To those of us who have been around a while it seems so natural, but if you have never been to an A.A. meeting before, it can be very confusing. Your first month there you’ll do and say a lot of things that people will find funny, or in some cases offensive. It’s not your fault, though — it’s ours — because we don’t explain it very well. If this essay saves one person embarrassment, then it was worth my time.
1) Don’t drink before you go to a meeting. For some people this seems like a no-brainer, for others it seems like an impossibility. Seriously though, go to an earlier meeting if you have to, but try to come clear headed or it really won’t work.
2) There is a book about our organization. It’s named “Alcoholics Anonymous“, but we don’t call it that. We call it “the Big Book”, which is a very intimidating name. If someone tells you in your first 30 days to “Read the Big Book”, your first thought will be “Ah, Fuck! A homework assignment!” This book won’t explain meetings, but it will explain some real important stuff. Buy one. It’s about 10 bucks. I wouldn’t try to stay sober without one.
3) There is no one “in charge” at an A.A. meeting. It’s a hard idea to grasp, but it’s true. If you need a paper signed for court, you can ask the person chairing the meeting (telling people when to read things), but really anyone can sign it for you. Even a friend from the bar. Your probation officer can’t call up and say: “Was Hoosis Dingleberry at the meeting?”. We’d tell him to look up the word “anonymous”. When I fill out the sheets, I always put the topic as “Sex”. Been doing it for 10 years. Let ’em think we’re having a goddamn orgy here!
4) At the beginning of the meeting we’ll say a quick prayer, then read 3 passages from the Big Book, and maybe the Daily Reflection. People often talk through this, joke with their friends… Pisses me off. Do you do that at Church? “Ah, it’s just the Benediction! They do that shit every week. It’s not like I’m talking through the Sermon!”. Fuck you. Shut up. We read them because they’re important. For somebody, it may be their first time hearing it.
5) Every time we talk — or “Share” — at a meeting, we introduce ourselves first. Even though for most of us, everyone knows our name. When you introduce yourself, say something like: “My name is John, and I’m an alcoholic.” If you don’t like the word alcoholic, say “…and I’m not drinking today” or “I don’t want to drink” or even “I might be an alcoholic”.
6) If they ask if there are any newcomers, or anyone at their first meeting, now would be a good time to try out your new introduction. As a matter of fact, you know what would be absolutely AWESOME? To say: “My name is John, and I’m an alcoholic. If a couple of people could 12th step me after the meeting I would appreciate it.” That would REALLY ROCK! You’d be my new A.A. hero! (more about 12th step later)
7) When we talk, we do so one at a time. It’s not a conversation. Raise your hand, and you’ll get called on. Say what you want to say, and no one will interrupt you (unless you go on endlessly). When you’re done, it’s someone elses turn to talk. You don’t get to ask them questions, discuss what they’re saying… It’s their time to talk.
And if you have one question to ask, ask it. But if you have a bunch of questions, don’t ask; get an answer; ask; get an answer… Talk with someone after the meeting.
8) Halfway through the meeting they’ll pass a basket. It’s called the “7th Tradition”, and means we pay our own way. If you have a couple of bucks, put it in. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. No one’s going to look down on you if you don’t put money in the basket, or even notice that you did or didn’t. It’s not like that.
9) At the end of the meeting they often give out chips for various lengths of sobriety. If you heard something during the meeting that gave you some hope — made you believe it’s possible that you could stop drinking and enjoy your life — then maybe you’ll want to pick up a white chip: a sign of surrender. You’ll have to walk up to get it, and it might feel like a million miles in front of all those people clapping. Then whoever is doing the chips will give it to you, and give you a hug. I don’t know how you are with this touchy stuff, but some guy I didn’t know giving me a hug was kindy of freaky, and not in a good way. Just suck it up. You may not want to hear this, but if you’re going to stay sober, we’re your new best friends!
Concepts and terminology:
1) We often refer to groups of people by their length of sobriety. These are pretty self-explanatory: Newcomer and Oldtimer. If they ask if there are any Newcomers, that would be you.
2) The “Steps” are the way an alcoholic learns to function in the world without a drink. They save a drunk like you from alcohol.
3) The “Traditions” are the rules for running the organization Alcoholics Anonymous. They save Alcoholics Anonymous from drunks like you.
3) A sponsor is someone who helps you through the steps. A guide, if you will. He’ll give you his (or her) phone number. Some will tell you to call every day. I never called anyone in my damn life, unless she had really nice tits, but the people who do seem to be happier and make more progress than I did. I just don’t want to lie to you and lead you to believe I was Mr. AA. I believe it’s a good idea based on the results I have seen others get. And they’re not going to check up on you, see if you’re drinking… Every relationship is different, but YOU’RE the one that sets the boundaries here.
