If you have never attended a 12 Step Recovery meeting, it can be a very enlightening, positive, and helpful experience. Sometimes, the face to face ones can be quite entertaining depending on who the speaker is or how people choose to “share.” However, if you have never been to a meeting, it can be intimidating and feel overwhelming just being there for the issues that qualified you for a seat. Factor in a complete unfamiliarity with the format, routine or expectations and it could cause the most stoic observer to quake in her boots.
Generally speaking most meetings will follow a similar format of gathering together and having the meeting open with a call to order, going over the purpose of the meeting, a recitation of the 12 Steps and perhaps the 12 Traditions, and a centering prayer, commonly the abbreviated version of The Serenity Prayer. At some point there will be a call for anniversaries or birthdays and chips or key tags may be handed out and newcomers welcomed. Hopefully, the introduction period included the basics of meeting protocol.
Then a topic and speaker will be introduced. Sometimes the topic is focused on a specific step or tradition. Other times it will be determined by the speaker and be related to an aspect of the recovery process. A subtopic may be introduced as well. A key point to keep in mind is that the speaker is going to be someone who has been in the program a while and has a history with the same issues that brought you through the doors. He or she may look and sound like they have it all together now, but once upon a time they may have been lower than you feel you are in that moment.
Once the speaker is finished, the floor will be opened to “sharing.” This is when attendees may speak about their experiences in dealing with the topic of the meeting or their personal recovery process. This is the part that can really trip people up if they aren’t careful. It’s very easy to listen to someone else’s “share” and start focusing on that person and how messed up things are “over there.” The temptation to find fault with anything and everything that is said, how the attire looks, even the manner of speech and presentation style is very great. Alternatively, the negative self-talk that has become the voice of the eternal, internal nag will call your sorry self into poor comparison to what that other guy has managed to accomplish while you have squandered all the gifts and blessings you were ever given away for no good reason, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good,” on repeat and rewind in your brain.
This is the time when you most need to do whatever it takes to silence your brain and truly listen to what is being said, so that you can hear what your Higher Power wants to know. Even if you have trouble believing in or accepting a Higher Power, the Higher Power believes in and accepts you and you are in that meeting to have an encounter with your Higher Power.
After the final “share” the closing may consist of hand holding, some kind of affirmation, and a statement along the lines of, “Keep coming back, it works if you work it, so work it because you’re worth it!” During the closing process there may be some announcements.
At the end of it all there may an opportunity for socialization or to talk to someone about resources and literature explaining more about recovery.
Meetings are one of the keys to the recovery process because they get us out of our self-imposed isolation. Being in a meeting puts us in a position to realize and understand that we are not alone, other people have and are experiencing what we are going through, in one way or another. They are filled with people who can offer understanding, acceptance, encouragement, support and accountability in a way no one else in our lives may be capable of doing.
To summarize: Stop isolating and get to a meeting in whatever way and by whatever means work for you. If you can’t get to a meeting that is specific to your substance/behavior of choice, then find the closest 12 Step meeting regardless of whether it’s the same exact issue as yours or not. You may hear something your Higher Power wants you to know, like You. Are. Loved. Unconditionally. You may be the channel through with the Higher Power communicates to someone else who is there. Either way, you are not in this alone, there are others who want to find a path to health and sanity too. Start walking beside them and let them walk beside you instead of going it alone and trying to swim against the tide of those around you who aren’t yet hurting enough to change.