If you’ve just completed a treatment program and are looking to get connected to people in recovery or if you’d like to stop drinking or using drugs and are looking for some support, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can be great resources. Alcoholics Anonymous was the first 12-step program, helping hundreds of thousands of suffering alcoholics since its inception in 1936. AA has also inspired a range of other fellowships that focus on recovery from addiction to narcotics, gambling, love and sex, cocaine, overeating, methamphetamine and emotional codependency. AA was founded on the principle that only those with substance use disorders and other addictions can truly understand what the suffering addict is facing. The peer support model is incredibly powerful. It gives those suffering from an addiction an outlet to express their journey with other people who share their path and can offer experience, strength, and hope in a way that medical professionals and mental health practitioners cannot.
Principles of 12-Step Meetings
Going to your first 12-step meeting can inspire many emotions: excitement, fear, relief, worry. No matter how you are feeling, you can expect to find a group of welcoming, supportive individuals who are eager to meet you. One of the foundational premises of AA and NA is that newcomers are the heart and soul of the group and help it live up to its primary purpose of helping addicts who are still suffering. Many people have found life-saving fellowship through 12-step recovery and are eager to pass along the support and encouragement that was freely given to them.
Meetings are usually started with a moment of silence followed by the “Serenity Prayer,” which the group will often say aloud and in unison. The words to the prayer are:
“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.”
After the prayer, designated members of the group may read certain quotes or pages from the AA or NA literature and then the group’s chairperson may ask if there are any newcomers or visitors from out of town. This is primarily done so that the long-time group members can make a point to introduce themselves to newcomers after the meeting. This can be a great way to introduce yourself to the group, but there is no need to do so if you’re not ready.
Then, the chairperson may briefly go over any group rules or expectations. Each 12-step group is fully autonomous to create its own culture and norms and the chairperson might go over certain aspects of this that are important to how the group functions during and after meetings. For example, many groups discourage “crosstalk,” which is when someone directly responds to or confronts another person in the room while sharing. Although newcomers are not expected to know or follow the expressed group norms, it can be helpful to get to know them as you become more familiar with the group.
Next, the chairperson will open the floor for the open-sharing portion of the meeting, in which group members discuss their personal experiences and challenges. The chair will often introduce a specific recovery topic and share their own experience with it. Afterward, members are invited to share on the topic or any issues they need to discuss. Most people will begin sharing by introducing themselves by first name and identifying themselves as either an alcoholic or addict. For example, most shares will start with an introduction like “I’m Michael, and I’m an alcoholic…”
If you decide to share at your first meeting, you shouldn’t worry about getting anything “right.” There is no right or wrong in recovery. If you want to share about what you’re going through, feel free to do so. If you prefer to listen and get to know people first, that is perfectly fine. As you listen to other shares, you are bound to hear things that hit close to home, and simply knowing that you’re not alone in your challenges can be incredibly beneficial.
After a period of open sharing, usually 45-50 minutes, the chairperson will call the meeting to a close and ask members to join hands and recite the Serenity Prayer or another prayer or affirmation. In many areas of the country, it is traditional to end a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, but if you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with this or any other saying in the meeting, there is no expectation that you recite it.
These meetings are first and foremost concerned with developing a fellowship that can aid individuals in the life-sustaining goal of staying sober. As you become more comfortable attending meetings, you can begin to look for the groups where you feel the most comfortable socially, culturally, and emotionally. Members often call these primary meetings their “home groups,” and while you are free to attend any meetings you wish, a home group can be a wonderful source of support, intimate friendship, and accountability as you progress through the journey of recovery.
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