If you have never attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting before, the idea of walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your story can be intimidating. You are not alone in that sentiment. Feeling anxious or overwhelmed before your first AA meeting is normal. But if you push beyond your discomfort, you may find that 12 Step meetings provide you with the extra support you are looking for to keep you on track in your recovery.
In this video, Isabel Donnelly, Alumni Outreach Coordinator, shares a few helpful reminders to make your first AA meeting go more smoothly.
Remember, everyone was new at some point.
During 12 Step meetings, you will hear a lot of the same phrases, you will hear about the Big Book, you will hear about the steps or different prayers ⎼ it is okay to not understand everything that is going on. Everyone in that room was new at one point and learned along the way. Know that no one will judge you. In most cases, group members will be more than willing to help you gain a better understanding of 12 Step and how it can aid your recovery. After all, helping others is a big component of 12 Step.
Once the meeting has started, you don’t have many opportunities for small talk. But if you show up ten minutes early, you can find the moderator or meeting chair and let them know that it is your first meeting. It is their job to welcome newcomers and help them feel at ease. They will likely introduce you to some old-timers or particularly nice and welcoming group members who will help you navigate your first meeting. After the meeting is over, be sure to stay for a few minutes and introduce yourself to others. You never know who could be a great source of support.
Be open and honest.
There are a lot of misconceptions about 12 Step, and if you go into your first AA meeting with your mind already made up, you will likely not get much out of it. Be open and give the experience a real shot. First, you’re not required to speak if you don’t feel comfortable. Just try listening to others and finding the similarities and connecting to their words. Maybe you don’t know what being homeless is like. Perhaps you haven’t lost your job due to your addiction. Or maybe your “rock bottom” is worse than theirs. You may have also watched addiction take loved ones away. But the reality is that it doesn’t matter if your story isn’t as bad or is worse than theirs. What matters is that everyone in that room has at least one thing in common: they want to heal. They want recovery.
“Cross-talk” is not allowed.
If you decide to share your story, one of the common fears about AA meetings is that other people may try to talk over or interrupt you. Luckily, there are rules in place that discourage participants from offering advice or sharing their opinion about someone else’s life. Some make the argument that even positive comments could lead to a slippery slope of neutral and negative statements over time. So, it’s best to eliminate cross-talk to create a safe and organized environment for everyone, so people aren’t talking out of turn. Keep in mind, you don’t need to have your whole story planned out either. You can just talk freely and say whatever is on your mind – it’s likely that others will find your experience with recovery and addiction inspiring.
Bring a friend.
If you are an introvert, or if you are simply not ready to go to a meeting by yourself, consider bringing a friend along. Having someone you know by your side will help you feel more comfortable and more likely to let your guard down. If you know someone who attends 12 Step meetings, ask them if you can tag along. If you don’t, grab someone you know from treatment and attend your first meeting together. If you’d rather bring a loved one along who is not in recovery, find an open meeting. These meetings are open to those in recovery and anyone who supports them.
Try out different groups.
If you go to a meeting and decide it doesn’t feel right for you, try another one. Every meeting is different, and it might take you a few tries until you find the meeting that matches your needs. And if you ultimately decided that 12 Step isn’t right for you, there are other alternative support groups that you can benefit from, such as SMART Recovery. So, don’t give up after one try, and always keep working on your recovery.
If you are struggling with alcohol or other substances, attending your first AA or NA meeting can be a great step to overcoming your addiction and becoming part of a caring community.