4) 12th stepping is when an alcoholic (or 2 or 3) with some recovery time shares what his drinking was like with someone who is just starting out. This isn’t to see who was a bigger drunk — it’s not a contest — but just to show that they were once in the same place you are now. Looking at their clear eyes, and their happy faces, it was hard for me to believe their soul ever ached as mine did, or that I would ever find my way out of the darkness. But listen to their stories. Wasn’t their drinking a lot like yours?
You walk in for the first time and everyone’s laughing and joking, people hugging each other, and there’s you; feeling like stir-fried dogshit. And let’s be honest, unless you’re a hot chick, no one’s really going to pay much attention to you. Sad but true. It’s not a good reason for us to ignore newcomers, but we do so because we see 100 new people come through every month who only come once or twice. We get tired of putting energy into people we’ll never see again. But let us get to know you. You’ll be right in the middle of one of those cliques before you know it. Here are some ways that will help us know you.
1) Get to the meeting about 15 minutes early. Even 5 minutes early. It gives the impression that you care. And don’t just get your paper signed at the end of the meeting and haul ass. Hang around for 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t act like we have leprosy and you have to run home to shower. Like I said, we’re your new best friends!
2) Let us get to know your face. Come to the same meeting every day. If there are tables in the middle and comfy chairs around the outside — like a lot of meetings — sit at the table. Everyone will be able to see you. The natural reaction for most newcomers is to sit as close to the door as possible so they can slink out. Try to avoid this.
3) Let us get to know your name. You may not have a lot to say — or feel comfortable sharing in a meeting — so just volunteer to read something. It lets us hear your name and your voice. Some of us could not say 10 words when we came in without breaking down into tears, so here are some things to keep in mind.
|Preamble||Real short. Start with this one|
|How it Works||Real long, work up to this one|
|Daily Reflection||Medium, but they’ll ask you to comment on it. I couldn’t read a whole paragraph and then tell you what it said for my first 6 months. Hold off on this one until the fog clears.|
4) Talk to people. I was deathly afraid of people without alcohol in my system, but here’s something that might help, because they do most of the talking. Ask them a question. No one can resist feeling smart. Say “What did you mean when you said….?” or just flat out “What do YOU think an alcoholic is? Because I’m not sure I am one.” You’ll both know something about each other when THAT conversation is done!
“Old school” says if you have less than 90 days, you don’t have anything to say. “Old school” can kiss my ass. It is true though that with minimal sobriety you shouldn’t go handing out advice. You don’t know what anyone needs to do to stay sober. Feel free to A) voice concerns about what’s happening in your own life, B) sound an alarm if you feel like you have to drink, C) ask questions about the steps, the traditions, why you have bodily fluids leaking out that used to stay inside… These kinds of things.
MOST IMPORTANT ITEM ABOUT SHARING!
Nobody gives a shit what you say. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. The first 500 times you share you may ramble incoherently and stumble over your words and forget what you were talking about… No one cares. Honestly, our lives didn’t hinge on what came out of your mouth, anyway. We understand. The truth is, no matter how smart or how stupid what you say is, no one’s going to remember it tomorrow. So just relax. Say it because you need to say it. That’s all.
Somewhat amusing anecdote about my early sobriety
I walked into my first A.A. meeting and damned if Cherie wasn’t there. 5 years earlier, when we worked together, she was talking about how tired she was that day. Being the nice guy that I am, I offered her some speed. She said she was “in recovery for alcoholism” and I had no clue what that meant, or why she brought it up, because everyone knows dexamphetamine isn’t alcohol! When she saw me walk into the meeting she started laughing, and said “I knew you’d make your way here eventually!”
She introduced me to Nikita, who was the cutest girl I’d ever laid eyes on and only 4 feet tall! She wasn’t a child, she was my age. So now I officially knew 2 people in A.A.
About a week later I’m at the grocery store and I see Nikita. I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to act. I knew we were supposed to be “anonymous”, and wasn’t sure I should even acknowledge her, that I knew her…. That might break some rule, blow her cover… I didn’t know! I ended up just pushing my cart down her aisle so that she could look in it and see that I didn’t have any alcohol products, and she could go back and tell everyone that I was still sober. Like she’s the A.A. Police, right?
Listen, nobody cares. Of course I should have said Hi. We’re not Secret Agents. And if I’d wanted to drink, no one would give me a hard time. That’s not what we’re about in A.A. If you want to keep drinking, that’s your business. If you want to quit drinking, that’s when it becomes our business, and we will go to any length to help you.
“I am responsible . . . When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”
This Blog is not about me blowing my horn. I use Facebook to brag, show off, let everyone know how funny I am… The first priority here is to provide useful information to our struggling fellows. With that in mind, if there’s any advice I’ve given that you see as unwise, please tell me. Also, if there’s anything I’ve left out that could be helpful, please point it out to me. I can only go on the feelings I felt, and how I handled them You probably had different sticking points. Thank you in advance.
Other things to include: health.