Home » 12 Step Programs » 12 Step Meetings » What Are 12 Step Meeting Like? See What A Beginner Can Expect
What Are 12 Step Meeting Like

What Are 12 Step Meeting Like? See What A Beginner Can Expect

Attending your first meeting can be an unnerving experience for anyone. Very often you will be facing a personal crisis that led you to seek help.

12 Step Meetings Are Safe Places

You may be wondering: how did I get here? Where did my life wrong? You may be concerned that the people around you are losers or that you may be joining some kind of cult.

On a more pragmatic level, you may be concerned that you will have to talk. In your imagination you probably see yourself forced to share harrowing details of your addiction and hitting rock bottom with a group of strangers. You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect.

You may be concerned that you will run into the people you meet. At this early stage, revealing your addiction to people you know seems like a bit much! Worry not. In the first place, it is statistically unlikely that this will occur, especially if you live in a big city. More importantly, other members are there for the same reason as you. The Anonymous element of the 12-step fellowships is taken very seriously. People in the group, whether you know them or now, will not disclose your identity to outsiders.

The truth is, attending your first meeting will be less stressful than you think. Most members of your recovery group are interested in making you feel comfortable enough to return. They remember the anxieties associated with their first meeting and know that giving you some space to find yourself within the program is essential to your comfort.

Meeting Structure

No two meetings are the same, but they tend to share certain elements. The meetings are probably more structured than you expect. The person running the meeting will read some literature relevant to the group and recite the short version of the “Serenity Prayer.” The wise words set the tone for the entire meeting:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.

Newcomer / Beginner Introduction

Be prepared for the chairperson to ask if there are any first-timers at the meeting. It is a good idea to say yes and introduce yourself, but it is not obligatory. You may choose to fly under the radar in your first meeting. That is fine! The important part is that you have come. It is up to you what happens next.

Participation / Sharing

Then comes the part you have seen in movies and on TV. People start sharing. One of the things that surprised me, was the “no cross-talk” rule. That means you are not allowed to interrupt a share or even directly address previous ones when talking to the group. This allows for a more comfortable sharing environment.

You will not be surprised to hear people introduce themselves as addicts or alcoholics. What will surprise you is the content of the shares. There will be less talking about the darkness of addiction than you may expect, and many shares will focus on recovery and hope. This is especially true if the meeting you attend happens to be a step meeting. In that case, there will be further reading on one of the 12-steps and shares will focus on the role of that step in their recovery. In these regular formats, you will not be specifically asked to share. It is completely up to you.

If you have identified yourself as a newcomer in a smaller group, the meeting may evolve into a “newcomer meeting.” In that case, members will share the stories aimed at you and/or other members attending their first meeting. They will describe what led them to join the fellowship and how the program has changed their lives for the better. These shares are designed to give you hope and alleviate any sense of isolation you have. The group will try to make you understand that, no matter what you are going through, you are not alone.

Meeting Business

After everyone completes sharing, the fellowship business is addressed. Members will be encouraged to contribute to the coffers of the group. However, dues are not mandatory. Some administrative issues concerning funding or events may be related. You will notice the commitment of the members to the fellowship. No one is getting paid for the services they provide. They do it out of a commitment to the cause of aiding the recovery of the members of the group.

Birthdays or Anniversaries & Chips or Tokens

Then the group may mark any “sobriety birthdays.” If you have introduced yourself, you may receive a chip for one day of sobriety, or longer if appropriate. Since the program is based on maintaining sobriety “one day at a time”, most members believe that the first chip is the most important one, as it marks the beginning of a road towards hope and recovery.

Often the Lord’s Prayer will be recited at this point and members may join hands while doing so. You are not obligated to participate.

The chairperson asks if there are any program-related announcements. In some cases, they announce that it is time for the Lord’s Prayer, and everyone stands in a large circle, holding hands, and recites the prayer. You do not have to participate in the prayer. Once the prayer is over, the meeting ends.


There will be a good amount of socializing after the formal meeting is over. If you were identified as a newcomer, people may come up to you to offer support. You may receive a list of member phone numbers to reach out to. If you are overwhelmed, you can leave immediately after the meeting. The other members are a crucial resource in recovery, but you do not need to jump into everything all at once. Recovery is a process best taken one step at a time.

Should You Go?

Ultimately, there is little to lose from attending your first meeting and a lot to gain. The members will not pressure you to get more involved in the meeting than you are comfortable, and you do not have to return. If you do find the program is for you, that first meeting may be the beginning of lifelong fellowship and recovery.

Also, if you’re unsure about going to your first meeting in person, you can always go to a virtual 12 step meeting first.

Scroll to Top