By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
What happens at an A. A. Meeting?
Last time, about a week ago I talked about the various kinds of A. A. meetings. The actual activates taking place could vary depending on whether this is a speaker meeting or a book study, still, every meeting will have a lot of similarities. If you are expecting to, or are expected to attend some other 12 step group, translate the rest of this as needed.
I refer a lot of clients to A. A. and I believe they need to know what to expect. Here are some of the things they need to be aware of in my area. Things may be slightly different in your town, but not very different.
Every sandwich comes on bread and probably has a spread on it, but the meat may be different, so may the garnish. Think of A. A. meetings in that manner. Various meetings will be slightly different so just some basic similarities first.
There are certain things that I can very much assure you will not happen at a meeting. This is not a networking group. Though you may make friends as time passes. There should be no political or commercial pitches. You will not be asked or required to sign up for anything or to contribute any amount of money. They will pass the hat or basket but putting something in it is up to you.
No pressure or requirement to do much of anything except listen if that is what you chose to do. They also ask that you stay on topic.
What is the topic at an A. A. meeting? – Not drinking.
The meeting will be called to order by the secretary or chairman. The Secretary usually serves for a period of time, say 6 months more or less. That person also will customarily have been sober for a period of time. Each group sets their own rules. If lots of people want to be secretary then the suggested sober period gets longer.
There may be a chairperson that changes from, week to week; less sobriety is required to chair a meeting than to be the secretary.
They may have passed around a sign-in sheet first, or they may pass it around now. As I mentioned before people sign in by first name last initial only (that confidentiality thing) and you do not have to sign in if you chose not to. No one keeps these sign-in sheets, not that I know of, so there is no way to prove you were there unless you get something signed at the time of the meeting.
The meeting will likely start with a moment of silence and the recitation of the “serenity prayer.” Many groups will have the serenity prayer, the twelve steps, and the twelve traditions as well as some sayings, posted on the wall.
There may also be a picture three men and a bed. This refers to the very first meeting where two sober members went to visit a man in the hospital. The idea of A. A. all started with the understanding that to stay sober you need to get out of self and start doing for others. (They refer to that ideal as the 12th step.)
Court cards are an “outside issue.” A. A. does not get paid for this; they do it as a courtesy. If you ask the secretary for a signature to prove you were there, be nice about it. Get there on time, put your card in the basket or ask the person up front where it goes and stays until the end to get your card back.
Meetings often start with some readings, the Secretary may hand out some things to read or they may read from a page in the book. You do not have to read if you do not want to.
Once the meeting starts they will follow the format for that particular meeting. They may take turns reading and sharing or they may just share.
The 7th Tradition.
At some time during the meeting, they will pause to “practice the 7th tradition.” This means they will pass the basket. People who are members put in what they can. If you are not a member you are not expected to contribute.
You are a member if you have a desire to stop drinking. You do not have to say you are an alcoholic, though most people do because they define their problems as alcoholism. You do not go to Cancer treatment place for diabetes and presumably, no one goes of their own free will to an A. A. meeting if they do not have a problem with alcohol.
If you are there for some other reason, make sure you are attending an open meeting (most are) and confine what you share about to problems related to alcohol. If you are a student required to attend or do not have a problem related to alcohol you simply tell them that you would like to listen.
At the end many meetings, but not all, they will hold hands and recite a prayer. Often this is called the “Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father.”
This is usually announced as “we will say this prayer for those who care to join us.” If this is not part of your religious or spiritual tradition you are not obligated to say the prayer. If you have problems with the hand holding thing – do not do it.
The best part of most meetings is the meetings before and after the meeting. This is the time when members and visitors sit around or stand outside and talk. This conversation is often accompanied by drinking coffee or smoking. Many meetings, but not all, have gone nonsmoking. Check the schedule or ask about this if this is a concern for you.
Aside from your own fears or embarrassments, attending or visiting a meeting is a pretty easy thing to do. You will find most people there willing to talk with you and shake your hand whether you think you are an alcoholic or not. They are likely to welcome you as long as you are not trying to sell them something or change them in some way.
Go with the flow and you will be surprised how enjoyable attending meetings can be and how much you will be welcomed and accepted.
Many people tell me that A. A. was the first place in their life they were accepted for themselves and not because they were drinking or paid for that acceptance.
The posts I write about AA are from my perspective as a therapist and clinical counselor and do not necessarily reflect the views of AA World Services. For more on AA and their program of recovery check out the “AA Big Book” titled Alcoholics Anonymous at the links below or contact AA World Services at their website.
The classic text on Alcoholism recovery, this is the book that started off the whole 12 step phenomenon.
One of the Kindle editions – At 99 cents this is such a bargain. This edition needed a separate listing. No Kindle reader? No Problem, if you have a computer you can download a free Kindle reader. For more information on A.A.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.