People often arrive at this blog by searching for something having to do with AA meetings and meeting formats. That isn’t what this blog is about. I advise anyone who is curious for any reason to call AA near them and actually go to a meeting. Whether the interest is in alcohol or just meetings in general, going to an AA meeting is something everyone should experience. I am no authority and not much of a resource, but I’ll list what I know and what I think is important. My experience is limited to AA meetings in the US.
- open and closed – Meetings are designated as open or closed. Open meetings are open to anyone who wants to go for any reason, including wanting to help or accompany a family member or friend, wanting help with a problem other than alcohol, as research, for school, or just to see. Closed meetings are limited to those who have a desire to stop drinking. This includes people who are sent by the court to AA (usually, but not always) and people who think they may have a problem but are unsure. Many members of AA do not have a preference for open or closed meetings, but for some, it’s an important aspect of recovery that closed meetings are limited to people who are all there for the same reason. That way, in case they should run into someone they know, they are assured that person also is an alcoholic. If you end up at a closed meeting by mistake, they will usually read something that indicates you’re in the wrong place, and they may ask you to leave. They will almost assuredly point you in the direction of an open meeting in the area.
- women’s, men’s, young people’s, gay – These groups are self explanatory. In every meeting of this sort that I have attended, the group has made it clear that although they are a special population, all AAs are welcome to attend. If you find yourself at a specialty meeting that doesn’t fit your demographic, they will probably invite you to stay, and will point you in the direction of more appropriate groups.
- beginners meetings – Excellent for the beginner! Usually everyone is welcome to attend these meetings, but preference for topics and for time to talk will be given to the newer people. A few of these meetings may exclude people who have a certain amount of sobriety and so aren’t considered to be new.
- step meetings, Big Book meeting, other literature meetings – These usually consist of a reading of some part of one of the books of AA literature, followed by a discussion of what was read. At times people read an entire step or section before the discussion. At other meetings someone will read a paragraph or two and then people will discuss that if they like.
The general format of most meetings consists of a call to begin the meeting followed by a reading of the “Preamble.” There are then announcements involving happenings within the group and involving other groups. There are usually more readings, and these vary greatly as to their content and length. The person who is chairing the meeting will often ask if there is anyone new to AA or new to that meeting who would like to say hello. What is expected is that the person will say something along the lines of their name and what brings them to that meeting. It is not mandated that a new person do this. It is acceptable to stay quiet at that point.
Depending on the what type of meeting it is, there will be a person who tells his or her story, some reading, and/or a topic will be brought up for discussion. People usually then speak to the topic for one, two or three minutes, either in turn or by volunteering to speak by raising a hand or just chiming in. It is acceptable to pass when called upon. No one is forced to say anything. Most meetings end with people holding hands and saying a prayer, usually The Lord’s Prayer or The Serenity Prayer. You may join in. You may just hold hands and not pray. You may step outside of the circle and not hold hands, and pray or not, as you prefer.
Whenever you go to an AA meeting, it is vital to understand that it is an anonymous program. It works because people do not divulge to others who they have seen at a meeting. Whether you are a member or a visitor, you must not tell other people who you saw at an AA meeting, ever.
Meetings usually last for an hour but that can vary. No one is forced to stay, to speak, to tell his or her name, or to do anything at all. AA people are the friendliest in the world, and if you there due to a drinking problem, you are in the absolute best place you can be. It costs nothing to go to a meeting, and there is no obligation to return. The hour you spend there is an investment in yourself that may, if you’re lucky, change your life.