Dear New A.A. Member,
Welcome! If you think you have a problems with drugs or alcohol then you are in the right place. Let me preface this by saying I have not been involved in the program for a very long time. I did not work a very complete program until recently. One of the main reasons I feel that I have not had as much success in the program is because I came in alone. I did not know anyone and like most new people to this program I had anxiety, fear, denial, and did not want to be there. In the six months I have been coming into the rooms, my life has on the whole been completely more manageable and I have been significantly more sober. Since I have begun to work a better program in A.A., my day to day life has been more in control, less anxiety ridden, happier, and most importantly, I have stayed sober much more often than not. Since being in the rooms, I wish there had been some resource for me to look at to know what to expect or something to guide me. I hope what follows helps. Please feel free to contact me at my e-mail address on the website for any questions about A.A. or about any questions you have about recovery.
The first time I freely walked into an A.A. room was easily one of the most anxiety ridden and fearful moments of my life. I knew I had a problem with alcohol and nothing I had done on my own had helped. Doctors, therapists, friends and family kept suggesting A.A. as an option. For me I knew that once I went into A.A. the "party" was over. One of the MANY slogans you will hear in A.A. is the "A.A. will ruin drinking/drugging for you". It will ruin drinking/drugging, but as I have heard many times in the room, the party was already well over before anyone stepped foot into a meeting.
First of all the A.A. meeting you are going to, if it is at an Alano club, will look discreet. There will be no signs or posted documents telling you that you are in fact at an A.A./12 step recovery center/house. This is for your own benefit. One of the cornerstone principles of A.A. is that you are anonymous. You want that, believe me. Just go in and sit down. Sometimes I felt scared and out of place walking into an unfamiliar place, but don't let that change your intent - everyone is welcome if they have a desire to stop drinking.
At first, my main issue with A.A. was that instead of looking for positives or similarities with people inside, I immediately identified the differences. It was a ploy to tell myself "I'm not one of them." Try to overlook these initial feelings or thoughts if you do in fact have them. A.A. is here for one reason only, and that is to make your life better. That is the only goal of A.A. Make your life better. It is a very simple idea that unfortunately gets twisted at times. It is my opinion that many of the negative criticisms of A.A. are because people got hung up on details instead of focusing on the main point which was to make their/your life better. In my city, Chicago, there are over 4,000 meetings of A.A. each week. Each meeting is different. Some meetings have different formats, focuses, rules, customs.... if you do not like the meeting you are at, try another one. In fact if you feel up to it, after the meeting talk to the person leading or speaking at the meeting and ask them about a different meeting. It is a good idea to tell someone what you did not like. That way you can find a meeting/group of people you feel comfortable with and relate to.
As there are 4,000 meetings in my city each week, there are a bunch of different people and groups that go to each of these 4,000 plus meetings. It took me months as well as many relapses in my recovery before I found a comfortable group of meetings to attend. You will hear people say "keep coming back" all the time. It is my thoughts that I will "keep coming back" to A.A. because it helps make my life better, but I will chose the meetings that I want. Find a crowd and message that you feel comfortable with. For a new person I would suggest evening speaker meetings and 12&12 meetings. A speaker meeting is typically very straight forward. Someone gets up and gives a 20 minute lead about their story of use and recovery. A 12&12 meeting is also usually a speaker meeting that covers one of the 12 steps of A.A. Each week a new step is spoken on. After the speaker the floor is open to comments. If you do not wish to speak, don't. There is absolutely no requirements in A.A. except to be polite. It helps give you options to better your life.
If you raise your hand to speak or it comes around to your turn and it is your first meeting in life then you are at a crossroads, my friend. If you do say, "This is my first meeting," people may try to talk to you and try to help you. Be prepared. No one who is working a good program is going to try to do anything besides help you. You may get a sheet with phone numbers or other information - this is a good thing. Ask questions. If you do not want to be talked to or have people come up to you afterwards, just say your name and either pass, or say, "I am just here to listen." There is not right or wrong time to ever talk or acknowledge anything about yourself at an A.A. meeting. In my opinion, working the program with a support network is much easier. It took months and a lot of resistance on my part, but I have friends most every place I now go. It may seem weird as a new person, but now A.A. is very "normal" to me. A.A. is like the bar I used to hang out at, but instead of drinking alcohol, people drink coffee. And instead of talking about bullshit, people talk about their own shit in dealing with recovery. Once you hang out at a bar enough you become a regular, it just takes a little bit of time. The same is for A.A.
The God thing. A.A. was founded in a different time. It was of the opinion that the hopeless alcoholic would not be able to recover unless they had a complete change. It is also true that most people cannot on their own get sober by themselves. I sure as hell couldn't. Therefore a "higher power" is needed to get the alcoholic recovered. If your higher power is any God of organized religion, awesome. If your higher power is the group, or A.A., fantastic! If your higher power is gravity, electricity, the universe, or a doorknob, excellent! The fact is that most likely you are not going to be able to get sober and have a happy life without some form of support in sobriety. If the God or religion is a sore spot, ignore it. The entire purpose of A.A. is not to convert you into a religion but to make your life better. If you are going to meetings that are too God oriented, then find another. Just because a meeting is at a church does not mean that the format of the meeting is going to be rooted in religion. A.A. is a self supporting group. Churches have space that they give for free to groups like A.A. Thus many A.A. meeting are held in the rec rooms, dining areas, or basements of churches. This program is not about a God, though, it is about you and your life.
There are many slogans and sayings in A.A. Some make sense, some are outdated, and some are said by the people who keep coming back as a kind of inside joke. There is humor in this program. If there was no humor it would be very difficult for me to keep coming back. Quicker than you realize you will pick up the lingo.
There will also be people with insane amounts of sobriety in the rooms. For some reason this intimidates people, including myself still! They are people. They suffer from the same disease/allergy/sickness or whatever you want to call it. Yes, they have sober time, and that is incredible. However they are no better than you. You are there to make your life better, do not focus on the old timers, many of whom are actually very nice. To put it from their perspective they have seen many new faces of the years come into the rooms. They have heard all the complaints. They have also seen many people leave the rooms and never come back. Addiction will kill you. If you stick around long enough, you will see some people never come back and you will hear they are back out using or have died.
A.A. is a group of people trying to help themselves and each other get better and live better lives. It is a very simple program dealing with a brutal disease. If you need help with alcohol or drugs, then please keep coming back. This disease will kill you. Even though I have yet to maintain anything close to rigorous honesty or spiritual perfection, I live a happier and all around better life because I have stuck around. If you have been where I have, please read some other blogs, then you can relate. I am not perfect, but I feel better. Life takes it dips and dives but over the past few months I have gotten serious about my program in A.A. I have far more good days than bad. Please e-mail me if you have questions or if you are in Chicago and would like some ideas on meetings to go to.
Keep coming back!
Want to hear Melissa's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/2/post/2014/02/keep-coming-back.html