Surviving Your First Support Group Meeting


You go into a strange room, sit in a circle with unknown people, and talk about an issue you all share.

To say it is vulnerable is an understatement.

My first meeting was rough. I sat in a rundown city hall with only three people in attendance: the leader, my mom (whom I had dragged there with me), and another man who was court-ordered to attend. It lasted 30 minutes and no one was into it. It was awful enough to never want to go back.

Luckily, I gave it one more shot with a new meeting that ended up being an entirely different experience. One in which brought so much value into my life and my recovery journey.

Had I judged these meetings off that initial experience though, I may never have received the support that is found in those rooms. That is why I have created a guide I wish I would have read before my first meeting:

How exactly to survive your first 12-step meeting:

What to expect.

Most meetings run a pretty in a pretty similar format.

Someone will lead the meeting, reading text out of a binder. A preselected few attendees will read some additional readings. These will give you some insight into the program, along with what it means to be apart of that group.

What happens next is dependent on what kind of meeting you’re attending.

They may have the leader tell their own story, they may open it up for anyone to share, or sometimes media is presented and discussed.

At the end of the meeting often closing texts are read, affirmations and a closing prayer may be read.

Yes, I said a prayer.

Don’t let this catch you off guard as often spirituality (referred to as God or a higher power) is brought up in these meetings but that brings me to my next point…

Be open.

As stated above some aspects of this meeting may be outside of your normal comfort zone.

The most common one is that they discuss a higher power and/or god, which not everyone can relate with.

Be open to the idea of something greater than yourself and try not to get too focused on what higher power or god they are referring too. Let this mean to you whatever sits with you the best.

It could be a traditional (capital G) God, the energy of the universe, or even you being the absolute best version of yourself. If nothing feels right, be open to disregarding that part altogether.

Other people’s shares may also be shocking, alarming, and sometimes even triggering.

Know that there is not a set of trauma criteria to walk into those rooms.

Practice the art of listening and try not to judge. Simply be open to the experience of people sharing very intimate parts of their life with you and see how you may relate.

Don’t put pressure on yourself.

This is your first meeting.

Things may feel unnatural and new but if anything is too anxiety-inducing don’t feel like you have to partake. Examples include reading texts, sharing your own story, and stating aspirations/prayers — or maybe you will surprise yourself and be up for it all

It is okay to sit back and observe. No one is expecting you to fly your first day.

Observe what parts of the meeting interest you and that one day you can work up to participating in.

If anything does feel intriguing and you do decide to go for it, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Give yourself the praise you deserve for putting yourself out into that arena and being vulnerable.

Understand every meeting is different.

Not only is every group different, but the same group can be vastly different on different days.

Two thoughts here: try many meetings and also give meetings more than one shot. Find the meeting you are comfortable in and makes you want to come back.

Some meetings are women-only, others are co-ed. Some are large (30+ people), while others can be under 10. Details can range vastly as well such as reading materials, if they serve snacks (a top priority for me), and if it is indoors or outdoors.

With all the different meetings available today, there are no reasons not to give a few a try before you commit. Use the internet as a starting place to discover meetings near you. Heck, you can even try an internet meeting or phone meeting first!

Remember there is no wrong way to get started and as they often say at the end of meetings — KEEP COMING BACK!

Just know everyone’s first meeting is new and scary but everyone else in that room kept coming back for a reason — because those meetings can change lives.

All you have to do is survive the first one (or few to find the right meeting for you) and that is when the real work can start to be done!

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Previously published on



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