Attending Your First Meeting
- By Aaron Mills
- 12 Nov, 2017
What to expect from your first Alcoholics / Narcotics Anonymous meeting
If you are looking for support from a community of people in your recovery process, the first good news is that there are a lot of options:
- Traditional 12-step groups like AA and NA
- Innovative, non-12 step groups
- Church-based groups
- Hosted therapy group meetings
The other good news is that no two meetings are ever quite alike. Group meetings are a highly effective tool in aiding recovery for many people, but in order to get the most out of a meeting, it's good to know what to expect.
Overcoming first meeting anxiety
Let's be honest, most of us have a fair bit of anxiety about attending our first meeting. This is simply because we don't really know what to expect, how it all works, or how to participate. By the end of this article, we hope to settle some of that anxiety, because meetings are actually simple, full of people who will be willing to help you, and a tool you will come to rely on for a long time.
This is no different than any other first experience. The first time in a new school, a new job, or meeting a new group of people can be a little stressful, but that will pass quickly and it will become normal, and feel more comfortable.
Some of the most common fears
by group members
of psychopathology of others
These are the most common reasons people rationalize never attending their first meeting, or putting their first meeting off for a long time. If you have been considering a meeting for a while but have not yet attended one, you are not alone. Believe it or not, it's really common for people to find good, seemingly logical reasons not to go.
The game plan for your first meeting
Getting to your first meeting, and getting the most from meetings in general, is going to be a little easier if you have a road map for how to get from here to there. Here are the basic steps, and we'll walk through them one-by-one:
- Locate a meeting place and time
- Find transportation to the meeting
- Find someone to go with you
- Face your fears about the meeting
- Find a meeting that fits
- Stay long enough
- Use active listening
- Take part and share
Step 1: Locate a meeting place and time
Let's be honest, if you pick a meeting that requires an hour of driving, you're not likely to attend (especially if you're not driving yourself). Find a meeting nearby that you can attend in the near future (think the next 24 hours).
You can use a free tool like the meeting finder on Addiction.com
to find meeting from a variety of groups, but there are many other tools you could use as well. Google is your friend for this part. Or talk to your addiction counselor, your rehab, or others in your sober home.
Step 2: Find transportation to the meeting
This can also be issue for a lot of people. If you can't drive yourself and you can afford it, you might consider a taxi or an Uber. Likewise, if you find a meeting near your home, you could walk to a meeting. Many cities have enough meetings that walking or taking a bus is a feasible option.
Another thing to consider is simply asking a friend or family member to attend the meeting with you, or at least to drop you off. Let's be honest. Saying, "I don't have a way to get to any meetings" is bull, and we both know it. You can
do it. Get creative if you have to.
Step 3: Find someone to go with you
Try to find someone to bring with you to your first few meetings. It's always a little less scary when you have friends with you. You might know someone who has been to a meeting before, or you might have a sober friend who would be more than willing to go with you. Just remember, you can bring anyone with you for this first meeting, as long as it helps you to feel safe. They don't have to be in recovery, or addicted to the same thing that you are.
Step 4: Face your fears about the meeting
You may be worried about who may be at this meeting, what people there are going to think about you, or you're afraid of being embarrassed. You may even be worried about the ability of people at these meetings to give you good advice.
The truth is you will never really know about any of that until you have the experience of attending a meeting or two.
It is far more likely you are going to be entirely caught off guard by how many people want to help you, give you a hug, or even a phone number to call if you need someone to talk to. The people who respond this way to newcomers are doing so because they have stood exactly where you are standing. They know what it's like to be new, and how scary that can be at first.
Step 5: Find a meeting that fits
Just like there are many different kinds of people with varying backgrounds, lifestyles, values, and styles, meetings vary greatly as well. Different groups will attract different people, and it's helpful to find a meeting that fits you.
You may find you love 12-step based groups, or you may find you hate those meetings. You might find that a group of older people getting together at a local church has more to offer you than a group of younger people meeting in an office building, even if they're following roughly the same program.
You need to go out and find a meeting that resonates with you, and it's OK if the first meeting you attend doesn't do that for you. Don't give up after just a meeting or two. Keep trying different meetings, and you will find the right ones for you. (Did you notice that? The right ones
. We strongly recommend you attend multiple meetings each week, especially in early recovery.)
Step 6: Stay long enough
It's not uncommon for people attending their first meeting to leave before the meeting is over, or directly at the end of the meeting. You need to stick around and meet people afterward. The meeting itself is a place where you can develop supportive relationships with other people and begin to develop your own network with others who are in recovery. Some of them will have years more experience with the same challenges you are facing, and their help can be invaluable. But you can't meet people or make any connections if you cut out the moment the meeting is over.
