Joining an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be a daunting prospect, but we are here to help you prepare.
Acknowledging that you need help and support from people in the same situation is a big step, and you shouldn’t let your fear of the unknown destroy the progress you’ve made.
We promise the interactions aren’t as scary as they seem. In fact, you’ll end up finding friends, a genuine support network, and the power within yourself to handle your addiction.
Reading this article proves that you’re ready to break your drinking addiction, already. The hardest part is over, and with our guide below your first AA meeting won’t feel as scary.
What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
Alcoholics Anonymous is an open title for people who want to stop drinking. In order to join the membership, you simply need to acknowledge your struggles and try to avoid alcohol.
There is no signup, and no formalities. Instead, you’ll find an informal social group of people who want to help each other recover from their addiction.
Because the AA isn’t a formal organisation, people from different political beliefs and religious beliefs often create their own subculture within AA to find clarity.
This doesn’t mean that AA is religious, simply that some groups use worship as a helpful tool for sobriety.
As the AA isn’t an organisation, you won’t expect doctors or counsellors to guide you through the process either. Instead, you’ll find like-minded people leaning on each other for support.
Each group will have their own ideas of how to help each other. This means some might use the AA programme, while others may follow their own concepts.
We will discuss the AA programme in more detail below, but know that you don’t need to complete them to be part of the AA community. The programme is simply a guide that many people find helpful on their road to recovery.
How To Find A Meeting
No matter where you are in the world, you can use the Alcoholics Anonymous website to find a meeting near you. When you put in your country or post code, you’ll be shown a list of local AA resources.
These resources will contain websites, phone numbers and email addresses to help you find a local meeting spot.
The website doesn’t show the meetings directly, as some of the groups are closed to newcomers. Instead, when you contact one of the resources, a person can listen to your needs and direct you to the best group currently available.
They may ask you if you require a religious element, the days you are available, and if you want a small or large group to talk to.
In the UK specifically, you can use this website which narrows down the search and includes accessibility information such as British Sign Language and Wheelchair availability.
When you enter your local area, you’ll be shown opening times, duration, ability to bring friends or family, and the meeting guidelines to adhere to. You will also find addresses, phone numbers and directions.
Where Do Meetings Happen?
There are three types of meetings – online, in person and on the phone. Each offers its own level of support and interaction. We will detail each type, so you can figure out which one fits your needs best.
Online And Telephone Meetings
Telephone meetings are rare, as most remote meetings are now completed through online connection calls such as Zoom.
If you have the option of a telephone meeting in your area, you can expect a one-to-one meeting with a knowledgeable individual who can guide you through recovery on a personal level.
Online meetings, however, have skyrocketed since the Covid pandemic. The UK’s national Alcoholics Anonymous helpline received an increase in online meeting requests by 300%.
Online meetings work similarly to in-person meetings. You can find them by using a search engine and typing in “Online AA Meetings in XXX”.
You will normally be sent a Zoom meeting code and password, along with a time to join the chat.
In-person meetings can occur in any location, but the most common are listed below. Depending on the variety of AA meetings in your area, you may be able to choose between each of the types below.
However, if you live in a secluded area, the variety may be limited.
Office building meetings are normally held by blue-collar professionals in a city location. They are not used by the company holding the building, or specifically for the people working in that building.
This is because the group is supposed to be anonymous. If you know who your group is prior to the meeting, you may end up spreading their sensitive information without their blessing.
Instead, these rooms are normally rented out for anyone to use, making them efficient for local support groups but unaffiliated with the office buildings themselves.
Churches and religious buildings often allow the use of their rooms to help those in need.
Meetings held in churches are often connected to the religion in question, which means you can expect worship, religious texts, and religious ideologies as part of the recovery experience.
If you are part of a religion, you may find this spiritual connection helpful. If you aren’t part of a religion, the clash of cultures may leave you feeling disconnected from the group.
Treatment centres are medical areas which help individuals through tough areas in their life. If you were in a car accident and lost the ability to walk, you may go to a treatment centre to strengthen your legs.
These centres are often catered to the needs of the people, which means they have rooms available to help those with common local issues.
If you have an AA meeting in a treatment centre, you may expect a medical professional to assist the meeting and offer clinical or psychological support.
