Are you learning about Alcoholics Anonymous or interested and wondering what happens at an AA meeting?
I’m Jerry Banfield and as an alcoholic, I will give you here in this post some basic tips about what AA is, what you can expect at a meeting, and what it’s done for me.
I’ve got a whole playlist on YouTube if you want to take a look at it, and subscribe to my channel for more videos, you can also read all my Alcoholics Anonymous posts, going through the steps and answering more questions.
AA for beginners the short version
Alcoholics Anonymous is the basic requirement for membership is to have a desire to stop drinking.
That means when you go to a meeting, you want to quit drinking alcohol. The idea with AA is to learn how to live a happy, sober, peaceful, functional life where you don’t need to take a drink to get the obsession of alcohol removed, through working the steps.
Even just coming to meetings that can make a big difference to begin with and the more meetings you go to, the bigger the difference it can make.
There are different types of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and there’s open meetings where anyone can go regardless of whether you have a desire to stay sober.
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That means if you’re a student, if you’re an observer, if you’re a family member, if you’re a drug addict, anyone can go to an open meeting generally and just listen although some meetings allow anyone who’s attending the open meeting to also talk.
Most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are limited or focused on alcoholism and issues related to alcoholism, which really means almost anything can be brought up.
Some meetings have specific rules and requirements
For example, at some meetings, you can’t mention other addictions. In others you’re not allowed to cuss. Each meeting has a set of rules or various conditions, either in the group, like on the table in a binder or up on the wall, or in the initial reading, there will be things read like please don’t use profanity, limit conversation, alcoholism, etc.
There’s also closed meetings, closed meetings mean alcoholics only. That means you need to have a desire to stay sober, or a desire to stop drinking in order to go to the meeting. That means if you don’t have a desire to quit drinking, it’s requested you don’t go to the meeting.
There are different basic formats for meetings, there’s speaker meetings were generally one or two or maybe more people will talk and tell their whole story.
There are other meetings called discussion meetings where you’ll sit down either as you can see in my background at tables, and talk about your experience with alcoholism or whatever the topic is.
And there’s meetings. Also, the meetings I go to usually are one big room one big table where there’s maybe 20 to 40 people in the room and people take turns raising their hand and sharing.
There are also step meetings where you work on specific steps such as step one, and we admit we were powerless over alcohol and our lives did become unmanageable.
There’s also book meetings where you read parts of the book and then discuss what you’ve read in the book. I imagine there are some other meetings that I may not be familiar with.
The basic format of most meetings is as follows
The meaning will generally be about an hour long, although some meetings can go longer or shorter depending on where they are. Generally, the meeting will begin with some kind of a reading or a prayer along with a reading of the preamble.
Some meetings will then read more things out of the book, like how it works or have a binder on the table, or a setlist of readings are specifically for that meeting. These are generally out of Alcoholics Anonymous literature, such as “The Book Alcoholics Anonymous”, which is also called “The Big Book”.
And there’s the book “The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions” also called “The 12 and 12”. There are readings that can take place from either of these books as well as other approved literature.
In almost every meeting I go to begin with a series of readings, then what will happen often there’s a request for newcomers or people coming back to introduce themselves to help people get to know you.
This is where generally you will say I’m Jerry Banfield, and I’m an alcoholic at this point, to let people know why you’re there
The groups will follow whatever format they’ve set in place. If it’s a speaker meeting after that someone will get up and talk speaker meetings can be a lot of help because you’re just sitting there and listening, and you really get into someone else’s story.
One of the things I’ve learned in Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s helped me a lot is honesty.
To be able to be so honest with a group of people was not something I was able to do when I came to Alcoholics Anonymous.
The more I listened and saw people sharing, the more I started being comfortable first being honest with myself that wow, I do have a really bad drinking problem. I don’t know what to do about it. And what I’m doing is not working.
To then be able to be honest in private with another person —Especially starting with the 5th step— and then to the point now being able to be honest in any situation. Rather, it’s a public situation private or internally.
Speaker meetings can be really helpful as you hear people share things that often you might not normally hear people say or admit to things like crimes and morally turpitude activities, or whatever documentation of police forms that I applied to said you couldn’t have those crimes of moral turpitude, or whatever. And just things that leave people feeling bad that might not be illegal, like affairs, or cheating and things like that.
Often speaker meetings will help show what happened as in the story before coming to AA or having AA work, then what happened it coming to AA working the program, and then how life is now, these stories of transformation are often really helpful to get some kind of a hope that if this guy or this girl can go from having that crazy of drinking life to a happy, sober life, maybe it’s possible for me too.
