Unless you’ve had experience with AA meetings in the past, you very well might be asking yourself what are AA meetings? Great question! In this post we’ll break it down for you and give you some of the basics.
First off, what is AA? AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous. And it is just that; an anonymous program for people who identify as alcoholic and have a desire to stop drinking. AA was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith “Dr. Bob”. Both had tried unsuccessfully for years to stop or limit their drinking and were running out of options. Bill began to understand that by talking about his problem with others who were similarly afflicted, not drinking one day at a time, helping others in need, and relying on a higher power, he could stay sober. Bill and Bob began working with groups in various cities and the fellowship grew as people who had otherwise had no help available to them were able to get and stay sober. In 1939, the first 100 members of AA published the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which most people now refer to as “The Big Book.” The Big Book became the fellowship’s guiding text and helped bring the program to a much wider audience. According to the AA World Services website, there are presently AA meetings in over 180 countries, with approximately 2 million members in over 118,000 groups. There is much more rich history in the AA story which is beyond the scope of this post. If you are interested in learning more we suggest checking out the book “AA Comes of Age” which you can find at most meetings that sell literature.
Now that you know a little bit of the history of AA meetings you probably want to know what happens at a meeting. AA meetings typically last for one hour. You might occasionally see longer formats. But one hour is pretty much the standard. It is suggested to arrive a little early to make sure you get a seat and also have a chance to talk with some of the other members. Each meeting will have a trusted servant to facilitate that particular meeting. There are different meeting formats and you will typically see either a discussion, speaker, or step meeting format. A discussion meeting is just that, the leader picks a topic and shares his/her experience on the subject and then members are given an opportunity to share as well. A speaker meeting can be one to four members sharing “their story” of recovery. Most speakers use the format: what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now (being sober). Some just share about what is presently going on in their lives and how it relates to their recovery. And lastly, a step meeting is a meeting in which the meeting leader shares one of the twelve steps of AA.
Some new members are a little shy to share in meetings. So don’t worry if that sounds like you. Even in meetings where the leader calls on people or shares go around the room, you can always pass. However, you might want to give sharing a try as our experience has been that it’s not really as scary as it seems and you get a lot of out it.
Another part of an AA meeting is the 7th Tradition. The 7th Tradition of AA states that “each group ought to be fully self-supporting declining outside contributions.” So, in the spirit of that statement, meetings will “pass the basket” where people can contribute to help keep the meeting going. Most meetings suggest a donation of one to two dollars. Funds go towards things like: paying rent for the meeting space, buying coffee that is provided free of charge, supporting local, regional and world AA services, and any other meeting related expenses. Contributing money is voluntary. Members who are having financial difficulty are simply encouraged to contribute what they can and keep coming back. Money should never be a deterrent to attending a meeting.
Here are some other things that you can expect at an AA meeting. First off, AA is a very friendly and welcoming friendship. AA members are encouraged to connect with one another and also help members who are just starting out. So, don’t be surprised if several people ask you for your number and share theirs with you as well. One word of caution is that it’s encouraged that new members attempt to keep the focus on their recovery and avoid romantic, business, or financial entanglements. So if any contact feels outside the spirit of recovery talk with a more experienced member about your concerns.
You can also expect to hear some great shares and often funny stories. Some of our most enjoyable moments in early recovery were the ability to connect with the experiences of other members and share a hearty laugh at some of our foibles.
Overall, if you’re thinking you might have a problem with drinking or just want to learn more about the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, we encourage you to check out a meeting. You’ll meet some great people and perhaps start an awesome new chapter of your life. And at the very least you’ll probably get some free coffee!