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What to Expect From Alcoholics Anonymous, From Someone Who Has Been There

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

You might be scared. You might be reticent. You might even be skeptical. I know I was. But, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is nothing to fear. And no one is forcing you into the program. In the following story, I’ll offer up what you can expect at an AA meeting so you can decide for yourself if AA is for you. And for the record: I am not a spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous. I am only a member.

The rooms of AA were a place for me to go to feel a sense of camaraderie during those early days of sobriety when cravings would hit and I just needed a distraction. I was a nervous wreck most of the time in the early period and just came to the meetings to listen, but it definitely helped get my mind off things. Today, I am more than nine years sober.

I will be honest and say AA is not for everyone, but today, it does help two million members in 115,000 groups worldwide, according to Scientific American in 2011.

AA is the premiere program to manage alcoholism and its been helping alcoholics since the publication of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” — colloquially known as “The Big Book” — in 1939.

We, alcoholics, have dark pasts. Some of us have attempted suicide. Stolen. Ostracized people. Acted out sexually. Even exhibited violent behaviors. These acts can never be undone. So an addict or alcoholic is constantly in need of setting things straight.

There is more to being in recovery than just refraining from drinking. This is what The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are all about: repairing relationships. And oftentimes, at any given meeting, we focus on one of those steps.

When the speaker or reading is finished, the chair will go around the room calling on people for comments. You don’t have to speak unless you want to. You can just say “I’ll pass,” or “I’m just going to listen today.” Even nine years into my sobriety I rarely have anything to say, and no one judges me for it.

When the time is up, the group gathers together holding hands in a circle and says the Serenity Prayer:

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 meeting, people usually linger and chat. With some meetings, there is what‘s called “fellowship” after the meeting, which could include going to coffee or a meal with members of the group. Fellowship is a good time to meet people and link up with a sponsor. A sponsor will meet with you once a week and also field your calls to help you work your way through the Twelve Steps. From day one, you can always get a “temporary” sponsor until you find the perfect match.

If the idea of praying qualms you, know that you can replace the word “God” with the devotion of your choosing. In AA, we are supposed to choose what’s called a “higher power” that will “restore us to sanity.” A higher power can be God, mother nature, the program itself or anything of high importance to you.

There is also a chapter in the Big Book titled “We Agnostics.” And there are also some meetings specifically for atheists that involve no praying or mention of God.

And while it is rare that I go to AA anymore, it played a significant role in my early recovery. I did go at least twice a week and it helped. And now, I go just a few times a year. Like every alcoholic is different, everyone’s needs are different.

You can take this handy test to assess whether or not you may need AA.

And if you’re thinking of quitting drinking, I hope I’ve erased any stereotypes you may have in your head about what Alcoholics Anonymous is all about. Is it for you? Maybe. Maybe not. If the above sounds helpful, give it a try, or if not, maybe AA is not for you and that’s OK. Whatever’s cool. 

Getty Images photo via fizkes

Originally published: August 10, 2021
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