Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people around the world make a successful recovery from alcoholism, but taking that first step can be a daunting prospect. Here we look at some of the key things you need to know about your first AA meeting.
If you are preparing for your first AA meeting, you have already taken a crucial first step on the road to sobriety. Not only does it mean that you are making a very real effort to put drinking behind you, it shows that you have accepted that you need some help and support on your path to alcohol addiction recovery.
It is natural that you will be nervous both before and during your first meeting, but rest assured you are heading in the right direction. AA meetings are designed to be supportive as you share your experiences with people who all have one essential thing in common: the desire to stop drinking.
While many AA veterans insist that you have to attend an AA meeting to really understand what it is like, it is still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the character and core purpose of the AA beforehand. There are many common misconceptions about the organization, so be sure to get the facts about what AA does and take a look at the 12 Steps before you go.
Now that you have the facts, it is time to find the right meeting for you. Most cities, including Singapore, will have number of options in terms of time and location, while there are also distinct types of meetings. For beginners, open meetings (meetings open to anyone, alcoholic or not) are the best option, though you may later prefer to opt for closed meetings, or men- or women-only meetings. And remember not all AA meetings happen in dusty basements, they are often held in cafes, restaurants, parks and other more relaxing environments. Check the Singapore AA website for a suitable meeting near you.
Every AA Meeting Has a Set Structure
AA meetings are not free for all discussions; they follow a pretty rigid structure. Every meeting starts on time and takes no more than one hour. Arrive a little early to help you get your bearings. This can be an intimidating time as you come face to face with a group of strangers. Be sure to introduce yourself as a newcomer, and remember that they have all been in your situation and are there to offer mutual support.
While most of us are familiar with the sharing aspect of AA meetings from film and TV, this part of the meeting is bookended by a set format that includes an introduction, readings and conclusion. These will be unfamiliar at first, but rest assured that active participation in these, or any aspect of the meeting, is entirely voluntary. It is okay just to sit and observe, especially at the beginning.
You Are Encouraged to Share, But You Do Not Have To
While the sharing portion of the meeting is perhaps the most therapeutic, it can also be the most difficult. For many first-timers the thought of bearing their soul in front of a bunch of strangers can be terrifying. The good news is that you are under no obligation to so. Many people attend a number of meetings before they feel they are ready to share.
If you do feel that would like to open up immediately, there are a few basic rules to follow. Chief among these is that there is no ‘cross talk’ allowed. ‘Cross talk’ has been defined as “interrupting someone while they are speaking or giving direct advice to someone in a meeting.” If you are unsure of the nuances of this, it is best to wait until you are invited speak. In general, it is advised to keep what you share reasonably brief (under three minutes), avoid opinions and try to be empathetic and supportive towards others.
Learn from Others’ Experiences
AA members come from all walks of life and each has their own story to tell. It is important to remember that some of these stories may be harrowing. Alcoholism often leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, so stories of failed relationships, homelessness, bankruptcy and even suicide attempts are not uncommon.
But it is not all doom and gloom. With each of these stories comes an undercurrent of positivity and the realisation that the person is only sharing these experience because they have taken steps to put their addiction behind them and repair their life. If they can, so can you. Keep an open mind as you witness others’ brutal honestly and vulnerability. The underlying sense of hope and support will inevitably win through.
What Happens at AA Stays at AA
Anonymity is a key tradition of AA membership. While intimate details are often shared at AA meetings and groups can form close bonds over time, some members will not reveal their full names and some will go their separate ways after meetings. The opportunity to share intimate details with people who do not know you in your day-to-day life is key to the success of AA, and one that should be respected. This does not mean you have to close yourself off entirely from your group. Some may be keen to share phone numbers and members often have fellow AA members act as ‘sponsors’ who they can call on for support outside of meetings. Nevertheless, keeping a healthy distance can be a good idea.
’Keep Coming Back’
Many AA meetings end with the words “Keep coming back, it works if you work it,” and for good reason. Regular attendance, especially in the early days, is seen a key part of successful recovery.
If you are lucky, you will immediately click with your AA group and be eager to return for your next meeting. Or, it may have been an uncomfortable or challenging experience. These feelings are common and entirely understandable. It often takes a few meetings to settle in and get the most out of what AA has to offer. Every AA group is different, so if you continue to feel uncomfortable in one, you can always try another. Stick with it, and you will find the right AA meeting for you.
Get Help to Get Sober
If you would like help and support in your early days of sobriety, The Cabin Singapore’s certified therapists provide effective and confidential treatment for alcohol addiction. Contact us today to find out how we can help.