A big part of transitioning out of inpatient addiction treatment is having an aftercare plan, and a big part of an aftercare plan is attending meetings.
Although twelve-step meetings are not the only meetings available, they are the most popular. People in recovery use them to maintain their sobriety and learn how to deal with life on life’s terms. You may have heard all sorts of things about what goes on in meetings, or you may be clueless. The only way to truly know what happens in meetings is to find out for yourself.
The first time I went to a meeting was after an eight-day rehab stay. They told me I should not have left treatment so early, but I had to get back to my children, my house, and my job. I went to a meeting the very next day. I was very confused by what was going on and felt very out of place. I tried going to a meeting in a different town the next day. I walked in, sat in the back, and felt like I could not relate to “those” people. That was it. I did not return. I managed to stay sober for eight months.
“Then, I went to a concert with a friend and thought that it would be okay to have a few drinks. Those few cocktails set me on a year-and-a-half downward spiral.”
I was at the point that I was physically addicted to alcohol. I wanted to stop, but did not know how. I wanted to die, yet I also wanted to live. I could not go back to rehab. The only choice I had was to try the meetings again. Once again, I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to get better, so I kept going. If you want to heal and recover, the meetings do work.
Although no two meetings are the same, this is generally what to expect:
Meeting format: There are several types of meetings in twelve-step groups: big book meetings, step meetings, living sober meetings, God-as-I-understand-Him meetings, and speaker meetings. In some meetings, the group will take turns reading from the literature (Alcoholics Anonymous, Step book, Reflections, Living Sober, etc.). The chairperson (the person leading the meeting) will share their thoughts on the topic, then open the meeting for others to share. If it is a speaker meeting, the speaker will tell their story, sharing their journey, strength and hope, and then open the meeting for the group to share.
Introductions – People share by raising their hand. When called upon, they will introduce themselves as, “Hello my name is —-, I’m an alcoholic/ addict.” This is a way of identifying oneself. The first nine months that I attended meetings, I would not label myself. I introduced myself by name and stopped there. The second part made me very uncomfortable. Plus, I was not even sure if I was addicted. If labeling yourself makes you feel uncomfortable, no worries. The only requirement for attending meetings is the desire to stay clean and sober.
“God” talk – You may hear a lot of talk about God or a Higher Power. You may think meetings aren’t for you if you don’t believe in God. But twelve-step programs are not religious. You may believe in anything you wish. Do not let this scare you away.
Names and phone numbers – The groups are extremely welcoming to newcomers. If you raise your hand and say that this is your first meeting, they will pass around a newcomer packet of literature and all of the people in the room that are the same sex as you will sign their name and phone number on the top page, and then pass it to you. You may be wondering why all of these strangers are giving you their numbers. The purpose of meetings is for one person to help another. The men help the men, and the women help the women. The phone numbers are for you to use whenever you need to talk to someone.
Holding hands/hugging – At the end of every meeting, the group will stand in a circle either holding hands or with arms over each other’s shoulders and say a prayer. People will come up to you after the meeting and introduce themselves, and they may try to hug you. It may seem intrusive, but this is how the group honors and welcomes new people.
Intimacy – You will hear people in the meeting sharing about deep feelings and personal experiences: things that happened while they were drunk or high that would be embarrassing or misunderstood by people who have not experienced addiction. People may share their current struggles in recovery. The meetings are a place where people support one another, share their feelings, and learn how to stay clean and sober, no matter what they are going through. You may see people cry or even laugh hysterically. This is a good sign that the group is supportive.
Slogans – You may hear corny slogans that you don’t understand, such as: The first drink gets you drunk, One day at a time, Keep coming back, God’s will, Meeting makers make it, etc. In time, these will make sense.
Steps – People will inevitably talk about the steps. This can be confusing and terrifying for a new person. The “steps” are the roadmap for recovery. If you are interested in purchasing a step book or any other twelve-step literature of your own, most are for sale at meetings. Just ask someone where you can purchase a book. It is good to have your own so that you can read it on your own time to become more familiar with the steps and the program.
Just as there are many bars out there and many places to go get high, there are just as many different meetings. If you do not feel comfortable at a meeting, try another one, and another one, until you find your niche. You will find that there are people from all walks of life, and there is a place where a chair is waiting just for you!