Beyond that, it's critical that you make the commitment to attend at least 7-10 meetings at the outset. This will help you find your "home meeting." If you give up before then, you never gave yourself enough opportunity to be successful.
Step 7: Use active listening
If you want to take part in a meeting fully you need to engage in active listening. Active listening is not just a skill for meetings, but a core life skill
that is at the center of meaningful communication.
Active listening is not about how you respond to other people's problems, but about how you listen to them. In AA meetings, for instance, there is a lot of effort to keep out "crosstalk". This means instead of giving people advice or telling them what they should do, you should offer your own experiences. You don't interrupt, or spend time thinking of your response while they're still talking. You tune in.
Don't be in a rush to respond when people take a short break in what they are saying. Give them time to compose their thoughts and sift through what they are sharing. Then
you can share your own thoughts or experiences.
Step 8: Take part and share
To say there is some perfect formula for when or how to share in a meeting would be a mistake. A meeting being led by a therapist might be entirely different than a meeting where the "Big Book" is being read and talked about.
What is important to know is that you should participate and share when you feel comfortable. You will only get as much out of meetings as you put in, so if you never share, you're going to limit yourself.
In general, meetings are not a place to tell war stories about your greatest accomplishments and downfalls while using or drinking. It's not a place to brag about how much you have messed things up. But it is a place to talk about your struggle right now
A meeting is a place you can be brutally honest about how you are doing right now, how things are going, or not going. You might not even be sure what is wrong, but the process of sharing how you feel can make things clearer. You can begin to see you are not alone when you share.
Meetings can help put your circumstances into perspective. You can hear other opinions and ideas you may not have considered. Often people about to relapse will stop sharing at meetings because they are limiting their counsel to their own minds. They may be choosing to believe their own false truths and adopting a position of denial.
When you share where you are, you will find other people who can identify, and "get" what you are dealing with. This will help you build new friendships and a network of other sober people in your life.
People who have a network of sober friends and allies in recovery almost always do better than those that don't.
A therapist's perspective: Lindsey's story
Lindsey entered the room looking like she had been dragged
straight from Woodstock. She appeared dazed and confused. She
wore what looked like fuzzy pajama bottoms and sandals, along with a short
psychedelic t shirt that had a Grateful Dead emblem emblazoned across the front. Large hoop earrings with battered feathers dangled from her ears. Her long
blond hair, highlighted with streaks of red, was matted to one side of her head.
She rubbed her eyes sleepily, yawned and blinked her large bleary eyes. She had brought a
small Chihuahua that she clutched like a life
buoy. She smiled and her eyes darted mischievously as she entered the room and
apologized half-heartedly for being late.
come to therapy at the request of her supervisor in a nearby school district, where she worked with middle school students as an English teacher. Lindsey
had been well-liked by the school administration and loved by her
students, but over the last months she had missed too many days of work. Along
with this had come a change in her attitude, appearance, and work in general.
This led her supervisor and the principal to demand some
changes in her behavior.
attended counseling for three or four months, for the most part focusing on
family issues. Her father had died in the year before her school problems
started, and much of the time in this therapy was spent trying to get closure on
the relationship with her father and also somehow helping her deal with her
been divorced from her dad for years and entertained many relationships with
male friends. Lindsey’s mother was in her early 60s, but apparently was the
life of the party. Lindsey said that her mother dressed like a slut, constantly commented about the way that
she looked, and made numerous comments about Lindsey needing a man. These “helpful”
comments extended into nearly all of Lindsey’s life.
entering the mandatory therapy, Lindsey was sporadic at best in her involvement
and, after a brief increase in her session attendance and slight progress in
her work, she bottomed out on both the therapy and the work. At this point, she
was confronted and drug tested. She tested positive for several prescription
pills and was asked to seek help. Lindsey refused to go to rehab, so her
supervisor worked with the administration and came up with the “try therapy
As I talked
with Lindsey, I noticed that she just did not seem to care anymore about much
of her life. The depression was evident, but it was more plain apathy than simple
depression. Even her dog looked listless. She did brighten when she talked of
her job. She said she loved her job and
adored the kids that she worked with, but seemed ambivalent about the very real
chance that she would be terminated. We talked for a time about her work and
therapy with her former therapist, who I received permission to contact.
admitted that she had lied about one area of her life – her drug use. She now
confessed to a rather extensive drug use history, which for the most part
focused on prescription pills that she garnered from friends, her physician, or
It was evident
from this first session that Lindsey had little motivation for recovery and no
real idea of what addiction was. She told me she had tried to stop and cut
down, but she found that she had trouble sleeping, would get nervous about her
work, and felt pressured about her life.
