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Your First NA Meeting

What happens at your first NA meeting? Maybe you’re thinking about attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting but are unsure what to expect. Don’t worry – that’s how most of us felt at our first NA meeting! Here’s a short description of what takes place at a typical meeting.

Who can come to NA?

NA is for anyone who thinks they have a problem with drugs of any kind. If you have an addiction problem, you can attend our meetings. If you are not yet sure whether or not you are an addict, don’t be too concerned at this stage. For many people, whether or not they were addicts became clear only after attending their first few meetings. There are certain meetings (“open” meetings) that addicts or people who aren’t sure whether they have an addiction problem can attend along with family members, friends, or other interested people. These meetings are specially marked in the meeting list.

Do I have to be clean already?

Even if you are still using drugs, you are welcome at our meetings. Many NA members that are now living drug-free and recovering from active drug addiction came to their first meetings while still using. Some meetings ask that you not say anything during the meeting if you have used today, but to talk to a clean NA member before or after the meeting.

We wish you a warm welcome!

Getting to your first meeting

First, pick a meeting from the meeting list that you would like to attend.

It is definitely a good idea to arrive at the meeting’s specified start time or maybe even a little earlier. Meetings usually start on time and it’s more comfortable when you have enough time to find a seat at your leisure. Many meetings also offer free coffee and tea, which you are welcome to enjoy.

Someone may approach you or ask if you’ve been to NA before. You can answer however you wish – that you don’t know NA yet, that you’d like to check out a meeting, or that you want to see if NA is for you – either way, you’re always welcome. You will probably also be asked for your first name. The important thing is that you don’t have to say anything at an NA meeting if you don’t want to.

Often, members greet and say goodbye at a meeting with a warm hug. If someone offers you a hug, decide for yourself if you want it or not. This can be very unusual and strange, especially if you don’t know anyone yet – but no one will be mad at you if you say no!

The meeting itself

Usually, an NA meeting begins with the chair person (the host or moderator of the meeting) introducing themselves by their first name and welcoming all participants. Often, participants then say the Serenity Prayer together. No one expects you to know the words to this or indeed to be able or willing to join in.

Next, a number of ‘preambles’ are read aloud from texts that are either passed around or placed on the tables. If you would rather not read aloud, feel free to pass the texts to someone else.

In some meetings there’s a short round of introductions which might include an invitation for guests or newcomers to introduce themselves. What you want to say here is up to you – you can offer your first name and say that you are a visitor, a newcomer, or introduce yourself as an addict. Even if you do decide to introduce yourself as an addict, you are in no way entering into any obligation. Membership in NA is completely voluntary and based on your personal decision.

At the beginning of the meeting, there is usually a brief explanation of the meeting schedule and some general information about NA, the group, and specifics for newer members.

Some meetings host speakers while others introduce a topic or read a text chosen from NA literature. Following this, participants contribute to the meeting by speaking – which is called ‘sharing’ in NA. This is moderated in different ways in different meetings, with participants indicating that they want to share by raising their hands or speaking in turn as part of a round-table discussion, etc. There’s often a limit to the allotted  speaking time so that a good number of members have an opportunity to speak.

Whether or not you want to share something about yourself is up to you. Usually only addicts are invited to share – if you are attending as a guest, feel free to ask questions after the meeting. It is important that everyone speaks only about themselves and their own experience, refraining from commenting on other members’ shares or offering advice. Many members find this liberating.

At the end of the meeting

Towards the end of the meeting there is often a break for NA-related announcements and news. Sometimes a short text is read. A so-called “clean time countdown” is often conducted, during which those present can state their clean time or celebrate clean-time birthdays if they wish. This is not intended to control members, but to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that it’s possible to stay clean for longer periods. As a new member, you may be presented with a welcome chip here.

Also, again usually towards the end of the meeting, a donation box is passed around so that members can volunteer a small donation, at their discretion. As a new member or as a guest, you will be asked to pass on the donation box and keep coming back. If you would like to attend regularly, feel free to contribute in the future. The donations will be used to help cover meeting expenses such as rent, literature, refreshments, meeting lists, and other services.

As the meeting comes to a close, attendees are reminded of the anonymity that underpins our fellowship and asked not to reveal to anyone what was said in the meeting or who was present. In this way, you can participate in the meeting with the assurance that you and the group’s confidentiality will be maintained.

Finally, you’ll often find that members stand in a circle to end  the meeting together with a short prayer.

After the meeting

You may be approached by someone after the meeting. If you still have questions or are unsure, you can also ask people yourself (the chairperson, for example). There are often examples of NA literature, flyers, and books available at the meeting that explain the NA program in more detail. The pamphlets are usually available for free, while the books are for sale.

Most NA members are friendly and approachable – many can remember their own first meeting and will want to help you feel comfortable. However, you may feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar at your first NA meeting. From experience, it takes a few meetings before you get to know some participants personally and begin to look forward to the opportunities to share and the support you can find at meetings. Therefore, we recommend that you attend a few different meetings before deciding if you want to continue attending NA.

You need a certificate?

If you are attending a meeting as a condition of your probation or therapy and need a stamp or certification to prove your attendance, it’s best to ask how the meeting handles this before the meeting starts. Each group decides for themselves whether they are willing to grant confirmation.

Some NA keywords

During the meeting, some terms will be used that may seem unfamiliar to you. Here we explain some of them to you:

Addicts — We refer to ourselves as addicts because we consider addiction as such to be the problem, not a particular drug.

Basic Text — Titled “Narcotics Anonymous”, this blue book is our ‘basic text’ about recovery in NA. 

Trusted servants — Members who do service within NA.

Pamphlets — IPs or informational pamphlets about NA, most of which you can find for free at a meeting.

Closed meetings — Meetings for addicts only or people who think they may have a problem with drugs.

Group — Members who hold one or more meetings regularly form an NA group (see informational pamphlet #2, “The Group”).

Higher Power — A loving force that helps our members stay clean and seek recovery. Each person can conceive of this in whatever way they would like.

Newcomers — New NA members.

Open meetings — Meetings where interested parties including non-addicts are welcome to attend as guests.

Relapse — A short- or long-term return to active drug use.

Sponsor — An experienced NA member who offers one-on-one help, support and guidance through the Twelve Steps (see informational pamphlet #11, “Sponsorship”). You could think of a sponsor as a mentor.

Sharing — Speaking about one’s personal experience with addiction and recovery.