Kinds of 12-Step Meetings — Open and Closed Meetings

I thought I’d do a few posts about the different kinds of 12-step meetings.  Many people in early recovery don’t seem to understand that there are a variety of meetings available to them, not just the ones they were introduced to in treatment or that they stumbled across on their own.  AA is particularly known for having women’s meetings, gay meetings, Big Book and Traditions meetings, and a number of others.  NA does too, and so do some of the other fellowships.

So, here’s my first effort:  Open and Closed Meetings

Open meetings:

In open meetings, anyone is welcome. You can bring your Aunt Minnie, your boss, your significant other, your cousin Hank who “might have a problem.” Anyone you like. Open meetings are most commonly discussion meetings, where someone proposes a topic and attendees take turns sharing about it. Others may be speaker meetings, where folks share their experience, strength and hope in a more formal and longer way. These speakers are usually — although not always — prearranged.

Sometimes the formats are combined into a speaker/discussion meeting. In these, a speaker, or leader, “qualifies” by telling his/her story, and then leads the meeting in discussion of a topic that the leader has picked.

Closed meetings:

The purpose of closed meetings is so that those suffering can share their issues without feeling judged by non-addicts.  They also discourage people who are just curious, and who have no real reason to be there.   Such people, having nothing to lose in the anonymity department themselves, might knowingly or unknowingly speak about something they heard.

Only alcoholics and addicts are welcome at closed meetings. In NA, alcoholics are welcome, since NA officially views alcohol as being a drug. It is customary, however, to identify yourself as an “addict,” or as an “addict and alcoholic.”

In AA, due to traditions that go back more than sixty years and that no one seems in any hurry to change (because they work), only alcoholics are welcome at closed meetings — along with those who have a desire to stop drinking.

Many other kinds of addicts have taken offense at this — usually because they have identified themselves as an addict and been told that the meeting is for alcoholics only. This is an embarrassing situation that arises from time to time. It is a matter of poor manners on the part of the person correcting the other, but we must remember that “some are sicker than others,” and that waiting until after the meeting to explain it politely is not within the capacity of some people.

If a person is an addict at a closed AA meeting, the simple way to deal with the issue is to say, “My name is (whomever), and I have a desire to stop drinking.” At first thought, this seems dishonest. But is it not a fact that addicts need to avoid all mood-altering substances, including alcohol? Do we not therefore — at least in spirit, and sufficient to the moment — have a desire to stop drinking, (or not \start drinking)? Or, we can just grit our teeth and say we’re alcoholics. What’s so bad about that? Bottom line, like it or not, it’s good manners to conform to this tradition. If we do not wish to do so, we may need to find another meeting.

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