The Diverse Audience of AA
People walking into Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings carry different experiences and expectations. Some are frequent attendees, while others are first-timers. The challenge lies in meeting these diverse expectations – a tall order that is rarely accomplished. This article aims to guide first-timers through what they might want to know about AA, what to expect at meetings, and the meeting itself.
Why Do First-Timers Come to AA
The reasons for people walking into an AA meeting for the first time vary greatly and may include:
- Checking out the program for a friend who may have a drinking problem.
- Seeking help for personal issues with drinking.
- Attending due to a request from a friend, family member, clergy, doctor, or school who think you have a drinking problem.
- Obliged to attend by a court order, employee assistance program, in/outpatient rehab program, or academic requirement.
The Vast Spectrum of AA Meetings
AA meetings, by design, are unprofessional and decentralized. The format can vary significantly across the globe. Attendees’ sharing can change the tone of meetings even at the same location, creating a vastly different experience each week. While the inconsistency can be frustrating for many, it is the nature of AA and is unlikely to change.
What to Expect at the Meeting
Meeting halls may be located in churches, schools, or dedicated AA/recovery places. Once inside, you can expect:
- A meeting leader or greeter.
- Varied degrees of friendliness from attendees.
- A possibility of being approached, welcomed, and asked questions.
- Chairs/couches arranged in a circle or classroom style.
- Coffee, snacks, and a literature table with books and pamphlets.
- Signs on the walls featuring the twelve steps, twelve traditions, twelve concepts, and AA cliches.
Remember, you may be asked to help set up, make coffee, read, or help clean up, but you always have the option to decline.
What to Expect During the Meeting
Adopting a slightly detached “let me check this out” approach might be beneficial for the first meeting. Here are some typical elements of an AA meeting:
- Meetings are led by a leader, secretary, or chair.
- There may be a prayer at the start, initial readings, announcements, and instructions.
- Birthdays, anniversaries, and newcomers may be acknowledged.
- Members share their experiences – the bulk of the meeting.
- A donation basket may be passed around.
- There may be a short break, followed by another prayer.
- The meeting officially closes with a prayer, often with attendees joining hands.
Why People Come to AA
AA’s primary purpose is to “help the alcoholic who still suffers.” However, people attend AA for a myriad of reasons. This article’s goal is to provide context for those considering attending a meeting, enabling them to receive the help they need and decide if AA is the right path for them.