What Is 12-Step Meeting Etiquette?

12-Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never attended one before. Each meeting functions differently in accordance with what the meeting group has agreed upon as a whole. Some meetings are large with many people in attendance; others are small. Some are book studies, where you are taken through a page or chapter of the literature that corresponds with the fellowship. 

It is essential to know the type of meeting you are going to, whether gender-specific, a speaker meeting, etc. That way, you can gauge if it is the right fit for us. 12-Step fellowships have their own way of functioning though they have similar steps and traditions they abide by. While these traditions are shared within meetings, other suggestions may not be as commonly known throughout each fellowship. 

Language in Different Fellowships

Each fellowship has its own way of speaking about the disease of addiction; this is because the groups want to distinguish one from the other. For example, NA does not use the terms sober or sobriety. They feel it relates too closely to the substance itself and could potentially alienate the newcomer (new member) by making them feel unwelcome if they didn’t use the same substance that other members did. Instead, they say “clean,” “clean time,” or “recovery” when referring to their journey. 

It is also essential to recognize how the members of each group introduce themselves. For instance, in AA, they refer to themselves as “alcoholics,” but in NA, they call themselves “addicts.” While members of each group ought to be welcoming towards anyone seeking recovery, there is still the expectation that these suggestions will be respected to some extent. If you find yourself at an AA or an NA meeting, it is good practice to speak in the language they use within their fellowship. If you’re unsure, members are usually willing to answer any questions you may have. 

Honoring the Group Conscience

Each fellowship’s meetings function differently from others; this is because every meeting group has what is called a group conscience. A group conscience is how decisions are made at the individual group level, where trusted servants (those with a specified commitment at that particular meeting) talk and vote on issues that affect the group. It is through this practice that groups operate with autonomy. Some groups may clap after someone shares, and others may not. Some groups may have a 10-minute break during their meeting, and others won’t. All of this depends on what the group decides together. Understanding the basics of each fellowship's service structure can help you avoid any misunderstandings. This is especially important in meetings because each one varies; some meetings require that you raise your hand and wait to be called on. Others ask that you stand to share. It is good for you to have a level of awareness to respect the space you are in and steer clear of any situations that could make you feel uncomfortable. When you have a better idea of why things are happening the way they are, you can adjust accordingly.

Cleaning Up After Yourself

Imagine that a friend came over to your home and left wrappers and coffee cups on your floor and cigarette butts on your porch. You would probably feel upset and perhaps disrespected. It is essential that you show gratitude for the spaces you are in, whether in your treatment facility, sober living, or meeting hall. You should try your best to be of service in those areas by picking up after yourself at the end of the meeting. 

Understandably, some may not be physically able to help clean up, but that shouldn’t stop them from saying thank you to the trusted servants that keep the meeting room open for them to have a safe place to share. Many meeting groups rent their meeting space directly from the facility, and those facilities come with their own set of rules that the group must adhere to. Otherwise, they risk eviction. Some facilities may list a designated smoking area or parking spots. The group itself depends on its members -- whether they are new or not -- to follow these rules to keep that meeting space. It is imperative that you respect the group’s wishes and the facility’s rules to avoid causing unintended harm. 

You may find it difficult to follow the rules when you are brand new to recovery because, chances are, you’ve been living life your way for some time. Learning to respect the boundaries of others is an excellent skill to master, and 12-Step programs can help facilitate that growth within yourself. Some of us have never been exposed to this level of a structure before due to absentee parents or other traumas that have left us in a state of fight or flight. Whatever the circumstance, it can feel scary to adjust to this way of living, especially when you have little to no experience with group healing and community. NorthStar Transitions respects those differences, and that is indicative of the way we treat our clients. We celebrate what makes a person unique through attunement and getting you the help you deserve. The NorthStar difference is clinical excellence, evidence-based therapeutic modalities, personalized treatment plans, and our location in the serene and majestic setting of Boulder, Colorado. If you suffer from addiction or mental illness, call us today at (303) 558-6400.

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