning of your recovery journey. This is something you can expect at your first AA meeting.

It was suggested to me that service helps keep us sober, and I can say from my own personal experience that that is a fact. Aside from being a chairperson, some people might volunteer to make the coffee, be a door greeter, be in charge of the donations, or volunteer to help set up and clean up after the meeting.

Every meeting is a little different, but at the start of every meeting, a few different things will be read. Volunteers typically will get called on to read things such as The AA Preamble, How It Works, the 9th Step Promises, as well as the 12 traditions. 

It might be that your first meeting happens to be a speaker meeting. At this sort of meeting, after the things are read at the beginning, someone who typically has a decent amount of sober time and most certainly someone who has worked the 12 steps with a sponsor will have volunteered to share their story with you and the rest of the alcoholics there with you at this particular meeting. You will often hear the phrase “experience, strength, and hope” when it comes to the content of what will be shared by the speaker. 

Usually the speaker will start their story by sharing about what it was like during the depths of their alcoholism. If you are like me or any of the rest of us alcoholics, during this part of the story you will surely hear many things that you can relate to. When I went to my first speaker meeting, it was almost as if the speaker was telling my specific story. I think that this is true for most of us. 

The speaker will tell about “what happened,” which typically means a specific even or type of rock bottom scenario that finally brought the person to their knees and made them willing to walk into an AA meeting and do whatever it was that was suggested.

The last part will be “what it’s like now”, which is what their life has been like since getting a sponsor and working the 12 steps, and you can definitely expect that at your first AA meeting.

If the meeting isn’t a speaker meeting, then usually what will happen is the chairperson will have brought in with them a particular topic that is read at the beginning of the meeting. People will either be called on or will volunteer to share their experience with the particular chosen topic. Usually each person will be given at least 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the meeting. 

A timer will often be set for those of us that enjoy listening to ourselves talk. If you are called on and are new and do not feel like sharing, all you have to do is say “pass” and the chairperson will pick someone else. There is no shame or judgment towards anyone that doesn’t want to share so don’t feel bad if you happen to pass on an opportunity to share. Like I said at the beginning, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. All you need to have is simply a desire to not drink. That’s it. 

At the end of the meeting, usually the chairperson will ask if there is anyone who is willing to be a sponsor, and if you are to please raise your hand. Sometimes chips for various lengths of sobriety are handed out at the end of the meeting or sometimes at the beginning. At the very end, the meeting will close with a prayer, usually the Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Once the prayer is said, then that’s really it.

Hopefully this has helped shine some light on what to expect at your first AA meeting, especially if you’re personally having a problem with alcoholism and have been contemplating attending the local AA meeting near you.

You can find several meetings happening just about every hour in nearly every city and town in the country. I hope that you can find peace and some willingness to maybe try something different and I wish you all the best on your recovery journey!

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Colin Ponsford
Colin Ponsford
9 months ago

I’ve tried Everything and Nothing is Working…

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Ryan Henderson

Ryan Henderson is a magician and mental health advocate.

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