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If you feel nervous about attending your first 12-Step meeting, you’re not alone. It’s very common for people starting out in sobriety — or at any stage of recovery, for that matter — to feel hesitant about going to a meeting dedicated to recovering from alcohol or drugs. But overcoming those initial fears can produce great rewards in the end, as you’ll find a wealth of support and information in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and Al-Anon.
Beginning with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1935, 12-Step groups have become one of the most effective methods of recovery in the world. According to Scientific American, there are approximately 2 million members in AA alone, with over 115,000 groups around the globe. Membership in these groups is free, and the principles of the 12 Steps speak to a desire for spiritual as well as physical healing among recovering addicts.
Twelve-Step meetings don’t work for everyone in recovery, but the popularity of these groups suggests that they are well worth a try. If the first meeting doesn’t resonate with you, try another group before you give up. Meetings can be very different in their tone, membership, and focus, and sometimes it takes more than one attempt to find the right match.
Public stereotypes of 12-Step groups and media portrayals of these meetings can add to the confusion, presenting misconceptions as the truth. In reality, most 12-Step meetings are different than anything you’ll see on television or in the movies. Some of the most common fears about 12-Step meetings include:
Twelve-Step meetings are available in most major cities around the world, as well as smaller towns, rural areas, and remote regions of the globe. You can also find meetings to attend online, or connect with others in recovery by telephone. To find the next local meeting, most 12-Step groups have online schedules you can access via the Internet.
Meetings are held in a wide variety of locations, including churches and religious centers, detox centers, residential treatment facilities, schools, private homes, dedicated 12-Step clubs, halfway houses, and homeless shelters. Many of these venues are located within easy access of public transportation.
There is no one-size-fits-all 12-Step meeting; all groups are slightly different. However, there are a few standard conventions and expectations that you’ll find at almost any meeting. Here are a few rules of thumb to help guide you through your first meeting:
After the meeting, you will have the opportunity to socialize with others. This can be a great opportunity to get to know people who share your interest in recovery and your desire to be sober. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with the members of a particular group, it’s okay to leave as soon as the meeting ends. Everyone understands that new visitors are likely to be uncomfortable and nervous.
First-time visitors may be surprised to find that within any given 12-Step group, there are several types of meetings. Listed below are a few of the most common categories that you may find when you start your search:
Open meetings: These meetings are open to any member of the public. People may attend if they wish to support a member, learn about the group, or fulfill a court’s mandate to go to a meeting. Anonymity must still be respected within the meeting and outside the group.
Closed meetings: Closed meetings are specifically for people who wish to stop drinking or using. First-time visitors and members from other 12-Step groups are welcome if they share the group’s interest in recovery.
Gender-specific meetings: Some meetings are designated “Women’s Meetings” or Men’s Meetings.” These sessions are dedicated to the issues and concerns of the gender and should be attended only by the gender specified.
LGBT meetings: Within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, there are special issues surrounding substance abuse and recovery. These meetings allow people to speak freely about their concerns and feel fully accepted within their sexual identity.
Step meetings: At a step meeting, the group focuses on one of the 12 Steps and discusses it in detail. Although these meetings contain detailed discussions about specific stages of recovery, newcomers are still very welcome to attend.
Meditation meetings: Meditation meetings include periods of silence, in which participants can reflect on their work in the program, communicate with their higher power, or simply practice quieting their thoughts. Meditation is a powerful tool in the 12-Step program.
Keep in mind that for your first experience, the type of meeting is not as important as the fact that you’ve made the commitment to seek help. In larger cities, you will find that there are many different types of meetings to attend. Eventually, you’ll identify the meetings that affect you most powerfully, where you feel most strongly supported. Meanwhile, trying different meetings can introduce you to the richness and diversity of the 12-Step community.
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The greatest sign of a successful first meeting is the fact that you overcame your fears and showed up. But once you start feeling comfortable in this community, there are several ways that you can maximize the benefits of your meetings:
Your first 12-Step meeting could be a turning point in your recovery, introducing you to a new world of support, friendship, and hope. On the other hand, the experience probably won’t be perfect, and it may not match your expectations. Keeping an open mind will help you prepare for your first meeting and get the most from the experience.