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What to Expect at Your First 12-Step Meeting

Attending a 12 Step meeting for the first time can produce some anxiety and reservations. That is completely normal. If you ask recovering alcoholics if they were nervous at their first meeting, they would answer a resounding “YES”, but they would also say that they were so happy that they attended and stuck with the program because it works. If you’re thinking about attending a 12 Step meeting, kudos to you. Go ahead and do it. If you are anxious, know that it’s alright and you can still attend despite the anxiety. To decrease your anxiety and encourage your attendance, here is an article on what to expect at your first 12 Step meeting.

First times at most anything can be a bit stressful and a 12-Step meeting is no exception. In fact, everyone who walks into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the first time will admit later that they were quite nervous and weren’t really sure what to expect. With this in mind, understanding just what goes on at an AA meeting will help to decrease anxiety and prepare you for your first meeting.

What to Expect at Your First 12-Step Meeting

An Overview

Many AA meetings are held in classrooms or the fellowship hall of churches. When you walk into the meeting room, you will assuredly be welcomed by some of those attending, as the atmosphere is usually quite welcoming. Those who have been in recovery for a while really try to make it their intention to make a newcomer feel very welcomed. The AA principles encourage members to always have an atmosphere full of unconditional love, as most newcomers are struggling in a variety of ways and members have been in those exact shoes when they entered meetings for the first time. So rest assured that when you walk into a meeting, no one is judging you. They’ve been through a first meeting. They’ve needed help in quitting drinking. They’ve hit bottom, been discouraged, felt scared, and so much more. In other words, they understand where you are and are rooting for you.

Basic Format

Many meetings have coffee available, so grab yourself a cup of coffee and sit down. A meeting usually starts with some readings form AA literature, such as the 12 Steps, the 12 Principles, perhaps a daily devotion, and some announcements. Once the literature has been read, those in attendance will have a chance to share. If it is an open group meeting, anyone who wants to share can talk for 5 or 10 minutes and then others can share their strength and hope toward that person. If someone is having an intense desire to drink, they are encouraged to open up and share so they can receive much encouragement and hope. Most newcomers do not feel comfortable sharing anything, and that is quite alright. You don’t have to, but you can if you feel like it- especially if you are struggling.

Sobriety Chips

Meetings last for 1 hour, so when the hour is up, the group leader will then initiate the closing of the meeting. He or she will take a moment to ask if anyone in the meeting is celebrating “clean time” and if so, he will give out a “clean time chip” (which can actually be a round chip, key chain, or another token of clean time). Chips are given for those who have made a decision to stop drinking (like a newcomer or someone who has relapsed and decided to start clean time over), those at 30, 60, 90 days, and 2 years up to many years. Getting a chip is a big deal, and many recovering alcoholics look forward to making it to each milestone.

Should I get a chip?

For the newcomer, it might seem a bit anxiety provoking to raise your hand when they ask if anyone is just deciding to make a commitment to stopping drinking for good, but it will serve you well to do so. Go for it. You are there because you want to stop drinking. You deserve it! Once you raise your hand and go up and get your chip from the leader, the others in the room will clap and applaud you for your courage. They know where you are because they have been there and they also know that you can live life sober and free. They are your best cheerleaders!

Once the chips are handed out, some groups form a circle and recite the serenity prayer out loud together. The serenity prayer is:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

The courage to change the things that I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Meeting Conclusion

Once that is completed, the meeting is adjourned and people are free to mingle for a few minutes after the meeting. This is a good time for newcomers to get phone numbers from a few people of the same sex in order to call if they feel like drinking. This will come in handy because there may be days when your cravings are intense and you just need someone to talk to. Feel free to call those who have been in your shoes and let them encourage you through such times.

Why Choose 12-Step?

AA meetings have been influential in many people’s lives and have helped them stay clean and create lives that they love. We believe in the 12-step model so much that we incorporate it into our treatment programs. Sure, you may feel a bit nervous about attending, and that is quite normal, but rest assured that once you get there and sit through a meeting, you will feel so relieved and welcomed afterwards. The meeting will spark some hope in you that you really can quit drinking and change your life around. You can discover freedom and happiness. With the support of those in AA, you can create the kind of life you want to live, enjoying peace, sobriety, and a lot of joy!

There are AA meetings in many cities throughout the United States. For more information or to locate meetings in your area, go to Alcoholics Anonymous website and navigate through the site. If you need more motivation working up the courage to attend your first 12-step, please contact Pat Moore Foundation today. Commit to a meeting and go!

Image: Flickr

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