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Maybe you just moved to a new area. Or, you could be traveling for the first time since you got sober. There are many situations where you’re new in town and you need to find an AA meeting.

Whatever your situation is, you are probably a little nervous if you are attending a meeting in a whole new area for the first time. You want to fit in with the group, and you are hoping that people are friendly.

You’ve heard other AA members say that they go to meetings wherever they’re at. Nobody has ever said they had a bad experience. Still, first meetings in a new group can be scary.

For me, I was coming back to the town where I did a lot of drinking as a teen and young adult. With seven years sober, I knew that I needed to find a meeting soon after my stressful move in order to stay connected and maintain sobriety. I didn’t think I would be nervous, but when I pulled up to the meeting place (they only have one clubhouse which serves this small town) I found that I was defensive, and more than a little nervous. Going back sober to a place where you drank can be like returning to the scene of the crime.

People in Meetings Have a Lot In Common No Matter How Different They Appear

In his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, Quaker sociologist Parker J. Palmer writes about building communities. Palmer points out that when we get to know people outside of our regular circle of family, friends and co-workers—people who may be different than us on the surface and who may have a political viewpoint that is opposed to our own, we keep our democracy strong.

Alcoholics Anonymous is an ideal place to meet people who you would not normally mix with. We get to know each other as human beings first. No matter what our differences are, people in a meeting share a common condition: we are allergic to alcohol and by the time we make it into the rooms of AA we have usually done some serious damage to ourselves and other people.

One of the first people I really noticed at the new meeting place was an older guy who was wearing a Make America Great Again cap and a Duck Dynasty hoodie. He also had on a pair of sunglasses that looked like they had wagon spokes printed on the lenses. My first thought was that we are not supposed to be political at AA meetings so his cap was inappropriate. But there was nothing appropriate about this character. I asked him if I could try on his glasses and he allowed me to put them on. Putting on a new pair of glasses is a great metaphor for seeing things through new eyes—the eyes of healing.

On page 62 of the ‘big book’ Alcoholics Anonymous, the writer points out that,

“many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to.”

We go to AA to connect to others who have the same problem with alcohol and with alcoholic wreckage we have. It doesn’t make any difference whether we believe that the earth is flat or little green people live in the sewer lines. We are an ‘at risk’ populace that needs each other to heal.

In this respect, people in 12 step groups have more in common than we have differences. We get to know each other as human beings first, on the basis of what we have in common. Because of our common problem, we may form friendships and offer mutual support. As we get to know each other better, we will probably discover that we don’t agree about a lot of things. Hence, the blessing: we meet new people, maybe become friends, and we can disagree while still respecting each other’s viewpoint and maintaining our common humanity.

Learning to Work Together with Those Who are Different Than Us

When we look for the best in each other, AA will work exactly like Palmer said people in a democracy need to work in order to maintain the creative tension necessary to survive as a group and do well. When we can hold our differences in creative tension it’s possible to work together. Then, through mutual respect and compromise, we will be better together than anybody could possibly be alone. A historical example of people who worked together and compromised to come up with something bigger and better than they were is the United States Constitution!

The Purpose of Meetings is to Help the Newcomer to Find Sobriety

We will do more good by working together as people with a common problem. When we look for the best qualities in those around us we will find what we are looking for. This is especially true in Alcoholics Anonymous where newcomers are looking to those of us with a few days more sobriety and recovery for leadership in working the AA 12 steps.

My experience in this new group was healing. As I sat in the meeting in the town where my father got sober I thought of him sitting in this same place, maybe in the same chair, and seeing the same things on the walls—a picture of Bill W., the slogans, the long tables where we sat facing each other, the podium at the front of the room. Then the tears started as I thought about my Dad. Not a perfect parent, the most valuable gift he ever gave me was to get sober himself and set a good example. He never lectured me about my drinking—he stuck to his own story.

By the time the meeting was over I got a chance to meet the other alkies present in the group, and they welcomed me with open arms. I am so grateful. I cannot wait to attend my next meeting with these wonderful people.