This isn’t guaranteed, however, the likelihood of a volunteer medical professional is higher.
Local community centres often act like office buildings, but they are much larger. Support groups often rent out the space for large meetings, so those who cannot reach the city still have a place to congregate.
Buildings Dedicated To Renting To Recovery Groups, Such As Clubhouses
Lastly, some buildings are dedicated to recovery groups. They are normally called clubhouses and allow members to walk in and talk to people whenever they feel like reconnecting.
This allows people who don’t work 9-5 to still find a group to support them.
You can also wander into the building during a bad day, instead of waiting for your normal meeting time. This ability to find an open safe place can help a recovering addict receive the support they need before they relapse.
The Different Types Of AA Meetings
Generally speaking, there are two types of meetings – open and closed. Each has its own method of helping, and you may need to experience both before settling on either.
Open meetings are designed to let anyone attend. You don’t need to be an alcoholic or even an addict to join in on the discussion. This means that more people are likely to show up, creating a crowd of people to talk to.
In this crowd, you may find AA members, family and friends of AA members, people hoping to help those not ready to join meanings, and researchers.
The point of an AA meeting isn’t to become part of a study. This means that many researchers are not permitted to join opening meetings. However, if permission is granted, these observers are not allowed to participate.
Open meetings are particularly helpful for alcoholics who need a friend or family member to help them through their recovery.
It can also help these nonalcoholics find solace with other people supporting their suffering loved ones.
Closed meetings are the opposite of opening meetings. They are designed for AA members only.
These meetings are great for those who want a tight-knit community that truly understands their struggles, and don’t want the pressure of bringing family to the event.
Although both are still anonymous, the closed meeting will feel more secure which can allow you to speak more openly about the problem or worries you are facing.
What Are The 12 Steps Of AA?
The Alcoholics Anonymous programme is also known as the “12 Steps”. Not every AA meeting will involve following these 12 steps, as depending on your situation you may not find it helpful towards your recovery.
Before you start, you need to be aware that the 12 steps towards recovery include spiritual connection.
This could mean a connection to God, a belief in the programme, a connection between yourself and the universe or any other spiritual belief you may follow.
Because the 12 steps include religious texts it has been modified over the years to include more than just the Christian faith. Below you will find the original steps along with the modern interpretation.
Step 1 – Honesty
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The first step is to admit to yourself that you need help. That you cannot manage your life due to your connection to alcohol.
This step often takes a long time to complete, but if you are looking for AA classes, then you may have already completed this process.
Step 2 – Faith
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Here is where your spirituality comes in. This greater power could be God, or it could be the power of family knitted together to create a sense of safety and sanity.
It could be the knowledge that the universe is expansive and our problems are minuscule in comparison. Or it could be the idea that positive energy and positive thought can create real positive change in your life.
Putting your faith into something outside of yourself can help you refocus on your life. It can give you a goal, lessen your stress or help you see clearly. This clarity can even help you see the destruction you are causing.
Many people put their faith into the 12 steps themselves. The idea that believing in the steps will help you complete them.
Whatever method allows you to see the world clearly is the method you should put faith in.
Step 3 – Surrender
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood Him.”
In this step, you should surrender yourself to the 12-step programme and your higher power.
The idea is to put your all into this process and allow it to truly help you recover. If you are only half surrendered, you can easily tell yourself “it’s just one drink”. Of course, we all know that it’s never just one drink.
Giving yourself completely to the cause will help you maintain the will power needed for sobriety.
Step 4 – Soul Searching
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
During step 4, you need to evaluate who you are. This means acknowledging your problems and creating a clear picture of the person you’ve become.
This includes how you have treated your loved ones, how you are treating yourself, and what you look like to the outside world.
It’s considered “fearless” because self-discovery involves seeinge aspects of yourself that you don’t like.
But without breaking down your “moral inventory”, you will never understand who you are and how your actions are affecting others.
Step 5 – Integrity
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Now you’ve learned how you have hurt other people and the negative moral inventory you have created, you need to admit it to someone.
If you keep this information to yourself it can cause you to spiral into self-hate, which in turn can lead to more alcohol abuse.
