If you have never gone to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, it can be a little scary at first. You don't know what to expect because it is a new experience. You may have heard a lot of negative things about meetings from other using addicts. Some people are court ordered to go to meetings and may feel negatively about them because they resent being forced to go. Remember that everyone in AA and NA had to walk into their first meeting at some point so you are not alone in feeling scared. People who go to meetings regularly are aware of this and often try to be very welcoming when they see someone new enter a meeting.
Where Do Meetings Occur and How Do I Find One?
Many meetings take place in church basements, treatment facilities, hospitals and recovery clubs. You can find a list of meetings online at the Alcoholics Anonymous website and the Narcotics Anonymous website. In addition, most counties have a drug and alcohol commission to help people in their county locate treatment. You can find the number for your local drug and alcohol commission in your phone book or online. They often have local meeting lists available in their offices. Any local treatment facilities would probably provide you with a free local list of meetings too.
Once you find your first meeting, you will be able to get a list of other meetings there. The meeting list will let you know the name of the meetings, time and place of the meetings and what kind of meetings are available in your area. The best way to find good meetings is to ask people in recovery who go to meetings. They can help you find the kind of meeting you want to go to. For example, there are meetings just for people who are new to AA and NA.
What Are the Different Types of Meetings?
- Discussion meetings - These meetings usually are focused on a particular topic or two or three topics which can be chosen by the chairperson of the meeting or the group itself. Group members take turns talking one at a time about the topic that is chosen.
- Speaker meetings - These meetings have a speaker who is a member of AA or NA. The speaker tells their story of alcoholism/addiction and how they found recovery. These meetings can be very inspiring because you can learn that you are not alone and recovery is possible.
- Beginner meetings - These meetings are for people who are new to AA/NA and want to learn more about the program.
- 12 Step and 12 Tradition study - These meetings help you to learn more about the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Members usually read a chapter from the book and then discuss it.
- Big Book or Basic Text meetings - These meetings are about studying the Big Book which is the main text of AA and the Basic Text which is the main book of NA.
- Men's and women's meetings - These meetings are specifically designed for either men or women. These are great meetings to meet more members of your own gender, which is important for finding a sponsor.
- Candlelight meetings - These meetings often take place in the evening and are lit by candles. It can be a different and fun change from regular meetings.
- Open meetings - These meetings are open to anyone. Family and friends of addicts can attend as well as addiction professionals who want to learn more about the program of AA/NA.
- Closed meetings - These meetings are only for people who have an alcohol or drug problem.
What Happens During the Meeting?
The Beginning of the Meeting
Some meetings vary the order of the format, some are more formal or more laid back but the following is generally what happens at most meetings.
Opening the Meeting
The chairperson of the meeting will open the meeting usually by pounding on the table and announcing the meeting is starting. Everyone who isn't already seated takes a seat. Seating is sometimes in a circle or around a square or rectangle table. However, large meetings can have seats throughout the room. People are often chatting before the meeting but they get quiet when the meeting starts.
The Serenity Prayer
The chairperson asks everyone to help him/her begin the meeting with the Serenity Prayer. Don't worry if you don't know it. You will learn it in time. Only the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer are spoken.
This is the Serenity Prayer:
- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
The chairperson will ask for the readings. Somewhere in the meeting room will be a table of free pamphlets and books for purchase. You can find a booklet there which includes all the readings. The chairperson will either ask people to do the readings before the meeting starts or sometimes they are placed around the room and anyone sitting by one can choose to read.
You never have to read if you feel uncomfortable with it. If you see a reading at the seat you chose, you can ask someone else to read it or move to another seat. Even if you are asked, no one will be offended if you say you would rather not read.
The readings are either read from the person's seat or sometimes from a podium. Before each person reads, they announce their name and that they are an alcoholic or addict. It is customary to say you are an alcoholic at AA meetings and an addict at NA meetings. However, you can say you are an alcoholic and an addict or cross-addicted. The readings can vary somewhat from meeting to meeting and are a little different at AA and NA meetings but they both read the 12 steps and 12 Traditions. NA changes "alcohol" to "addiction" in their readings.
There may be a time during the meeting for announcements, which may include anniversary meetings, new meetings, meetings needing home group members or other business related to AA or NA. The group may be asked if they have any announcements related to AA or NA.
The chairperson will ask if there is anyone from out of town or new to the meeting. The chairperson may say "this is not to embarrass you but to help us get to know you better." If you are a newcomer or haven't been to this particular meeting before, feel free to stand up, say your name and that you are new. Everyone will welcome you and tell you to "keep coming back."
Talking about Cravings
There will also be a point during the meeting when the chairperson will ask if anyone feels like drinking/using. Some people will announce themselves (name and I'm an alcoholic/addict) and admit that they are feeling like drinking or using drugs. We call this "telling on yourself." People often do this because talking about cravings helps you to not follow through and actually drink or use drugs.
Talking about it also lets group members know you may need more support. They may come up and offer their phone numbers to someone in need. Or pass around paper for people to write down their phone numbers for a newcomer. The chairperson also may say that if you didn't feel comfortable talking about it with the group, get with someone after the meeting to talk.
