PART ONE: ALCOHOLISM, THE DISEASE THAT DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE
It’s difficult to enter Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
It’s difficult on our pride as well as difficult to face complete strangers to whom we admit our downfalls that have brought us to this point.
However, what can be reassuring about AA is exactly that: the cross-section of people at the meetings are strangers.
They are old and experienced, young and inexperienced, of all colors and creeds, men, women, hip, nerdy, scholarly and blue collared.
They are also, like yourself, in the same boat: they want to become sober and have come here to do so.
In short, the initial aspect you need to know about your first AA meeting is you’re on even ground with everyone else there.
DON’T CONFUSE HELP WITH CREEPINESS
But even if you are on even ground, intimidation, confusion and even downright creepiness can still course through you at your first AA meeting.
Sure, the meetings are held in places you’d least expect to find yourself, like in the basement of a church. And more likely than not, those attending the meeting may not be anyone you’d want to see on an otherwise social basis.
However, keep in mind that these people at one point went through the same hesitation, if not trepidation.
Even so, you still have to introduce yourself, which is highly recommended particularly for newcomers.
Introducing yourself is important for two reasons:
- You have put your name to your own face and given others a reference point of who you are, and…
- You’ve opened a door, which signifies you’re ready to receive help, guidance, and support from everyone present.
Once you get to know others in your meeting, and they get to know you, the initial creepiness will evolve into familiarity. In no time, you’ll share stories of triumph as well as setbacks to your sobriety.
The icing on the cake is you’ll feel comfort, not creepiness, as you communicate more with your group.
BE OPEN AND APPROACHABLE
In some cases, being the newbie at a well-established AA meeting might give you the sensation that you’re a little lamb in the company of hungry wolves.
Rest assured, this will not be the case.
What you instead face are individuals eager to meet you and share their stories of addiction and recovery.
With that said, be open and approachable.
AA members, in most cases, aren’t at the meetings to have relationships beyond the meeting. But as the meetings go on, expect friendliness and patience. Also expect to give out your phone number.
Now is not the time to be shy or stand-offish. Honesty is in your corner, along with the others in that church basement.
Instead, now is the time to face your addiction objectively with help from your new friends.
WAIT YOUR TURN TO ANNOUNCE YOURSELF
You’ll notice in your first AA meeting that there is a decorum of when and when not to speak.
Much like a classroom, or debate, a town hall meeting, or any other gathering where everyone’s entitled to voice themselves, the same is true during AA meetings. Each person is given a chance to voice their concerns, announce their triumphs, or disclose their downfalls.
The Democratic process of this is key to AA meetings, in which no one member’s addiction holds importance over another person. Everyone present has an ailment which should be aired.
Granted, airing your issues is optional. In AA, it’s entirely up to you to speak or not during a meeting.
The problem is the less you speak, the less advice and support you will receive toward your addiction.
In short, you have to be heard to get help and receive support. You also have to be upfront with every aspect of your addiction that you feel is important.
THE BIG AA RULES NO-NO
There are many rules in AA, all of them designed toward the group being autonomous with fairness enjoyed by each person.
One large and far reaching rule in AA is to never “crosstalk.”
As defined by Anon Press1, which is a publisher of Alcoholics Anonymous literature, crosstalk occurs when one AA meeting member interrupts another, or gives direct advice to a member.
This is a no-no big time. In AA you’re allowed to speak freely, even critically of yourself, but not allowed to criticize others in the meeting. Nor is it recommended that you give another member advice, or analyze who they are as a person and addict.
This behavior will not only damage the group’s integrity, it can deeply hurt the member to whom your analysis is focused on.
Of course, this also goes for criticizing another member, critiquing how they handle their recovery, or commenting on a subject they have exclusively asked the group to not comment on.
Your best bet as you enter AA is to concentrate on yourself, and voice your own story. This alone will make you a supportive member in your newly found AA group.
Take heart: Now that you’ve recognized your addiction, and you’ve begun going to AA, you’re in the right place, making the right move.
