What Really Happens at a 12-Step Meeting?

12 step meeting
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Ah, the great mysteries of life! Who made Stonehenge? Are aliens real? But most importantly, what really happens at a 12-Step meeting?

Unless you have actually ended up participating in a 12-Step meeting, then likely the only context you have of it is scenes from movies or TV shows. These meetings often depict dingy church basements and rough looking men frustratingly complaining about their problems since quitting their substance of choice. Although, sure, there may be some scattered meetings here and there that resemble the movie caricature, I want to say that the vast majority do not.

Let me introduce you to my world of 12-step meetings.

Immediately upon entering the meeting location, I am greeted by hello’s, hugs, smiles and waves. Not a crowd of people silently avoiding each other around a table. We who participate in 12-step fellowships become a great community to one another. We are involved in each other’s lives, growth, fun and more! When we are able to come together at meetings, it is like a little family reunion: we catch up on what’s new, share information & excitement to see one another. Typically it is quite a social time before the meeting starts.

Once the meeting begins and everyone takes their seats, various introductions are had and readings from the literature are read. If it’s your first time at a 12-step meeting like AA, NA, or CA, you may be taken aback by people reciting words along with the readings (think Rocky Horror Picture Show!), but it’s because we all like to emphasize certain parts of the readings out loud together. No one knows it when they first walk in but as you stay and participate you may gradually find yourself resonating with the words as well.

It is also commonplace to recognize recovery milestones. Most notably for newcomers, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, 9 months and for each year anniversary. If someone is celebrating their achievement at that particular meeting, they may introduce themselves and receive a ‘chip’ or ‘key tag’ for their recovery time. We love to cheer for people’s accomplishments. It’s a big deal to share in the excitement of others milestones all along the way.

Each meeting has a slightly different format for how it is run. Some meetings are speaker meetings and some are book studies. At speaker meetings, a speaker will usually share their story of what it was like, what happened and what it’s like now. Sometimes the share will take the duration of the meeting, and sometimes there will be opportunities after the speaker has finished for open participation. If other members of the fellowship wish to thank the speaker or share about what is going on with them, it becomes an open forum to just speak what is on the heart. If it is a book study, then the focus of the meeting is to read a particular piece of literature and discuss it with one another. How does it relate to our lives? What is our experience with it? What can I share that may be helpful to someone else understanding this literature a bit better?

ladies enjoying free snack at 12 step meeting

Oh, did I mention that 90% of the time there will be free cake/snacks & coffee at the meetings?

Now that I’ve explained the technical, let me explain to you the specific feel of a meeting. Most often there will be times of laughter, times of empathizing, times of disbelief and times of awe. As individuals participate in their own unique and diverse ways, unique and diverse feelings accompany. And really, at the end of the day, that is really the life blood of what every 12-step meeting is about: the people. The fellowship. The community.

If you are curious at all to begin a journey into exploring 12-step meetings please search around and don’t feel discouraged after exploring only 1 or 2 meetings. The point is to find a fellowship which you can truly relate to. A fellowship that makes you feel included and people whom you actually want to listen to and to speak to. It make take a bit of time and dedication to find the right meetings which make you feel at home, but once you do, you’ll be glad you did.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide community-based recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living. Recovery IS possible!

About Heidi Marcz

Director of Alumni and Case Management Heidi has been working in the field of addiction for the past 4 years, has a RADT and moonlights as a blogger and Brainpaint Neurofeedback Technician. If asked, there is nothing in the recovery field that Heidi won’t do to learn more or to be of service to the newcomers. As alumni and outreach coordinator, Heidi feels she has the unique opportunity to keep continuity in the community- even after people have finished their initial SUD programming. Events range from seasonal activities, fundraisers, service events and special interest activities. Heidi is excited to perpetually generate more community cohesiveness, fun & gratitude for others and herself.