There’s No Harm or Risk in Checking out Alcoholics Anonymous
Maybe you want to reach out for help with your drinking, or you could have a court card you need signed. Whatever your situation, if you are going to your first AA meeting you’re possibly nervous. You may have heard all sorts of things about AA meetings, and you want to know what to expect.
AA Meetings are Filled with Normal People.
The good news is that going to AA is a lot like going to McDonald’s for a hamburger in a foreign country: they have meetings all over the world, and virtually all AA meetings have a few basic things in common.
How Long is an AA Meeting?
Many AA meetings last no longer than an hour. All AA meetings are over in an hour-and-a-half. You should arrive early to give yourself time to find a seat and settle in before the meeting starts to avoid disrupting the meeting.
The “Meeting after the Meeting”
There is also a “meeting after the meeting” 2 in most AA groups. What this means is that people mingle after the meeting, and get to know each other. Sometimes those people who want to go out to a nearby restaurant to eat and visit. The meeting after the meeting is a great way to
• Get to know members
• Get phone numbers of people you can call if you want a drink
• Ask people questions that you cannot ask during a meeting
AA Meeting Format: What Goes On at an AA Meeting?
AA meetings are usually opened by the chairperson reading a set format, such as a short welcome speech. This is followed by a series of readings by different people, usually the 12 steps the AA program is based on and maybe the 12 traditions 1 or some other reading common to the AA program.
All meetings open with a short prayer; frequently a common abbreviated version of the The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr. After the readings and prayer, what happens at the meeting will depend on what type of AA meeting it is.
The A.A. Chip or “Birthday” Ceremony
Most meetings give out AA chips, either at the beginning or the end of the meeting. An AA chip is a coin which resembles a Mardi Gras doubloon. The coin is to commemorate time you have sober. The most important chip you will pick up is the 24 Hour or ‘A Desire to Stop Drinking Chip.’ If you want to stop drinking (or using drugs), you should pick up one of these and put it in your pocket. It symbolizes a commitment you’re making to stay sober for 24 hours.
You will see people picking up chips for staying sober longer than one day; even picking up medallions to commemorate staying sober a year, 20 years, 30 years and longer. You may be thinking to yourself that ‘people who pick up AA coins to celebrate decades of sobriety are liars because nobody can stay sober that long,’ but we assure you that many people embrace the sober life and the thought of drinking or using their drug of choice makes them ‘recoil like a moth from a hot flame.’
Miracles happen in AA. Yes, it is miraculous for an alcoholic or anybody else who likes to drink to go for a lifetime without drinking. The real miracle is that these people are happier than they ever were when they drank. Alcoholics get to the point where drinking isn’t fun anymore, and it causes a lot of problems. Being alcohol free can be just like being let out of jail. If you are skeptical that this miracle really happens, that’s okay. Just keep coming back.
When in Doubt (about A.A.) – Check it Out!
We understand that you may be hesitant to attend an AA meeting. Even after reading this guide you will probably be surprised at something that happens because there are so many potential variations on the traditional meeting. There are a few basic “types” of AA meetings and the format varies depending on whether, for instance, it’s an open discussion or a Big Book study. You can click on this link to learn more about what to expect at different meetings.
There’s really nothing to be scared of about going to an AA meeting. You do not have to
• Identify as an alcoholic (at open meetings)
• Put money in the basket
AA meetings are there to help people who want to stay sober find a way to recover. Even if you have been sent to AA on a court card, nobody expects you to do anything you are not comfortable doing. However, you will find many people at AA who will be happy to show you how they stayed sober if you want help. Helping others stay sober is how we alcoholics stay sober ourselves.
Do Not Be Afraid of A.A.
We encourage you to check out Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s nothing to risk and only growth and healing to gain.
So remember, if any of these things are making you pause, don’t forget that:
You do not have to share if you don’t feel comfortable doing so
If you don’t want to introduce yourself and identify as alcoholic, only go to ‘open’ meetings
If you don’t like the meeting it will be over very soon. One helpful AA saying is ‘take what you can use and leave the rest.’
We wish you the best of luck in starting your AA journey.