What to Expect at Your First AA Meeting

By Christina Zayas
Young people supporting each other

Here’s a fun fact: I was six years old when I went to my very first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I know what you’re thinking, but I was only there because my aunt, who was joining the recovery group, didn’t have a sitter for my cousin, brother, and me. Back then, going to AA was a frequent occurrence, and something I quickly grew accustomed to very early on. I remember walking into dimly lit church basements and smelling the aroma of coffee and stale cigarettes. When I look back, I laugh because I understand that this was my introduction to the rooms.

At 37 years old, I now frequent AA for my very own recovery and have been doing so for three years. I drank for 20 years, finally concluding that it was time to plug the jug and returned to AA once again at 34. For me, attending the meeting oddly felt like home. I’d been here before, so there was an old familiarity, like visiting my grandmother. AA had this sort of nostalgia I once knew. It didn’t all come easy, though. While I could sit among the group of my fellows with ease, I found publicly admitting I was an alcoholic very difficult.

I sat quietly, thoughts floating around in my head, trying to perfect my announcement. Was I to say, “Christina Alcoholic,” as if alcoholic were my last name? Or would I offer a more extended introduction, “Hello, my name is Christina, and I’m an alcoholic”? Before I knew it, it was my turn. I don’t even remember what I said, and honestly, it didn’t matter. The point was I was there. I had sober feet that night and sober feet the subsequent years.

During the time I was counting days, I learned a lot. I learned that no one minds if you screw up what you say, if you stumble over your words, or if you cry. But I had so many preconceptions about meetings before my revisit to the rooms. To begin with, I was terrified I would run into someone I knew outside of AA. I also worried that someone might interrupt or talk over me. The truth is, the rooms are full of compassionate people trying to get and stay sober. Plus, there are a few rules in place, so interruptions don’t happen.

For instance, you are not allowed to “crosstalk,” which includes interrupting someone who is currently speaking. AA allows you to express your thoughts or feelings, but you are not allowed to directly offer advice to another member, or express opinions about another member’s life. I also worried joining AA would be like joining a cult. It turns out, AA meetings are nothing like that and are a lot less scary than people realize. Openly sharing was another thing that made me feel nervous, and I feared my message would not be well received. Overall, I was scared of connection, but when I truly listened to others, I realized I related to them more than I thought and was right where I belonged. Today, I still spend time in my head when I have something to share, but I try not to obsess over it like I used to. I know that when I tell my story, I am helping someone just like me.

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