Recovery Meetings 101: A Newcomer’s Guide to AA, NA, and More
Recovery Meetings 101: A Newcomer’s Guide to AA, NA, and More
Are Recovery Meetings for me?
One of the most common hindrances that stop people from taking the first step in seeking help for addiction is fear. Fear takes on many forms, especially for those with substance use disorder, as substances are a means to temporarily eradicate or mask the emotions associated with fear and other similar psychological inhibitions. For some, it is a fear of life without substances. For others, it may be a fear of confronting the destruction that has been left behind in the wake of their addiction. But perhaps more broadly, it is the fear of the unknown, especially for those entering recovery for the first time. Many people who have never been exposed to the process of recovery treatment, aftercare, or both, may have a sense of fear from not knowing what they are getting themselves into. Pop culture or media portrayals of sobriety meetings or rehab may have shaped an often misrepresented preconception of what a recovery meeting entails. Some may assume, either through aforementioned media or similarly attained presumptions, that sobriety meetings are reserved for bottom-dwellers of society and that there is no place for a person who has an otherwise stable life.
I will be the first to admit (and I’m sure the incredible recovery coordinators at Herren Project who stuck with me through my stubbornness can attest to this) that my misconceptions of recovery were a huge hurdle for me to overcome. What I then considered to be the basis for my reluctance was a sense of not belonging in those rooms — I wasn’t homeless (yet, as my eviction wasn’t for another month), I had my addictions under control (false — I was in and out of hospitals, I was fired from my job, amongst a multitude of other examples), and I wasn’t like the people in those rooms and treatment centers (I was exactly like the people I would soon be sharing those rooms with). What I now realize through hindsight and experience is that my excuses for not wanting to get help, besides being demonstrably false, were all rooted in fear — particularly fear of the unknown. I didn’t know what treatment would be like. I didn’t know what Alcoholics Anonymous was or what it entailed, and I didn’t know who I would be surrounded with or how I would be perceived —the list goes on. Not knowing what I was getting into and the fear grounded in these uncertainties made my first step one of the hardest. In the many conversations I’ve had with people both in recovery from drugs and alcohol and those considering going to a meeting or treatment, I realize that I was not alone having this fear. Thinking back on this, I would have loved to have someone explain to me what Alcoholics Anonymous was, what recovery meetings were like, and what other groups are available so that I could have alleviated some of those fears. It reminds me of taking tests in high school and college — the ones I went into unprepared caused me so much anxiety and fear, but the ones I was prepared for gave me a sense of ease and confidence. We can say the same for many things in life, recovery included. That’s what gave me the idea to write this article — to help prepare those of you reading who are considering going to a recovery meeting so you can know what to expect and to alleviate some of the fears that may be holding you back. Below I will answer some of the questions about recovery meetings that I had before beginning my recovery journey with hopes that it allows others to show up with the sense of ease and confidence that comes with being prepared. Together, let’s put some of those fears of the unknown to rest!
What is a Support Group or Recovery Meeting?
Support groups are one of the most universally known and attended forms of therapy in the world due to a few factors:
they’re typically free
comprised of people sharing similar grief, struggles, addictions, and/or pain.
More importantly, they offer a form of support and understanding that people may not find in their familial, social, or professional circles. If you search online for a support group, it would be tough to find a topic or issue that doesn’t have some form of support community, whether it be in person or online. Addiction recovery meetings are support groups that address many issues like gambling, sex, eating, and for our purposes, substances. These meetings are typically held almost anywhere — clubhouses, churches, hospitals, or even cruise ships! With the pandemic, many have migrated to virtual meetings online. You may have heard of the two most popular substance recovery meetings before — Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) — but many more groups exist to cater to a wide array of struggles, addictions, and belief systems.
What are AA and NA?
“Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.”*
AA and NA are referred to as 12-step programs that focus on the steps that many addicts have found to be an effective methodology for addressing addiction. AA and NA meetings are open to anyone who has the desire to stop drinking or using drugs. The format for AA and NA is typically the same but may have slight variations depending on the group. Some people prefer one over the other because they like the discussion and the people around them to be about their substance of choice (sometimes referred to as DOC, or drug of choice). However, in most cases, the meetings are interchangeable, and anyone will be welcome no matter what substance they are addicted to. Meetings are typically an hour long and follow a few basic formats.
The meeting begins with a designated chairperson reading the AA preamble, followed by the Serenity Prayer.
Volunteers will read a few short pieces of AA literature — “How it Works,” “The Twelve Traditions,” and “The Promises.” Those in attendance will then introduce themselves to the group, usually by saying their first name and declaring themselves as an alcoholic, addict, recovering, or all three. What follows depends on what type of meeting is being held, which includes Step Study, Speaker, or Open Share formats.
Step study meetings are about the twelve steps of AA and NA and typically focus on one or two steps per meeting. These meetings will typically read a chapter or passage out loud that focuses on the step being highlighted, followed by an open-format share and discussion where attendees will share their thoughts, feelings, or personal struggles on that step in particular.
