” I don’t understand.”
Going to an AA meeting for the first time can be overwhelming and confusing. For the person already filled with anxiety, an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be daunting especially so if you arrive early. Before a meeting starts the room is filled with the noise of several people talking at the same time and laughter, usually a lot of laughter. People are welcoming and hugging one another and you are just standing there. You hope no one hugs you and at the same time you wish someone would hug you. You are not sure where to sit. You don’t know what to do. You look for the door because you have got to get out of here. You had come for a meeting but you cannot stay. You have to leave now.
Just as you reach the door someone steps between you and the door. You will later learn this person has been in AA for several years. She puts out her hand and shakes yours. She introduces herself and asks if you would like a cup of coffee. There is a seat next to hers. She offers it to you. You sit down just as the meeting starts.
“Seconds and inches”, that meeting was ten years ago and you have wondered many times what your life would be like had you headed for the door five seconds earlier and not arrived at the exact same moment that woman had. The woman who put her hand out to you. She is still in AA too and I understand the two of you still sit next to each other at that first meeting you went to.
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous and was very confused. I am grateful for the man who put out his hand to me and simply said, “welcome”. He didn’t ask that question I was so afraid of. He didn’t ask, “why are you here?” Instead, he showed me to a seat next to him and we sat down just as the meeting started. He explained what was going on. Soon a basket started coming around. He stopped me and told me not to put anything in. He explained I was a guest tonight. He explained the money is used to pay the rent, buy the coffee and make the meeting welcoming to new members. When I became a member, I could make donations to the basket.
He explained the different types of meetings. He said tonight was a Speaker Meeting and one person would tell their story. He said it’s a good meeting for new people. He said maybe I would identify and then I could become a member. He said to sit quietly and listen. Any of several members could answer my questions after the meeting.
I was in treatment when I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I wish the counselors would have prepared us before they drove us to the meeting. I couldn’t stand and identify as an alcoholic. I didn’t even know what alcoholism was. I wish the members of the AA group had talked to me. I guess because we all came in as a group the regular members felt as though we were enough support for one another. I don’t know what they thought but I wish they would have talked to me.
Honestly, I didn’t really hear much from my first meeting. Several people gave me their phone numbers but I didn’t call them. I wish they had asked for mine and called me. It probably isn’t suppose to work that way but it would have helped me if it could have for at least that first day.
The thing I really remember from that first meeting was at the end everyone sang “happy birthday” to a man for five years of sobriety and I thought it was silly. I was even sort of embarrassed for him.
As the weeks went on, I began to talk with the people in that meeting. I would arrive early and stay late. I asked a member to be my sponsor. I began to understand alcoholism by reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I became an alcoholic by listening to members share their alcoholism and once I became alcoholic, I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But every week at the end of that meeting when they celebrated birthdays, one year to forty some years, sometimes just one person celebrating, sometimes several people celebrating, I always thought it was silly. I will be taking a cake with one candle on it tonight. It’s not so silly anymore.
That first meetings for people approaching Alcoholics Anonymous can be very confusing. It’s important to know that nothing is expected of the new person.
Yes, new people are asked to introduce themselves but not every person approaching Alcoholics Anonymous knows they have a hopeless disease. They don’t understand alcoholism. They should introduce themselves in a manner that makes them feel comfortable. Introductions should be so members can know who the new people are with the intention of making them feel welcome if the meeting has a break and after the meeting ends. The ideal is for every new person who comes to AA to be treated special by the regular members. Regular members who are practicing the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous will focus on the new members after the meeting sharing their stories and hope for recovery with them. The new person will hopefully go home and report to their loved one, “I went to AA and the people are nice”. If it’s a closed meeting, the meeting should have a designated person who can quietly and respectfully take a new person outside the room and sit with them for the time of the meeting sharing their story. This is the 12th step and it is where recovery begins.
The new person can quietly introduce themselves as new to the people sitting beside them if introducing to a crowded room is to overwhelming. Attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous is not intended to make its members more uncomfortable.
Meetings often start with members reciting the Serenity Prayer in unison. This serves as a focal point reminding each member that the meeting is starting. Some selected passages for AA’s text, “Alcoholics Anonymous” are read. Typically, the same readings are read at every AA meeting. A portion of chapter five, “How It Works” which includes the 12 steps which are the program of recovery. The 12 traditions, the guidelines for meeting structure and participant interaction, are almost universal read as well. Some meetings add a portion of chapter three, “More About Alcoholism” and some add a short reading to close the meeting. These ritual readings throughout all Alcoholics Anonymous bring structure. Alcoholics do their best when guided by structure and consistency.
At some point the group’s sectrary will make announcements and call for “the seventh tradition” to be passed. The seventh tradition states “each AA group is self supporting through voluntary contributions from its members”. Each meeting has expenses. They pay rent for the space they use to hold the meeting. Many groups provide coffee, cookies, cake for their members before and after the meeting. Books and literature is purchased and made available for new members. All the expenses of holding a meeting and making it welcoming to the new member are paid from with the money placed in a basket that circulates the room.
Should a newcomer contribute to the seventh tradition?
For your first and second times at a meeting, it is hoped you are treated like a guest. No one would ask a guest in their home to pay anything. By the third or fourth week, it is hoped you have made a decision to try this way of life. Once the decision is made and you are a member, you have a spiritual obligation to contribute to the seventh tradition.
How do I become a member? You say you are an alcoholic and you embark on the greatest journey of your life.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.