Preparing for Your First 12 Step Meeting
The 12-Step programs offered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) represent the foundation of most addiction recovery programs. An NA or AA meeting provides essential support from a community of people who have been through many of the same struggles as you. If you’ve never been to a twelve-step meeting before, learning what to expect can help you feel more comfortable and confident when attending your first meeting.
Common Concerns You Might Have About Your First Meeting
It’s normal to feel apprehensive or uncertain about any new experience. Perhaps you’re worried you’ll have to stand up and tell your story before you’re ready to share it. Maybe you’re afraid that if you do speak, people will judge you. As you prepare for your first meeting, just remember, you are not alone. Many first-time visitors have had the same concerns and discovered that there is nothing to worry about.
The Format of 12-Step Meetings
Most 12-Step meetings follow a similar format:
- Pre-Meeting: Many meetings offer coffee and cookies or other snacks for people to enjoy as they arrive. People will usually chat casually before the session officially opens. If you prefer to sit quietly, that’s perfectly fine as well.
- Opening: The meeting leader calls participants to their seats and has someone read 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.”
- Welcome: The leader welcomes everyone, summarizes the program, and has a few participants read materials that briefly explain AA or NA.
- Introductions: New attendees are asked to introduce themselves. You don’t have to give your name, but if you do, it should only be your first name.
- Sharing: Members are invited to share their personal experiences or to give their thoughts on the meeting’s theme if there is one. You are not required to say anything but may be invited to do so if you wish to share.
- Closing: The leader asks for a volunteer to run the next meeting and then asks everyone to stand and recite The Serenity Prayer again. Many groups like to end their session with everyone saying in unison, “Keep coming back. It works if you work it.”
- Post-meeting: Attendees often stay to chat informally with each other
What Are the 12 Steps?
Both AA and NA follow the 12 Steps to recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction. The 12 Steps are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood
- We made a fearless and thorough moral inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all or affairs.
Attending Different Types of AA and NA Meetings
You can find an AA or NA meeting just about anywhere in the world, almost any time you need one. You may want to try out many sessions to find ones where you feel most comfortable with the meeting’s style, location, schedule, and members. Many people find a meeting they regularly attend as their “home meeting” while visiting other arrangements they enjoy occasionally. You might find that particular meetings work better with your schedule on certain days or that you enjoy attending a specific discussion on the weekends versus weekdays, for example.
Although the raw format of meetings follows the outline above, AA and NA offer several slightly different kinds of sessions to meet different needs. Some of the different styles of arrangements include:
- Open Meetings: At open meetings, all are welcome, even those who don’t plan to openly participate. Family and friends can attend open meetings to understand the recovery experience better, and they can see first-hand that a loved one is working on their recovery.
- Closed Meetings: Only members may attend closed meetings, making it an even more private and supportive experience.
- Specific Groups: A meeting may be just for men or women, members from the LGBTQ community, or maybe otherwise customized. This selection creates a more comfortable space for members who wish to meet with people of shared backgrounds and experiences.
- Topic/Discussion Meetings: In these meetings, members look at a specific topic, such as forgiveness or change. This helps give the meeting focus and provides opportunities for attendees to explore a particular theme individually and as a group.
- Speaker Meetings: In a Speaker Meeting, a person who has overcome addiction offers inspiration and knowledge to motivate other members.
- Big Book Study: Both AA and NA groups sometimes conduct studies of The Big Book by AA founder Bill W. The Big Book’s content helps both alcoholics and addicts in their recovery.
- Question and Answer: In Question and Answer Meetings, members ask the group’s coordinator any question they like, including anonymous questions in writing. A Q&A session increases understanding for the members.
- Online Meetings: Both AA and NA offer meetings online for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and members’ convenience. Meetings are held in private chat rooms to protect anonymity.
Advice for Your First AA or NA Meeting
As you prepare for your first AA or NA meeting, it’s essential to put away any preconceived notions you may have. Here are a few things to remember:
- The members are individuals, just like you. They come from many backgrounds and will have many reasons for being in recovery.
- Members are at different stages of recovery. Some people may look haggard on their first day, while others – perhaps everyone else — will show no outward signs of addiction.
- You really will be anonymous. Members take protecting each other’s privacy very seriously.
- You will not be expected to follow a certain religion or any religion at all. “God” or the “Higher Power” can mean anything you call upon to support you in recovery.
- You won’t have to talk to anyone or share your story in front of everyone, but when you’re ready to make connections, your recovery could be more successful.
Congratulations are in order if you are preparing to attend your first NA or AA meeting. You’re taking a big step in your recovery. Twelve-step meetings will provide many of the tools you need to succeed. If you have more questions about recovery, addiction treatment, or anything else, don’t hesitate to contact the Source at 800-204-0418. We’re happy to provide information on making a 12-Step program part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.