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What are AA meetings like?

What are A.A. meetings like? Will I have to say anything if I go?
A.A. meetings vary depending on the type of meeting, the group and even vary by geographical location. Much of what occurs is a matter of local custom.

Very generally meetings go something like this:
People begin showing up at the meeting place about half an hour before the meeting begins. The earliest to arrive are usually there to help set up for the meeting by making coffee, setting up chairs and putting out A.A. related books.

Closer to the meeting time more people show up and will be talking and joking about all sorts of things. It is quite possible a newcomer may feel left out and even ignored or the opposite may happen and people will go out of their way to welcome you and introduce themselves. The newcomer wanting to be left alone can simply shake any hands offered and say hi. A newcomer feeling ignored and wanting help is always encouraged to introduce themselves to anyone setting up for the meeting. If a person walks up to an A.A. member and says they are new and want help they will almost without exception be greeted warmly and be given all the attention and help they might want. Asking for help can be profoundly difficult but most of us have found that we couldn't get sober without help.

Because A.A. does not want to force our fellowship on anyone people might seem unwelcoming. We also know from experience that many newcomers just want to be left alone to check it out and are typically left to do that if they want.

When the time to start the meeting arrives someone will speak up and attempt to get everyone to be quiet. Then there will likely be some combination of a moment of silence, a voluntary prayer, readings and announcements. Before speaking people will usually say "My name is whatever and I'm an alcoholic (link)" or something similar.

A common custom is to ask if there is anyone new to A.A. who would like to introduce themselves. A newcomer that doesn't want to introduce themselves doesn't have to. If a person does introduce themselves they don't have to say the typical "and I'm an alcoholic" part. It is quite alright to just say your name and that it is your first time to A.A. There is never an obligation to discuss anything at a meeting. Even if in the course of the meeting a person is asked if they want to talk, a simple reply of "I just want to listen today" will be respected.

Depending on the meeting the beginning part will be followed by some combination of people telling stories, people taking turns talking or people reading from books.

Sometimes there will be a smoke break half way through the meeting. At some point a money collection may be taken, there is never an obligation to give money and donations are only accepted from group members.

Meetings usually end with everyone standing, holding hands and then saying The Serenity Prayer or The Lord's Prayer. Participating in this is entirely voluntary. A person is welcome to join hands and say nothing, leave before the prayer or quietly move away from those who do join in the prayer until it is over. Usually meetings last about one hour.

After the meeting people stand around and talk and frequently a group of regular attendees will get together at a coffee shop or restaurant to just hang out. For a newcomer serious about getting sober, staying after the meeting and introducing themselves to others is usually a very helpful thing to do. A.A. is a fellowship and meetings are only a small part of that fellowship. Many find that more is gained in the casual hanging out part than in the actual meetings.

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