Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember my first AA meeting and being really nervous. The first question in my head was, “How long does this thing last?” I hated the fact that I needed to be there and wanted to be away from the meeting as soon as possible.
The best answer to “how long AA meetings are” is: as long as they need to be, to be effective in helping people become sober and to stay sober. At each 12-step program meeting, there is a facilitator who tries to keep the meeting to about an hour. This seems to be about the ideal length.
The most important thing about an anonymous meeting is that they are a safe space and it allows people like me to connect with fellow members. . When we go there, we are free to talk without fear of condemnation.
The power of attending an AA meeting is in finding we are not alone.
To meet others who have shared the battle and have overcome their alcohol addiction is empowering. We all need support groups and the meeting is the main way we interact with those in that group.
We have two types of meetings. These are open meetings and closed meetings, and many AA groups will have both at various times, but the length will be about the same. Open meetings usually have a speaker telling their story, and closed meetings are discussion-based.
Friends and family members are welcome to attend open meetings.
Is it an Hour?
Well, that depends on what you consider the meeting to be. There is normally a period before and after each meeting where people chat and perhaps have coffee, but from the time of the facilitator’s welcome to the end is typically about an hour. It can be frustrating to wait for a meeting to start if you are on a tight schedule but remember that it will normally start at the designated time.
The facilitator will monitor the time and the only real thing that leads to meeting times being less than or more than an hour is the number of people who speak after the share. I have been to meetings with as few as five people and as many as sixty. Not everyone is going to talk, but some will.
Some will talk at length and others may just thank the speaker. This is such an important part of the meeting and cannot be neglected.
The opportunity to share and talk in response to the speaker is vital as part of the recovery process.
Breaking a Meeting Down
Okay, this order of things isn’t cast in stone. Each of these things will happen, but the order may differ a bit between groups, cities, states, and countries.
The facilitator or chair introduces themselves and welcomes everyone. If you’re new it will be the first time you hear the AA introduction, “Hello my name is Marcia, and I am an alcoholic.” You may also hear the facilitator give the date when they became sober.
The preamble is then read followed by the blue card that is appropriate for the meeting type – either open or closed. The blue card states the purpose of the meeting.
Next, come the readings. This always includes a section from the Big Book called How it Works and, in some meetings, can also include the Promises and the Twelve Traditions. These are read by someone from the group of people present.
The readers are thanked.
New members are invited to introduce themselves by their first name. Using just our first names is key to anonymity. No personal information is necessary.
Members of AA are encouraged to share their personal stories regarding their new way of life.
If it is an open meeting, then the speaker is introduced. If it is a closed meeting, then the Facilitator facilitates discussion of a preselected topic such as one of the twelve steps or the promises.
The speaker is thanked if it is an open meeting, and the floor is opened so others in the meeting can respond to the speaker or mention something else. A collection basket or bag is passed around. Donations aren’t compulsory. Remember that the only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no membership fees.
Announcements about personal and group birthdays are made as well as any other information.
The meeting is closed with a moment's silence followed by the reciting of the serenity prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, or another prayer as suits the group. Some groups hold hands during the prayer and others do not.
The Purpose and Not the Length Counts
The important thing is to remember why meetings exist.
The fifth tradition says that “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
This is why we have meetings – to know that recovery is possible, to know that we can recover too, and to make contact with others who are like us.
That is one of the amazing things about AA – it is an equalizer.
In the rooms, I have met CEOs and hobos, nurses, and university students. It makes no difference, we share a common disease, and the meetings bring us together to let us know we are not alone. We each need peer support in both AA and other 12-step meetings.
I remember knowing, while I was still drinking, that there were others like me, but it only really sunk in when I started going to meetings. In meetings, things started to make sense. For example, one of the promises states –
“We will neither regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.”
Seriously, how was I not going to stop beating myself up for all the things I regretted doing in my drinking days. As I listened in meetings it became clear that if I spent life splashing around in regret, I would hate myself and that is dangerous for sobriety.
Why then not shut the door on it? Because to forget what drinking was like and what it did to us is to risk repeating the cycle. The wisdom that isn’t always obvious becomes clear at meetings.
So, a meeting does three things:
It lets us meet others like us. They share the same problems and impossibly it seems have sobered for six months, a year, thirty years, or more, but always Just for Today. To know that Jack was just like me and is now a college lecturer can be such an inspiration. We may even find a mentor to help us on the journey to sobriety.
It allows us to learn. We learn from others who have worked the steps of alcoholics anonymous been where we are when we decided to take the first step and admit we were powerless over alcohol. We learn from the Big Book and the wisdom of the past. We learn the twelve-step program.
It is the first step to connect with a higher power, whatever we conceive that power to be. It forms part of our spiritual foundation through the application of a 12-step approach. It does more than that, but in my experience, those are the most important things a meeting does.
How long are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings? They are long enough for groups to act on the fifth tradition and to help you, me, and all the others like us to become sober and stay sober. The purpose of a meeting is simple. It is not to make us feel awful. It is not to berate us, but to
lift us up from where we were when we came in and to aid us in victory over our alcohol addiction.
You know the old question – how long is a piece of string. As long as it needs to be.
Can I leave you with one final thought? When you least want to go to a meeting may be the time you most need to go to one. No matter how long.
All quotes are from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book.