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What to Expect During Your First 12-Step Meeting

Thanks to Hollywood, when you think of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or any other type of 12-Step meeting, you may imagine sipping cheap coffee in a dank, smoke-filled basement while listening to harrowing tales of woe and loss. In truth, however, this dramatization is wildly inaccurate.

If you’re attending your first 12-Step meeting, it’s important to understand that nothing is expected of you. And to be honest, the coffee is usually pretty good.

Breaking the 12-Step Ice

Many first-timers are amazed by the cordial, relaxed atmosphere of 12-step meetings and the eclectic mix of people in attendance.

Firstly, you should know that are two types of “traditional” 12-Step support group meetings: open and closed. Open meetings are for anyone who would like to observe, while closed meetings are solely for individuals suffering from addiction who wish to recover.

Open or closed meetings may have:

  • A speaker who shares his/her specific story
  • A general discussion meeting
  • A study meeting where sections of the Big Book are reviewed
  • Beginner meetings are also held, typically involving an introductory Q&A format

Opening Up to the Group

Although the notion of “sharing” your personal story during a meeting is often depicted as the “basic function” of a 12-Step meeting, sharing your thoughts is only one aspect, and newcomers are not, by any means, required to speak – at all.

You are more than welcome to share, but 12-Step meetings are informal. They are not a forum for intrusive questions, meeting expectations or obligations. In fact, listening to others share – rather than feeling obligated to speak – is usually encouraged for first-timers. As the saying goes, “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.”

Obligations and Expectations

Many first-timers expect they’ll be bombarded with 12-step obligations during that first meeting. Will they ask you to sign up as a permanent member of the group? Are you supposed to give money to the group? Do you have to join one group and never leave?

Turns out you don’t need to worry about any of these things.

In truth, you are not obliged to pay dues, find a sponsor, provide your personal information or join anything. After meetings, the “regulars” tend to socialize for a while. If there’s anything you’d like to know about the group, it’s the perfect time to ask questions and get to know a few of the members.

Although 12-Step groups are similar in philosophy, the meetings themselves can greatly vary. It’s vital to find a 12-Step group where you’re comfortable and your recovery process is supported – these should be your sole expectations.

Additional Reading: Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationship

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