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What to Expect at Your First Al-Anon meeting: Overview of typical meeting for those who feel unsure or anxious

If you’ve been encouraged to try Al-Anon by a minister, therapist, friend or family member, you might be wondering what will happen when you get there and how you will be treated. You might have a concern that you will be overwhelmed by too much attention or that you won’t fit in. You might worry what people will think of you if you share details of your everyday life . You might wonder if you’ll be forced to talk or if you can just listen. Does it cost anything? Are there any forms to fill out and any commitments? What should you wear? This article addresses those concerns and others.

The Room and the Physical Environment

The vast majority of Al-Anon meeting rooms are casual places, and people are welcomed in almost any attire. There will probably be coffee available, often with a basket for contributions. Don’t feel obligated to pay for your coffee, especially if your financial life has been impacted by your loved one’s drinking. There will typically be a literature rack where you can help yourself to free pamphlets, and you will find friendly people around if you want to strike up a conversation.

The Meeting Format

Although there are several different versions of Al-Anon meetings, the group will typically sit in a circle and begin the meeting with a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer. A pre-selected volunteer chairman will read some introductory material about the program and explain how that particular group operates. People will most likely introduce themselves by saying something like “Hi, my name is Susan and I’m an Alanon”. Do not feel obligated to do this if you don’t feel comfortable with it. After some announcements and welcoming comments, the chairman will introduce either a Speaker or a Leader, who will establish the topic for the evening. Some typical formats are Step Study, topic discussion and speaker meetings.

Group Participation

If you find yourself in a discussion meeting rather than a Speaker meeting, you will have the opportunity to share your experience with the disease of alcoholism, briefly. You are not required to do so, and you may just say your name and then something like “I’d like to just listen tonight”. Most meetings discourage “crosstalk”, which is defined as any interruption of the person who is sharing. Questions are not asked and comments are not made during the time someone is speaking to the group. Those discussions are typically held after the meeting, person to person. Most meetings also encourage participants to keep the focus on themselves, and not the alcoholic.

The Basket and the Notebook

At some time during the meeting, the chairman or leader will pass a basket, box or other container around the room for voluntary contributions, as Al-Anon is self-supported. First-time visitors are usually exempt from this custom, and you’ll likely be told your first meeting is “on the house”. Many members find that their finances have been severely damaged by alcoholism and literally do not have a dollar or two to donate. Many meetings also pass a notebook where attendees can put their first name and phone number. This is a good opportunity for newcomers to copy down phone numbers of experienced members, for private conversations at a later time. There are no forms or commitments for newcomers.

Al-Anon meetings are a safe and friendly environment for those who need to find recovery for themselves in response to alcoholism in a family member or friend.

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