Speaker meetings will have a person that the chairperson arranges to share their story of experience, strength, and hope. This is usually someone who has been in recovery for more than a year and can share about their addiction, how they were able to find recovery, and give a sense of hope for newcomers that recovery is possible. Depending on the length of the speaker’s share, the rest of the meeting will be open for discussion to ask the speaker questions or share their thoughts based on what the speaker shared.
Share meetings or open discussion meetings are quite simple. After the opening readings, prayer, and introductions, the floor is open for anyone to raise their hand, introduce themselves, and speak freely on anything they like regarding recovery, addiction, struggles, successes, failures, or anything in-between.
At the end of the meeting, the chairperson will ask if there are any AA-related announcements and conclude the meeting by leading the Lord’s Prayer. Everyone will stand up, join hands and recite the prayer in unison, though it is not mandatory to participate in the prayer. Once the prayer has been recited, the meeting is over, and people are free to leave, but most people will gather and socialize over coffee and sometimes baked goods.
+ Author’s note: Not all AA/NA meetings follow the exact format detailed above, and the procedures may vary from meeting to meeting. The above description is based on the most common practices I have personally encountered in various meeting locations across the country.
What if AA / NA is not for me?
Though AA and NA meetings are the most widely known and readily available recovery meetings, many “spin-off” groups have been formed to cater to a plethora of preferences and belief systems. Some of these include more substance-specific AA and NA-style meetings such as Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, and Nicotine Anonymous. Others, such as Celebrate Recovery, are available to those who prefer an approach to the twelve-step program that includes ties to the bible and Christianity that is open for anyone struggling with hurt, pain, or addiction of any kind.
For those that don’t find the twelve-step program appealing, some groups address addiction through other practices. Refuge Recovery is a peer-support group that uses Buddhist-inspired practices and principles, combined with successful recovery community structures, to overcome addiction. Members practice a daily recovery program that includes meditation and personal inventory, mentorship, retreat, and service as integral components.
If twelve-step or spiritual-driven programs just aren’t your thing, some groups offer a more pragmatic, less spiritual approach in addressing addiction. In particular, SMART Recovery, or Self-Management and Recovery Training, is a recovery meeting that teaches coping skills to help participants address four main points they feel are essential to maintaining sobriety:
Building and maintaining the motivation to change
Coping with urges to use
Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors
Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life
Herren Project also currently offers free online drug and alcohol addiction recovery meetings every night of the week at 7:30 pm EST via the Zoom Platform. It’s a mixture of people from all pathways of recovery, whether you find support through the 12-steps, Refuge Recovery, or any other practice. Meetings are confidential and follow the same principle of 12 step meetings that “who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.” Participation (speaking/sharing) is not required, and you must be 18 years of age to participate.
Do I Need to be Sober to Attend a Recovery Meeting?
In the multitude of meetings that occur 24/7 around the world, there are sometimes rules made in specific meetings to accommodate the needs of that community in particular. However, nearly all abide by the rule that all required to attend is the desire to stop drinking or using. You do not need to be in recovery to attend meetings, and you will most likely not be turned away if you are under the influence. Still, it would be a good idea to look up the rules of the meetings around you and make sure you are not breaking any by showing up under the influence. It may be a good idea to arrive a little early to talk with the meeting organizers about their meeting rules — remember to be honest about your current state; no one will judge or criticize your desire to seek help. After all, anyone you meet in a recovery meeting will have once been in your shoes themselves, whether that was hours, days, weeks, months, or years ago.
What is Beneficial About Support Groups and Recovery Meetings?
Due to the sheer quantity and variety of support groups and recovery meetings that exist, research on the topic has been sometimes limited to specific aspects of support group and recovery meeting efficacy. However, what has been found can certainly be applied to almost any group, program, or methodology due to the shared commonalities found in the nature of peer-derived support.Support groups are a place where people can express themselves in ways that they may not be able to amongst their family, friends, or peers.Recovery meetings, in particular, give people struggling with addiction the platform to share their struggles, successes, and failures and not only be heard but understood as well.The atmosphere of acceptance, empathy, encouragement, and hope provides participants a structure of support in a group-wide effort to strengthen and empower one another.
Of the studies I’ve reviewed, some of the most common conclusions are that the emotional support derived from support group participation can help reduce stress, which can positively impact health. Further, people may greatly benefit from the information sharing that takes place in a support group. They may learn how to manage symptoms, develop better coping skills, and communicate more effectively with their doctors. By attending addiction support groups, partners, friends, and family members may also learn how to be more understanding and supportive of their loved ones’ substance use disorder. In time, all these benefits may help reduce stress and enhance recovery.*
Have a Question That Wasn’t Answered? Reach out!
If you still have a question or fear of what to expect from attending a recovery meeting, there’s no need to let that fear take up any more of your energy. Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have about recovery meetings, no matter how big or small. I will do my best to answer them. I will even add them to this article for others who may have had the same question.
If you are ready to change your life and start the process of recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, our Herren Project team is available to help you. Start by filling out the inquiry form on our home page. Additionally, you can send an email to email@example.com or call 844-543-8555 for more information.