If it’s not a speaker meeting and all, either often be a reading or a discussion, meeting
Discussion meetings, there will generally be a request for someone to bring up a topic or in some places there’s the table leader who will introduce the topic and or a chair person may introduce the topic.
Lots of meetings will ask “Is anyone having trouble staying sober today?”. If you’re really struggling, this is where miracles can happen.
I highly recommend if you really are thinking about taking a drink or you’ve thought about it a lot that day, this is the time to raise your hand and ask for help.
I remember the first couple of months I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, I had hit another bottom of just seeing that I was on a trajectory of not living anymore and I couldn’t do anything about it. And yet, when I started with that initial momentum, I went to AA I’m like, all right, I got this, I was kind of on the pink cloud as they say, life’s great. I’m not drinking now, isn’t it wonderful?
But then after a couple of months, the obsession with drinking returned to me
I know from all my previous efforts, I could stay sober off of just hitting another bottom, a bottom is when something bad happens in your life that you’re ashamed of. For me, it was gambling online, and telling my wife that she said —I can’t handle you drinking like this anymore, I’m going to leave and I said —Fine! Go ahead.
I could see that my drinking was more important than anything else in my life and I could see that I was going to lose everything it was more important than and that was coming. That was my bottom.
When I hit that bottom. Then for a couple of months, I just ran on momentum on my own. “I know I need to stay sober. This is serious” But after a couple of months, I really wanted to drink bad again.
It was a miracle for me to start raising my hand and admitting to being honest in front of a whole group of people saying, “Yes, I really did want to drink today, I barely got to this AA meeting sober and I’m going to drink tomorrow”.
I just thought I should let everybody know before I do it. If you really need some help staying sober and raising your hand at an AA meeting, that’s a discussion meeting that can be an absolute miracle.
Because as I notice, I never would admit that I was going to drink to anyone I cared about before I drank. Or if I did, I was so callous to their reaction.
I remember telling my dad, who was an alcoholic, who got sober without Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember telling him that after five months sober, I was going back to drinking, he was so hurt and upset and I just couldn’t get it. Because I was insane.
I’d forgotten all the reasons I was sober for five months, and all I cared about was getting a good feeling hanging out with my friends and I’d forgotten all the horror that I’d gone through wanting to stay sober for five months. Thus, raising my hand and saying that, yes, I really do want to drink and being really vulnerable with that AA group helped me a lot.
And that’s one of the best things you can do in an AA meeting is just open up for help
What often will happen is a lot of suggestions and experiences related to that will come into play.
I heard things like reading the book, going to more meetings, praying, getting a sponsor, and then doing things to relax, exercise, eating better going to get a massage. And I took in all these suggestions, and I started applying them because I realized, if I was two months or three months sober going Alcoholics Anonymous twice a week and I still wanted to drink, I was in big trouble, that I needed to change everything or I was going to relapse. The one thing that stopped me from relapsing was prayer and going to those two AA meetings.
But I could see that if I just prayed and went to AA meetings a week, I wouldn’t continue staying sober indefinitely.
I go to five to seven Alcoholics Anonymous meetings week, I generally make a meeting every day. I love the discussion meetings
When someone shares that they’re wanting to drink today that reminds me now with over five years sober, it reminds me how I felt. And that helps me to keep remembering why I stay sober today.
Raising your hand and asking for help in an AA meeting is very helpful to everyone who does have some sobriety in the group to be there to help you. I remember the one thing that got me so excited to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was picturing helping other people stay sober.
Imagine how ridiculous that is, when I had only a few hours sober at the time I prayed desperately to God, maybe I hadn’t even got over my hangover yet. And here I’m thinking of going to Alcoholics Anonymous and helping other people stay sober when I can’t even put a few days together, myself.
When we have the opportunity to sit down and help others, we have the opportunity to receive help ourselves.
If you’re going to a meeting, that’s a reading, meaning often there’ll be parts of either “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous”, or “The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions”, one of those two books, usually some other ones, will get parts of them read. In some cases, the whole chapter will be read and then they’ll be a discussion afterwards.
In others, discussion and the reading will happen hand in hand.
Usually at the end of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, there’ll be a round of passing out chips and doing some more readings
The promises are a vision for you are common readings at the end of a meeting the chips, I’ve got my original white chip right here and the only reason I have one white chip is because the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I went to I didn’t take a chip didn’t get a sponsor didn’t even try to go straight home and drink afterwards and say, “Look, I’m not like them. They have a problem drinking, I love drinking, and I’m good at it. I don’t have a problem.”
Eight and a half years later, when I came back to AA I was certain I had a problem.
