Sobriety Navigator: Alcoholics Anonymous AA Meetings – What to expect?
The thought of being an alcoholic was bad enough. But as a woman, going to AA meetings was unimaginable. Are you kidding me? I can’t go hang out with skid row alcoholics the rest of my life! That is the impression most people have of AA in the beginning. What they don’t know is that only 4 to 6% of alcoholics live on skid row. The rest of us are a vital part of main stream society. We’re in our offices, our homes, the mall, the gym, our churches and synagogues, and school campuses. We are students, teachers, professionals, business people, clerks, and bus drivers. Anywhere and everywhere you go there are many functioning alcoholics in the crowd.
AA meetings are an environment of equality, understanding and compassion. No one judges you when you walk through the door at an AA meeting. No one will question, probe, or force you to fill out any forms or give any information about yourself. Your business is your own. You can go in, take a seat and just listen, if you wish.
In most instances, the volunteer chairperson will start the meeting by giving an overview of AA and how it works. Someone will read the 12 steps and maybe someone will read the 12 traditions. They will ask if anyone is new to AA and would you like to stand up and introduce yourself, using first name only, so that others may become acquainted with you? If you are not comfortable doing this, then don’t. Everything in AA is meant as a suggestion only. No one is going to question you if you don’t want to stand up. People won’t even know it is your first meeting anyway. You could be from another area and just popped in because it was convenient.
A basket is passed for volunteer donations. AA is self-supporting through its member contributions. There are no dues or fees. It does not cost to go to AA. If you want to put a small donation in the basket, fine. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. No one is going to judge you.
After the general readings and donations have taken place, either the chair or another member will go to the podium and give a general description of his or her personal experience. What it was like before the drinking started, what is was like after it began and where the drinking led them. When the realization they were Alcoholic hit, what brought them to AA. And what life is like now as a sober member of AA.
The speaker usually talks for approximately 15 minutes and then selects a topic of discussion. Everyone breaks into small groups and takes turns talking about the topic and how if pertains to their current situation. But talk only if you want to talk. No one will judge you if you don’t.
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of AA and all of the meetings. Placing principles before personalities is a basic founding principle. The only authority in AA is a loving higher power. What or who that high power is, is up to you.
There are a variety of meeting types. Tag meetings are just what they sound like. After the speaker finishes and defines the topic, he or she will tag someone to come up and share his thoughts and experiences. That dynamic goes on for the remainder of the meeting. If you are a shy person I would not suggest a tag meeting.
There are speaker meetings where one or two people will stand up and share their stories for about 30 minutes each. These are usually held on the weekends, and there is often a dance or social in conjunction.
There are gender stag meetings for women only and meetings for men only. These are great for discussing gender sensitive topics and experiences.
There are big book study meetings where members learn the history of AA and how it works in peoples’ lives.
There are closed meeting for AA members only, and there are open meeting where an AA member can invite a family member or friend to come, listen and observe.
There is a meeting to fit the needs and personality of anyone wanting to join AA.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.