Your First AA Meeting: How to Prepare & What to Expect
Attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for the first time can feel nerve-wracking , but establishing a consistent source of support and strong sense of community is a crucial step towards recovery for those struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder.
What you can expect at your first AA meeting...
AA fosters a welcoming and non-judgmental community where attendees recognize the courage it takes to attend their first meeting and are eager to assist newcomers. These gatherings provide a safe space for sharing personal experiences without unsolicited advice or criticism. Members often offer support, encouragement, and guidance drawn from their own journeys, all without pressuring newcomers to share their life stories or make immediate decisions regarding their recovery, allowing individuals the time to decide how they wish to proceed.
Suggestions to help you prepare for your first AA meeting...
Research and understand AA online first
Before attending a meeting, it can be helpful to learn about AA's principles, the 12 Steps, and the group's mission. They have tons of material on their website, aa.org. This can give a better understanding of what to expect.
Choose a meeting that suits your needs and comfort level
There are different types of AA meetings, including open (where anyone can attend) and closed (for those with a desire to stop drinking), 12-step focused, big-book study, and speaker focused (someone shares a personal story of recovery).
There are also specialized AA meetings designed to cater to specific demographics or groups within the broader recovery community (such as LBGTQ, young adults, seniors, women, and men). These meetings can provide a more comfortable and supportive environment for individuals who share common experiences, backgrounds, or interests.
Attend with a friend or family member
If possible, bring a supportive friend or family member with you to the first meeting. Having someone you trust by your side can reduce anxiety.
Arriving on time allows you to get a feel for the meeting's structure and to meet others before the meeting begins. You may also be able to chat with someone more experienced and get guidance. Some find it helpful to scope out the location and parking situation before the first meeting so at least those nerves are already handled.
AA is founded on the principle of anonymity. Participants are encouraged to respect one another's privacy by not disclosing what is shared during meetings outside of them. Members will not ask for personal information or details about your background, and you are encouraged to use only your first name. This anonymity creates a safe space for individuals to share their experiences.
Listen actively. Participate at your own pace.
While sharing your own experiences and feelings can be beneficial, you don't need to do so at your first meeting if you're not comfortable. Instead, listen to others' experiences, which can be both inspiring and reassuring. Some meetings may ask if there are newcomers present, and you can choose to introduce yourself or pass. You can choose to simply listen and learn from others.
Approach the meeting with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others who have been through similar struggles. Remember, you don't have to agree with or adopt everything you hear; take what is helpful for you and leave the rest.
Keep coming back
AA encourages regular attendance to build a sense of community and support. Commit to attending several meetings to give it a fair chance.
Find a sponsor
You may hear about the importance of finding a sponsor, a more experienced member who can provide one-on-one support and guidance in your recovery journey. This is something to consider as you continue attending meetings, once your feel comfortable.
Be patient with yourself
Recovery is a journey, and it's okay to have ups and downs. Don't be too hard on yourself if you find the process challenging.
Explore different meetings
If you don't feel a connection with the first group you attend, don't be discouraged. Different meetings have different dynamics, so it's a good idea to explore different meetings to find one that feels most comfortable and beneficial for you. The most important thing to expect is understanding, support, and a commitment to helping you on your journey to recovery.
One rule of thumb is to attend a particular group meeting at least 3 times before deciding whether or not to go a different direction.
Remember that AA is a supportive and non-judgmental community that can be instrumental in helping people overcome Alcohol Use Disorder. By following these tips and approaching your first meeting with an open heart and mind, you can increase your comfort and benefit from the experience.