Share your own experiences and the steps you’ll take to bring your addiction under control. Doing this will ensure your standing as a respected and needed member of your AA gathering.
PART TWO: A GLOSSARY OF SOME COMMON AA TERMS
Alcoholics Anonymous, like any group or organization, has its own lingo shared amongst its members.
If you are a newbie on the AA scene, it’s a good idea to study up on some of the phrases used in a meeting.
Part two of this article lists some of the more common phrases you might hear when you arrive to your first AA meeting. These terms were found in conjunction with the website The Fix2, which is a resource site for addiction and recovery.
When someone announces in an AA meeting that it’s their birthday, they don’t necessarily mean birth years, but the year and date that they decided to become sober. AA meetings in the Midwest and on the East Coast sometimes refer to this date as an anniversary.
An old-timer refers to someone who has been sober for a long length of time. Depending upon the group, to reach old-timer status, you will need to be sober between 10 and 20 years.
Time is a huge part of sobriety. That’s because it takes time – an immense amount of time for some to achieve complete sobriety. Time, in the sense of discussion within an AA group, can also refer to how long a person has been continuously sober. Example:
“How much time do you have without a drink?”
“Oh, about eight months now.”
It used to be that when a friend asks what you did last Saturday night, you might have responded, “I went out.” And of course, whatever occurred when you did go out might easily be the polar opposite of what you’re trying to do now that you’re in AA.
Went out, in AA terms, means relapse. When a person goes out, they may have only a few drinks, or gotten completely smashed. Either way, it doesn’t matter as a relapse is a relapse.
Just be certain to carefully use “went out” when in your group sessions. As you can see, the phrase means something totally different in AA than in any other world.
Think (Think, Think)
Think, think, think gets its notoriety as to what you should and need to do before you engage in behavior that can severely obliterate your sobriety. This can entail drinking or any other form of using.
So, if a scenario arises in which you believe having a shot and a beer, or worse, might be a grand idea, think, think, think again.
Drug of Choice
Your drug of choice simply denotes what your favorite substance was to get high on.
Was it a nice Jack and Coke with two cubes, or was it a couple lines of Colombian? These can be drugs of choice, meaning it’s the first substance you’ll reach for whether at home, in a social event, or even in moments of stress.
Your drug of choice can change rapidly depending upon your level of addiction and your resistance to their current drug. In this case, a drug of choice becomes the most powerful drug an addicted person tries.
Use, like Went Out, is often used when a person falls off the wagon from relapse. If someone in AA says they used last weekend, more often than not it means they drank, or got into something else just as savage to their sobriety.
In cases like this when a person in your AA group states that they used, it can benefit you and your sobriety to find out what substance they imbibed in that constitutes “used” to them.
Was it straight-out booze, or something less known for its alcohol content, such as vanilla extract or an alcohol-based mouthwash, either of which can get a person drunk, if not very sick.
Despite a fellow AA mate’s downfall, knowing items like this contain alcohol can help keep your own sobriety in check.
The term last drunk is difficult to understand when you first hear it in AA. In some cases, last drunk can refer to a happy occasion, such as a friend’s party, an anniversary, or even your own birthday.
In AA, a last drunk indicates a time when you knew you needed help and support. It’s a time when you were at your lowest and most depressed because of your drinking, not when you were celebrating a joyful event.
What may probably be the easiest AA term to understood, but the most difficult to agree to, is acceptance.
In AA acceptance in AA means you’ve finally come to terms that your drinking is a problem.
In the case of being an alcoholic, or any other type of user, use acceptance in your life as a positive, not a negative.
If you consider acceptance as giving up, do so, but only with the adage that you have given up something detrimental to your lifestyle and your health.
Thinking this way in AA can immediately turn the negative connotation of acceptance into a very strong positive.
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- Crosstalk in Meetings, AAFAQ. Retrieved 2016.
- A Handy Guide to 12-Step Lingo, The Fix. Retrieved 2016.