To prevent this negative spiral, you need to admit to someone what you’ve done and show them who you truly are.
Saying it out loud will make it more tangible, but it will also help that person understand how to help you and how your mind is processing the world around it.
Step 6 – Acceptance
“We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
When you become aware of your flaws and show them to someone else, it makes these flaws more tangible. You will be able to notice them as they come forward during your day-to-day life.
During this period you need to accept that this is how you act, but it isn’t who you are.
Accepting this part of yourself is another way to acknowledge your flaws. And once they are accepted you can let them go.
As an example, you may notice in step 4 that you become angry when your children are screaming and laughing.
After doing some soul searching, you realise that this anger is actually anxiousness, but that doesn’t stop you from scaring your children.
After admitting this to your partner, they can help you find ways to de-stress while your children are playing.
In step 6, you can accept that your children’s screams of joy are normal and shouldn’t be halted. You can also accept that this noise makes you anxious.
With this acceptance, you can disconnect your negative feelings from your children, and instead, recognise that you need to leave the room and avoid the noise.
From this example, the anxious feeling hasn’t been removed, instead, it has been understood, and treated appropriately.
Going back to the original concept, you are acknowledging your flaws, accepting them, and finding a way to deal with them appropriately.
Step 7 – Humility
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Step 7 is about recognising that you cannot “fix” every shortcoming you may have. You may ask for a spiritual power to handle this shortcoming for you, but recognising you are not perfect is the aim.
Step 8 – Willingness
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
This step might seem like a short one, but it can take some time to realise who you have harmed and how you may have affected them. Make a list of who these people might be and how you might correct your mistakes.
Step 9 – Forgiveness
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
From your current journey, you should be aware of how you act, how you could hurt others, and who you may have harmed. Now it’s time to make amends. You should only approach people who will not be harmed by further contact.
During this time you need to acknowledge what you did wrong, produce an act to mend this wrongness, and ask for forgiveness. You may not be granted forgiveness, and that’s okay.
The aim is to show the person that you understand why you were in the wrong, and hope that this knowledge gives them comfort.
Step 10 – Maintenance
“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
To ensure you don’t spiral into negative habits again, you need to continue noting when you have made mistakes and continue to ask for forgiveness. Maintaining the previous 9 steps will help you stay on course.
Step 11 – Meditation
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out”
In this step, the aim is to reconnect to your spiritual goals in life. This could mean making contact with your deity, reminding yourself about your place in the world, or stilling your mind through meditation.
Whenever clarity you found in step 2, should be reconnected with here and kept in the forefront of your mind.
Step 12 – Service
“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
The last step in your recovery is to help others achieve their own success in the programme. The idea is to see how others are coping with their struggles to give you insight into your own.
And in turn, your knowledge about the process can help them recover quicker.
Common Meeting Formats
Generally speaking, there are 4 types of meeting formats. Knowing which is best for you often means trying them all out until something sticks.
There is normally a leader in a discussion group. They direct the meetings and select the topic of discourse for the rest to follow.
It’s normally performed in a group setting where everyone sits in a circle and openly communicates their thoughts on a topic.
Speaker meetings also follow a topic, but instead of everyone discussing in small groups, pre-agreed persons will stand in front of an audience and tell their story.
These people are normally pre-approved to ensure their story fits inside the group guidelines.
As the people in the meeting are likely to suffer from mental health issues along with alcohol addiction, it would not be helpful to discuss triggering topics without first ensuring that the conversation piece is actually helpful.
Beginners meetings are designed to gently introduce new members. They discuss which format you might prefer, and help you begin the first 3 steps in the 12-step programme.
These sessions help you open up about your situation, and help you feel comfortable in this new environment.
Step, Tradition Or Big Book
The last meeting type will follow a programme. The 12-step programme is the most common, but there are two other programmes that your group may follow. These are the Big Books and Tradition.
The Big Book is a self-help guide for people who need detailed guidance through literature. In the meetings, the leader may discuss extracts from the book or ask you to read chapters to talk about in the next meeting.
Tradition or 12 Traditions is similar to the 12 steps but removes the ladder in favour of the road. The 12 steps require you to accomplish one step before moving on to the next.
