What to Expect from Your First 12-Step Meeting

close up of people bumping fists - 12-step meeting

If you haven’t been to a 12-Step meeting before, you may be wondering what to expect from the experience. Walking into a new environment where you don’t know the other participants can definitely be a nerve-wracking experience, but recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous go out of their way to make any newcomers feel welcome.

12-Step Meeting Locations

Groups can hold meetings in almost any location large enough to accommodate a gathering. In many instances, meetings are held in a church hall or a school, since these spaces can be obtained at a reasonable cost and offer plenty of parking spots.

As you enter the space for the meeting, coffee or water will likely be available. Someone will have set up chairs for the participants to use during the meeting. Meetings usually start at the appointed time, so do plan to be there a few minutes ahead of schedule. It will give you a chance to get a feel for the room before the meeting is called to order.

Meeting Is Called to Order

You may be struck by how “ordinary” the other attendees are. They’re people, just like you, and they are attending meetings for the same reason you are: for fellowship and support with their goal of staying sober.

The person leading the meeting will call the meeting to order. It may start with a moment of silence, reciting the Serenity Prayer, or a reading that the group finds meaningful.

Once the meeting is underway, the chairperson will likely ask if there are any newcomers or visitors from out of town in attendance. First-time attendees and people who are in their first month of sobriety are given an especially warm welcome and invited to return.

Sharing Stories About Recovery

The chair may talk for a short time about a specific topic. Then he will invite anyone who wishes to speak to do so. Members may be reminded to limit the time they are speaking to a maximum of five minutes, to allow others to have a turn and keep the focus of the talk on subjects pertaining to substance abuse and recovery.

Group members introduce themselves by stating, “My name is [X], and I’m an alcoholic, addict, etc.” The rest of the group will generally respond with, “Hello, [X].” They listen without interrupting to what the person has to say.

12-Step Groups Are a Place for Sharing

A 12-Step group meeting has some differences from a group therapy session. There are no interruptions allowed when a member of the group is talking. There is also no therapist or counselor who runs the group. Instead, discussion topics are chosen ahead of time or group members may share their thoughts.

If you are asked to speak or share during your first meeting and you don’t feel ready to open up, just say, “I’ll pass.” No one is pressured to say anything.

You may think that you don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been shared before, but that isn’t true. Your perspective on addiction is unlike anyone else’s.

The people attending a 12-Step meeting want to hear about what fellow members have been struggling with, as well as the things that have been going well for them. These are the types of stories that inspire others to keep the faith and continue on their sobriety journey, one day at a time.

“Faith” in 12-Steps Open to Interpretation

Even though a 12-Step meeting may open with the Serenity Prayer and close with reciting the Lord’s Prayer, no one is required to participate in these prayers. Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organizations welcome people of all religious faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists. When the steps refer to God, they mean a Higher Power. Each person is free to interpret God in a way that makes sense to them.

Confidentiality Is Expected

Everything that takes place during a 12-Step meeting is expected to be held in complete confidence. This includes everything you share, with the same courtesy extended to others within the group.

As a new member of the group, you may be wondering what to do if you run into a fellow group member in public. The best way to find out how to handle this type of situation is to ask the group if its members have a preference. Some people would prefer not to be acknowledged, while others don’t mind a brief greeting as long as the place where you met is kept confidential.

Incorporating 12-Step Groups into Your Continuing Care Plan

Treatment centers such as English Mountain often recommend including 12-Step groups such as AA in your continuing care plan. This type of peer support is available across North America and in many countries worldwide. Someone in recovery can access a meeting as often as they need, even going multiple times per day if they wish. Non-judgmental, confidential help is always available at a 12-Step meeting—which means you’re never alone on your recovery journey.

By Jodee Redmond