There’s a white chip that you can take at the end of a lot of AA meetings and to me this is this is a sign of surrender that I’m giving up my old way of living. I’m giving up drinking, and I’m going to find out what life is like sober.
And it’s not just miserably sober. Like, “God, I wish I could drink but I’m not” But really loving and enjoying life as much as when you drank not in the same way as when you drank.
Today I enjoyed my life sober as much as I did when I drank. In fact, I would argue, I enjoy my life much more today sober than when I drank.
I have all the fun I used to have drinking without the consequences
It’s nice I can drive any time of day now without either worrying about the DUI or potentially killing someone with my car or not being able to drive because I’m too drunk.
I absolutely love my life today sober, I have fun, I laugh, I do things that are unpredictable, I can dance without passing out and falling over and throwing up at the end of the night. It’s really nice.
I went to an AA dance when I was a year sober. It was the weirdest thing in my life
I knew, my heart said you need to go to this dance and my mind could not understand why.
I’m not there to drink because it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous dance, I’m sober. I’m not there to pick up a girl because I am already married and I’m not interested in ruining my whole life and I don’t care about dancing that much. Why would I go to this?
It was important for me to see and I went to stay for the whole dance, it was important for me to see that I can do everything sober that I used to do drinking.
I can love and enjoy my life today and that to me is what it means to take a white chip is that you’re stepping out of the old and into the new and that’s a courageous step. Because the fear of the unknown for me came up.
It came up for me as I don’t know what my life will look like. If I stay sober. I can’t imagine what kind of life I’ll have if I stay sober and like it. I don’t even know who I’d be anymore. And that’s what’s kind of fun about it. I don’t know how I’m going to react. Now. I don’t know myself as well as I used to.
It’s fun to see how I react in new situations. Sometimes there are opportunities for improvement. Other times I’m blown away and I’ve learned so much going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings almost every day for the last five years since my first 90 days sober when I went twice a week, taking this white chip and continuing to come back, it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.
That said, at the end of a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous when you do the prayer, often The Lord’s Prayer, The 3rd Step Prayer, The Serenity Prayer. There’s a lot of opportunities to connect and meet people that can help you a lot. I did my 5th Step, my 1st Step, my 2nd Step and repeated 5th Steps, right after Alcoholics Anonymous meetings listening to what people said and knowing who I could trust to talk to.
That said, Alcoholics Anonymous is not for everyone. Some people will find that when you go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings you don’t have that serious of a drinking problem and you don’t feel like you really fit in with everyone.
Now this can be an exercise in honesty, because most of the people I’ve seen that come to an AA meaning they are certainly better off never drinking again
Going to AA every day like I do might not be for everybody, you might, as Brené Brown said, have more of a poo-poo platter of addictions where you’re a bit alcoholic, and you’re a bit of an AL-Anon or a family member of an alcoholic. You’re a bit of an overeater, you’re a bit of a gambler. You’re a bit of a codependent.
If anyone thinks when you look at it by itself, it might not look that bad. You might think well, my drinking is not as bad as yours. It might not be.
If you put your whole life together, how does it look? How do you feel about it?
. . .
If you look at every different aspect of your life, is that going in a trajectory that you’re really happy with?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a way of finding a lot of love and support and help. I understand it’s not for everybody and at the same time, it can often be a springboard into whatever is your path.
Bernie Brown shares and talks about her sobriety and from what it sounds like to me, she didn’t have as bad a drinking problem as me but that’s not what AA is about.
AA is about having a desire to stay sober
That means you could have had one drink and you could have got a very strong desire to stop drinking. From there. You could have had one night of drinking and go to AA or you could even just be thinking about drinking and never have even drank before and theoretically you could go to AA
Alcoholics Anonymous is a very helpful place to go if you’re looking to stop drinking and figure out a happy, healthy, sober way of living.
I’m grateful for all the love and support I receive from Alcoholics Anonymous and yet I do most of my work outside of AA practicing the principles in all my affairs. Reading books.
I figured if “The Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” could help me that much from my drinking, how much can the book “How Not to Die?“ Help me with my diet? How much can “The Power of Now“ help me with my spirituality? How much can “The Power of Vulnerability“ help me with my communication?
Alcoholics Anonymous helped me get to know my higher self and to be my higher self and for that, I’m infinitely grateful
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I have an Alcoholics Anonymous playlist for all my AA videos. If you’d like to learn more about each particular step and see some specific questions like how to work with an alcoholic family member friend. I think you’ll find those really helpful.
I love you. You’re awesome and may you have an amazing journey with Alcoholics Anonymous and sobriety.