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Returning to AA After a Long Absence

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Deciding to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting can be difficult and intimidating, even if you want to go and know deep down inside that you need to. But returning to AA after you’ve been absent for a while can sometimes be scarier than attending for the very first time.

You might be worried that people will judge you for not being involved in the program for a while, or you might just be worried about going to meetings again because you’re shy and don’t know anyone. Whatever the reason, you can get back to the program and start changing your life.

Determine Why You Stopped Going

One of the first things you should try to understand before returning to AA is why you stopped going to meetings in the first place. Were they unhelpful, or did you just get too busy? Did you not enjoy the meetings or the people who were there? Were you denying that alcohol was still a problem?

Once you pinpoint why you stopped going, it will be much easier to come up with a plan to reintegrate AA into your life. You might be able to make minor changes, such as finding meetings with a more convenient location so you can stay on track.

Many people wonder, “Is AA for me?” One of the most helpful things you can do when attending any type of 12-Step meeting is to take advantage of all of the good information and leave the rest behind. If you find certain aspects of AA helpful, it’s okay to latch onto them and ignore some of the other offerings that you don’t find useful.

It’s also worth mentioning that many people who attend AA meetings don’t achieve recovery through spiritual or religious means, despite the prevalence of this topic in the AA literature.1 For many people, it’s more about the community aspect.1

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Find the Right Meeting Before Returning to AA

If you haven’t been to an AA meeting in a while, it can be difficult to figure out how to go back. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who attend AA meetings are more than happy to help you maintain your sobriety and will try to make you feel comfortable at the meetings. In AA, helping others is seen as a great way to maintain your sobriety, so you’ll have no shortage of support.2

One of the most important things you can do when returning to AA is to find a meeting that works for you. This includes finding a time, location, and type of meeting that you can attend regularly. If you work late and prefer to stop at a meeting on your way home instead of having to go back out again after returning home from your job, find a meeting near where you work. If you are always too tired after work to attend a meeting, try going in the morning or on your lunch break if you have time.

Make attending AA compatible with your lifestyle so it can work for you.

Some people really enjoy speaker meetings, where attendees get up and share, while others like Big Book meetings, which focus more on the literature of AA. If you hadn’t been attending AA meetings for very long, you could start by going back to a beginner’s meeting to get yourself familiarized again with AA terms, meeting types, and other needed information. The people who run beginner’s meetings are generally active in the program and have long-term sobriety. Other experienced and long-term sober members usually attend the beginner’s meetings and offer help to newcomers.

Finding the right meeting will make it easier to stay committed to AA and will help with your sobriety. Research shows that attending three or more meetings per week is optimal in maintaining long-term recovery,3 so come up with a plan to give meetings another chance.

Refamiliarize Yourself with AA/Literature

If you’ve been away from AA for a while and want to start going to meetings and get involved with the program again, refamiliarize yourself with some of the AA literature, such as The Big Book and Daily Reflections. The Big Book provides a lot of information about the program and how people learned to stay sober by working the 12 Steps of AA.4

Most members who are actively involved in AA are taking cues from The Big Book. It’s often quoted and discussed in meetings,4 and it can be helpful for you to take another look at it before your return to AA. This isn’t a requirement, though. Once you return, you will learn a lot about AA and The Big Book by attending meetings and talking to others in the program.

Working and Reworking the Steps

If you were previously in the program for a long time and then stopped going, you may be familiar with working the steps. One of the goals of AA is to go through the 12 Steps with a sponsor as a way to strengthen your recovery and achieve long-term sobriety.5 If you went through the steps already, it could be helpful to go back through them and remember what the experience was like.

While it’s ideal to work the steps with a sponsor, you may find it helpful to at least start thinking about going through the steps again. Reworking the first step before returning to a meeting could end up being very beneficial.

Step 1 states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.”6 If you previously wrote down your feelings and thoughts about this step, go back through it and remember why you started attending AA meetings in the first place. Chances are, you have a lot written in notebooks or on your computer if you’ve been through the steps. Sometimes all it takes for a successful return to AA is remembering why you were there in the first place and how it helped you.

Connect with the Community

Another great way to return to AA is to connect with the community. Did you have a sponsor before you stopped attending the meetings? If you did, consider reaching out to them. You can discuss why you stopped going to meetings in the first place and how you can reintegrate AA into your life. You can also share your hesitations about going back to AA and what has prevented you from returning sooner.

Did you meet other people in the meetings who were abstaining or reducing their alcohol intake? If so, contact these people as well, as having a network of people who also wish to stop drinking alcohol or maintain long-term sobriety can be very helpful.7 If you were particularly close to a person, ask if they will go to a meeting with you. Attending the meeting with someone you know might make you more comfortable and more likely to return to the program.

Reconnecting with the community could also take the form of attending online meetings. While in-person meetings might be preferable and how you ultimately want to be involved, starting with a meeting online can help you get back into the swing of things and get a feel for what the program is like again.

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Talk to Your Therapist About Returning to AA

If you have a therapist or a counselor, discuss the situation with them.

You can talk about why you stopped going to AA, but you can also discuss ways to return to AA in the most beneficial and comfortable way possible.

Your therapist can help you come up with techniques to become active in the program again. These techniques and the discussion you have will be fact-specific and change depending on why you stopped going to meetings in the first place.

For many people, writing down their feelings can be helpful. Journaling about why you stopped going to AA and why you want to return might give you the insight you need. It’s also important to determine the best way to make sure you stick with the program. Set small goals for yourself and make sure they’re realistic.

Just Show Up

Finally, the best way to get back to AA is to just show up. If you show up to the meeting, you’re doing better than many other people. All that matters is that you take it one day at a time. While some people might ask you why you were absent for so long, most people are not harshly judging you. It’s more likely that everyone will welcome you back with open arms and be glad that you’re safe and back in the program.

Whether you’re sober, looking for long-term sobriety, or you’re just curious about AA, meetings are a good place to start. Set yourself up for success by setting realistic goals and picking convenient meetings. Help is always available, and you deserve it.

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  1. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (2016, October 8). Is Alcoholics Anonymous religious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research.
  2. Science Daily. Helping others helps alcoholics stay on the road to recovery. (2011, January 29).
  3. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (2010, December 29). How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives.
  5. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2018). The Twelve Steps Illustrated.
  7. The Harvard Gazette. What Makes AA Work? (2011, September 11).


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