I asked if she had ever attended any type of recovery meeting; she had not. I smiled and said
that this would be a good place to start, and that we would start by having her locate meetings
near her home. The session ended with a dull whimper as Lindsey pouted and left
without saying anything.
session Lindsey entered a little more subdued. She was dressed with bell
bottomed pants and a colorful top. In contrast to the previous session, her
hair and clothes were neat, she appeared alert and Tulip, her dog, had been
left at home. We talked about her fears of going to a meeting.
She said that it made her feel weird to talk about private things. She pictured
everyone staring at her. She imagined that people like her mother would be
there offering advice. She was also afraid she might see someone she knew. She sat and wrung her hands
with anxiety. We talked about how to find nearby meetings and the session ended
with another dull plop.
In the next
session, as she sat down, Lindsey blurted out that she had not only found a
meeting, she had been to a meeting and that she hoped I was happy because it
was a horrendous failure “AND ONE OF THE WORST EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE.” To top it off, it was my fault that I made
her go. This was not the way she wanted therapy to go.
She went on. “It was full
of mean, pathetic, know-nothing losers who whined on and on about their lives.”
She proceeded to tell in detail how she was ignored by everyone, but a weird
guy with a funny eye who hit on her and had tried to follow her to her car. I
put the date in the first block and praised her for finding and going to a
Lindsey's second meeting
I suggested that perhaps that particular meeting might not have been the best fit for her. I explained that meetings were like people. To find a good friend, you have to meet a lot of people. To find a good meeting, you need to go to a few. “Is there anyone you know that you could go with?” I asked. She mentioned that a coworker, Sharon, had confided that she had a problem with alcohol and had offered to help Lindsey. She agreed to talk with Sharon and to look for another meeting.
The next two sessions were met with little success on the meeting end. Lindsey was back at school, involved with students and parents, and busy, busy, busy. She talked about her parents, but avoided any questions around her drug use. We did talk about her fear of meetings and what might happen.
The next week, Lindsey came in to say that she had been to another meeting. This one was an AA meeting that she had attended with Sharon. She was impressed by Sharon’s positive comments in the meeting, and the fact that she seemed to have so many close friends there. This meeting was a mixture of average and professional people, many of whom seemed to be quite successful. There was a NA meeting that met in the same building on another night, and she agreed to go to that meeting also.
Interestingly, Lindsey picked up some of the material that was in the back of the meeting room, and had read several stories that sounded “a lot like my story.” She also began to actively hear what was said in the meetings. I asked her to list some things that she had heard and wanted to remember, and I dated her active listening box on her chart.
As the weeks went on, Lindsey attended first two then three meetings a week. As she did so, a strange transformation began to occur. She began to have moments of sanity and even inspiration. She talked more about how she had tried to hide with the drugs. She was more open about her emotions and she began to address some of the problems that cropped up as a result of her discontinuing the drugs. She also began to share, first after the meetings talking one-on-one, and then in the meetings. In one of the smaller meetings that was predominantly female, she shared part of her story. It was a very emotional and positive experience for Lindsey
. I noted the date and her progress and she beamed with success.
Four months later
After four months, Lindsey announced that she was involved in making coffee and setting up the room for one of the meetings. Her friend, Sharon, and another friend were involved in the logistics of several meetings, and this seemed like a good fit for her.
Lindsay was one of those rare successes who got it pretty easily. She not only continued attending meetings, but became a meeting chair. Her natural gift of counseling kids transferred to leading others, and she became one of the leaders of the local group.
The last time I talked with her she reported sharing her story in an assembly at another school. She was appreciative and filled with gratitude for the wonderful support I had been to her.
Meetings are no small matter
In my experience, people who do not attend meetings do not make it. Those who attend meetings make it.
Meetings are a wonderful tool for those in recovery because they provide the network and community needed to sustain a sober lifestyle after the initial work has been done. Meetings can help keep you sober.
Authors and resources
This article was written by Aaron Mills with original material and concept from Philip J. Henry.
Alcoholics Anonymous. (1975) Living Sober
. New York:World Services, Inc.
Anonymous. (1988). Narcotics
(Fifth Edition). Van Nuys, CA: World Service Inc.
Alcoholics Anonymous. (1993). The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
. Center City: MN: Hazelden Foundation.