Sobriety is about dealing with life without having to use a substance like alcohol to help you cope.
You’ll probably hear the saying ‘living life on life’s terms’ in the rooms of AA.
What it means is that we have ups and downs in sobriety, though hopefully not the level of drama and chaos we experience while drinking. It’s helpful to know that when you’ve had a hard day, or just a weird one, there’s maybe a specific kind of AA meeting that could help you feel better.
What is a Closed AA Meeting?
Closed meetings are only for those who identify as alcoholics. If you’re on a court card or attending to placate a family member but you aren’t sure whether you are alcoholic you shouldn’t attend a closed meeting. It’s common at closed meetings for everybody to introduce themselves in turn, and identify as an alcoholic in turn. If you cannot identify as alcoholic you may be asked to find a different meeting. One good reason for closed meetings is that members feel safer talking about some issues if the meeting is not open to non-alcoholics.
Open AA Meetings
Many AA meetings are open to the public. Sometimes friends or family of alcoholics also attend. At times people studying to be therapists attend, and frequently if the meeting is smaller there are all-around introductions and those who are not alcoholic identify as visitors. These meetings are crucial to welcome people who aren’t sure they’re alcoholic and don’t want to identify as such but they still feel a need to reach out for help. The primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to help newcomers to recover. By helping others to recover we stay sober ourselves.
Beginners’ AA Meetings
AA Beginners’ meetings are for people who are new and maybe don’t understand what the AA program is all about yet. These meetings are usually chaired by an AA member with at least a year of continuous sobriety, and other members with multiple days sober also attend in order to be available to help newcomers.
There are all kinds of beginners meetings around, but the main thing they have in common is that most of the people who attend are new to the AA program and have a lot of questions. Cross-talking is discouraged at meetings. What this means is you don’t talk to somebody who is sharing or ask questions during the meeting. If you’re confused about something you can share about it. Usually if you share about a question you have somebody else will take the topic up and answer your question. Or, you can ask somebody during the break or after the meeting.
AA Meetings for Men, Women or Mostly Gay
Everywhere you go there are AA meetings where only women or men are allowed. You will also find many meetings that are gay, and some gay men’s meetings. This is to create safety when sharing about gender-specific issues. For instance, a member may be going through a heartbreaking divorce or having a problem in their marriage or another romantic relationship. They may want to share on a gender-specific issue and get feedback from the group.
It is always a good rule-of-thumb to not share about anything at an AA meeting that you want to be kept secret. The rule is that people aren’t supposed to gossip about what others share in the rooms; but people in AA are human and in various stages of recovery. It is probably safer to confide in your sponsor or a trusted friend when getting feedback about some issues.
AA Big Book Study
Big Book studies are where the group reads a section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous together and people share about their understanding of the passage. In these shares, members usually relate the reading to their own life experience. These meetings are a great way to gain a deeper understanding of what the book means and how others relate to it.
12 & 12 AA Meetings
In a 12 & 12 meeting the group takes turns sharing about one step or tradition as found in the AA book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The format is to read out of the book, then whoever wants to share can. Like Big Book studies, these meetings are a great way to gain insight into others’ understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous and how they apply the program to their lives.
AA Discussions Meetings
These open discussion meetings invariably focus on a topic picked by the leader for the meeting.
Usually there’s a list of topics such as Gratitude, Serenity, Resentments, Hope, or people can share about whatever’s on their mind, even if it’s off-topic.
Frequently at these meetings, a person who is relatively new is asked to lead. What the leader does is to share about their own story for a few minutes before opening up the meeting to the group. If you are not comfortable leading you can decline. Also, if you share about your story when asked to lead you don’t have to share anything that you’re not comfortable speaking about. All autobiography is subjective, and chances are if you landed in Alcoholics Anonymous you’ll have many interesting life experiences related to your drinking to share about.
AA Speaker Meetings
Speaker meetings are where there is a guest speaker who talks to the group. The speaker is invariably somebody with a few years or even decades sober. The best AA speakers are often really funny. You may find yourself leaving the speaker meeting with the feeling that you just enjoyed a standup comedy act. Many people in recovery have a dark sense of humor and we mainly laugh at ourselves. After years and sometimes decades of drinking we’re easy targets to poke fun at.
AA speakers tell their story and frequently the story is sad (but also funny). It’s easy to laugh when somebody at the podium cracks a joke about, for instance, going to jail and being the smelliest bum in the holding cell. You may be shocked to hear the whole room laughing about something most people wouldn’t find very funny. But we’ve survived, made our amends where possible, and we have a newfound freedom and joy in life.
The Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, promises that if we make sincere amends for the harm we caused others, working the ninth step to the best of our ability:
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
AA speaker meetings are a great way to unwind after a hard day. You can leave the room with a sense that no matter how scary life seems, things will work out if you just keep trudging the road of happy destiny a day at a time.
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