Don't be afraid to approach someone after the meeting and tell them you feel like drinking or using drugs and need more help. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. You have to speak up and ask for additional help to get it.
What is clean time and why is it important?
AA/NA meetings celebrate clean time at every meeting by giving out coins or keychains. There are different colors for different months and years of sober or clean time. The first coin/keychain is for "24 hours sober/clean or the desire to start a new way of life."
Anyone can get this coin/keychain. If you are a newcomer, I recommend getting your first coin/keychain. You can expect lots of applause, people welcoming you, telling you to "keep coming back," shaking your hand or hugging you. This will help you feel welcome and at home in the meetings. It is also meant to help you realize that you have made great progress just by attending a meeting.
The purpose of clean time is not to make people feel that some members have more seniority but to let everyone know that recovery is possible. It is meant to inspire newcomers and let people know that you can reach multiple years of clean time. Some meetings ask anyone with more than a year clean to stand up. This is also to show that recovery is attainable.
The Middle of the Meeting
The middle of the meeting varies whether it is a discussion meeting, a book meeting or a speaker meeting.
- For discussion meetings, some go around the room to give everyone a chance to speak. You can introduce yourself and say "I pass." No one will make you share. People introduce themselves by saying "I'm (Your Name) and I'm an alcoholic/addict" or a variation of this.
- At other meetings, anyone can choose to speak after the meeting is opened to discussion. Each person usually speaks for about 3 to 5 minutes so everyone has a chance to speak. When someone finishes speaking, they may say, "with that I pass." Members respond with "thank you" or "thank you for sharing." There is no crosstalk during the meeting. One person speaks at a time.
- Book or 12 Step/12 Tradition meetings read from the chosen book or read a Step/Tradition and may discuss the reading at the end.
- Speaker meetings have a speaker who tells their story of alcoholism or addiction and how they found recovery.
The End of the Meeting
Most meetings close with members forming a circle and reciting The Lord's Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. AA meetings usually join hands and say the Lord's Prayer while NA meetings put their arms around each other and say the Serenity Prayer.
Some Tips for Meetings
- The meeting will usually begin exactly on time.
- Cross talk is not acceptable.
- You can be asked to leave if you disrupt the meeting with cross talk, cell phones, inappropriate behavior, etc.
- Please turn your cell phone off during the meeting.
- It is acceptable to bring children to most meetings but you may need to bring something for them to do. If they are not quiet, you may want to remove them from the meeting so as to not disrupt the meeting. Some meetings have child care available during the meeting so ask around if you need to bring your children. You may be able to find a group member who will watch them so you can get the most out of the meeting.
- AA members usually shake hands more often while NA members hug more.
- Most meetings are non-smoking but may have a section for smokers.
- Try to come early and stay late to meetings when you can. What happens before and after the meeting can be as important as the meeting itself. This is a time to socialize, get support, help others, get phone numbers or find a sponsor.
- About the author Anna Deeds:
- I am a recovering addict and a Licensed Professional Counselor. I have over 7 years clean from all substances and more than 10 years from illicit drugs. I work as an addiction counselor and have more than 5 years experience counseling addicts.
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I attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting last week and I must admit that it has affected me. I never knew that many people suffer from addiction. And to think most of the other attendees looked normal. Judging by how many of them look, I would not have known that they suffer from addiction if I had not seen them in the meeting! Yet I saw them in the meeting. I heard their stories. I somehow shared in their suffering and in the suffering of their loved ones. The session was moving even though it was just the sharing of stories and struggles.
I realized that people who attend such meetings are simply living life just like everybody else. They were just fighting for control as does every other human in existence. One thing that struck me during that meeting was the nonjudgmental attitude. Even though some people there have done many bad things related to their addiction, the atmosphere of acceptance was there. It seemed that they just want to help each other recover. If only the world were such an accepting place. I think it might have something to do with how they treated addiction.
They treated it as if it were just a disease like the common colds or cancer. You are not at fault if you have a disease, but you can make a difference by controlling it. Another thing that touched me during the meeting was that they claimed that there was no cure to their addiction. There was someone there who has not touched drugs for years, but that person still thinks to be sick. How is it possible when no drug has touched that person’s body for many years? Will there be a time when the attendees of the meeting would graduate from their addiction?
Yet seeing them in that meeting made me realize that the people who are recently suffering from addiction also need the support and guidance of those who have managed to control their addiction for a long time. This gives them encouragement to face their everyday challenges. Also, I am amazed by the honesty that people in the meeting have even to visitors. They admit that they have addiction, and sometimes even how this addiction has affected them and their loved ones. They admit that they have a problem, and I think that it helps them in finding solutions to them. They also place trust in a higher power as they see that to be.
Thus it does not matter what religion or belief they follow, they submit that only with the help of that power can they overcome their addiction. I do not know what religion the members in the meeting where but I am sure that there were several beliefs represented there. The meeting was not what I had expected. I expected to see weak people there, but I was wrong. Instead I saw some of the strongest people I’ve ever met joining that group. The meeting changed much of my perception to addiction and support groups. I want to learn more from their experiences and the source of their strength. I may attend another meeting again soon!
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