It seems that meetings and meeting formats are the number one way people get sent from search engines to this blog. It would seem logical for me to write about that as a topic, but really it doesn’t interest me that much. It seems like a beginner question, or a question someone would have when they have not yet been to a meeting. That’s important, but I think the info they seek is easily found. So often when I try to write about something here, I’m powerfully drawn to “when I was drinking” and “when I first stopped drinking.” Those things are vital, vital. But they are not my purpose here. Please, anyone who is thinking of checking out a meeting, call your intergroup, get out your phone book, Google it, and get to a meeting. It costs nothing. Your picture will not end up in the paper. There is no obligation to ever return, and people will help you or leave you alone as you wish. You need not fear AA or AA people. Millions have found salvation this way, millions have not. Only one way to find out if you will be one of the lucky ones. Go to a meeting.
Oldtimer spin. I’ve lived for reasonable lengths of time in four distinct geographic areas: suburban New York, northern California, and eastern and western Pennsylvania. I’ve been to a few meetings in other places on vacation. I’ve come to have a favorite meeting format which is, surprise surprise, the format I was “brought up” with. Basically there is a minimum of reading and announcements at the start of the meeting, there is a speaker of 90 days or more of sobriety who tells his or her “story.” I’ve heard this also referred to as “qualifying,” telling how that person qualifies to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Generally it is the story of that person’s life with emphasis given to alcohol before and after recovery. In my favored format, this lasts from 15-30 minutes. There is then a coffee break and then a discussion. Again, in my favored format, the speaker gives everyone who shares (talks) some kind of feedback by making a short comment. The meeting ends with a prayer said while everyone holds hands. For anyone who hasn’t been to a meeting and who would be frightened away by such a thing, I’ll tell you that people can easily step aside and not hold hands, pray or not, or even just leave the room without a big show.
I helped start a group in my area that uses this format and that is my “home” group. It’s been going for about two and half years now, and I’m happy we did this. With a lead every week, we get to know all the people who attend on that level, which I like. I find the discussion that follows more enjoyable than a disembodied discussion because we know where the person is coming from. I really, really like feedback because sometimes without it, I get a sad or awful feeling that I and others are sort of speaking into a void. I like actually speaking to someone.
This is my favorite format, but I have experienced others and lived happy and sober with other formats for years at a time. Common variations are meetings where there is no “speaker,” just a topic brought up for discussion, and those where there is no discussion, just one or two speakers telling their stories. There are also beginners meetings where the emphasis is on the first three steps and early sobriety, and specialized meetings centered on the Big Book, the Twelve and Twelve or other literature. I consider it a testament to AA that it can exist over the entire world in different formats with one primary purpose.
Finally, some people become alarmed by something different. In lots of other areas of my life, that could be me. In AA I’ve come to like diversity and variety. I’m not worried about AA on a larger scale, if it can survive without more precise rules.
PS – I should mention for the possible Googlers that there are “open” and “closed” meetings. Open meetings are for anyone at all to attend for any reason. In my experience, it’s very rare that non alcoholics attend these, but they do at times. Closed meetings are limited to alcoholics or people who have a desire to stop drinking. That does include people who are questioning their drinking behavior and who think they may have a problem with alcohol. Anyone with questions should be easily able to direct those questions to an AA “hotline” for a discussion with a live person or to request that a person call back.