Last time, we discussed the basics of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step process; today we will look at AA meetings and how they work.
The purpose of all AA group meetings, as their Preamble states, is for AA members to “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Toward this end, AA groups have both open and closed meetings.
Closed meetings are for AA members only, for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking.” In a closed meeting, members can speak openly and honestly about their problem or situation, knowing that everyone else in the room has experienced similar situations.
Open meetings are available to anyone interested in the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery from alcoholism. Non-alcoholics, including students, family members, professionals, members of the press, or anyone interested in learning about AA may attend open meetings as observers.
Whether open or closed, AA group meetings are conducted by AA members who determine the format of their meetings. Leadership is rotated, so no one person is in charge.
Meetings often begin with the reading of AA literature, which may include the Preamble, 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, or Daily Meditations. There may be a discussion of a recovery-related topic. In open meetings, a speaker may share a story of recovery and hope. Members respond to the readings and story, taking turns and encouraging one another.
Many AA groups pass out chips to celebrate members’ accomplishments of recovery and sobriety. Chips are small round tokens of various colors marking periods of sobriety. Depending on the group, chips may be awarded at sobriety time frames of 24 hours, 1 to 4 weeks, monthly up to 11 months, and then yearly. The AA organization does not provide chips, but many AA groups have embraced this practice.
When asked which chip is the hardest to earn, a wise AA member said, “The next one.”
Another important component of the AA program is sponsorship. New members are encouraged to find a sponsor -another AA member- who acts as sympathetic friend to guide them into how AA works, answer questions, introduce them to AA resources and group members, and offer advice to deal with rough spots and temptation. In other words, sponsors help new members create a whole new way of life, not just sobriety. But the sponsor is not responsible for maintaining the newcomer’s sobriety; AA views this as the responsibility of the entire AA program. Sponsors should have at least one year of sobriety and enjoy their recovery. Established members of AA find that sponsoring someone strengthens their own sobriety. By becoming a sponsor, they are fulfilling Step 12 of the 12-step process. By helping others, they help themselves.
AA is considered one of the most successful mutual aid societies in helping people recover from substance abuse. If you are interested in learning more, go to the AA website where you will find meeting locations and resources to aid sobriety.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.