The 12 traditions, however, ask you to remember and live by 12 rules.
The rules are centred around anonymity, responsibility, and Christianity.
What Happens At Meetings?
The meetings can include a range of activities, but it often starts the same way. You can expect the meeting to begin with a reading from AA literature, often the Big Book.
Then the leader may ask you to discuss this reading or share your thoughts on the topic of the day. After that, most members will share a story of their life with the group that touches on this topic.
The idea is to channel your thoughts and feelings toward people who understand your struggle.
Some meetings will also include activities for adults to enjoy that don’t surround alcohol. This can help you stay sober while away from the group.
What Happens After The Meeting?
After the meeting, many people will join together for a more social interaction away from the topic of alcoholism.
Others will leave without another word. If you want to be social with this group of people, you can hang around and introduce yourself.
Advice For Your First Meeting
The first thing you should remember is that everyone has been in your shoes at some point. Everyone there has had a “first day”, and they would have felt insecure or out of place before they let their guard down.
Focus On The Similarities
To really connect to the stories you listen to, you need to focus on your similarities. Your natural reaction will be to reject these members, thinking you are nothing like them.
But until you can accept your similarities you won’t be able to heal.
Try Sharing Openly When You’re Ready
You might not be ready until weeks or months have passed, but when you are, sharing your story will help you digest what you have done and what has been done to you.
This, in turn, can help you accept your situation and prepare yourself for healing.
Bring A Buddy At First
If you struggle to focus when stressed, bring a trusted friend to help settle your nerves. They will be welcome in open meetings and can help you discuss the information you receive.
To help assimilate yourself quickly, introduce yourself to the leader and any friendly-looking members. This can help you form bonds and relax in the new environment.
Be An Active Listener
While everyone is talking, be an active listener. This means focusing on people’s stories. This can help you see the connection between you and them, while also supporting them in their time of need.
Find The Best AA Group For You
It’s okay to turn down an AA group if they don’t fit your needs. It could take multiple attempts to find the right collective, but once you do you’ll feel supported and understood.
Remember There’s A First Time For Everyone
As you sit there, looking at everyone speaking so confidently, remember that they were nervous too once. It will take time to feel comfortable with the people you currently consider strangers, but soon you will feel confident like them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens If I Meet People I Know In AA?
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings take their name from the desire to stay anonymous. If you have joined one of these meetings, this is likely your desire too. Anyone already in your meeting will also be hoping to stay anonymous.
If you know someone in the meeting, you should still respect the anonymous action. If you are worried they cannot keep your anonymity, then move on to another group.
If I Go To An AA Meeting, Does That Commit Me To Anything?
In the desire to keep the AA anonymous, no files or records are kept. You are a member of the AA if you want to stop drinking and need help doing so, there is no paywall or membership card. This means there is also no commitment.
How Can This Help Me With My Drinking Problem?
The best way to overcome something is to talk to people in the same situation as you. Every member of the AA will have a different story and a different technique to reach sobriety.
Listening to everyone’s tales can help you find a solution that fits your mentality and lifestyle.
Why Do AAs Keep On Going To Meetings After They Are Cured?
You can never be cured of alcoholism, all you can do is maintain your sobriety and recognise when you are spiralling. People keep going to AA meetings, even after years of being sober, to help them stay on top of their addiction.
Is AA A Religious Organisation?
The AA isn’t a religious organisation, however, there is a heavy Christian association due to the original 12 Step programme.
You don’t need to be a Christian or part of any religion to join the AA, however, you may wish to ask about the common beliefs in a group before attending.
The idea of a greater power doesn’t have to be God or the universe, it could be family, justice or anything that helps you see clearly.
Can I Bring My Family To An AA Meeting?
If a meeting is labelled as “open” it means that anyone can join. If you’re unsure, talk to the event organiser or the leader and ask if your family member can join in.
Some groups allow family members on specific days or will make special arrangements for new members. Never be afraid to ask.
Knowing you need help is the first step to recovery. Getting the courage to attend an AA meeting is the second.
It might seem daunting to talk to strangers about your experiences, but remember that they have all been in your situation at some point. Getting their guidance and support can help lift you out of your downward spiral.