A reader recently wrote in and asked:
“Do you prefer AA meetings or NA meetings, and why?”
When I first started out in recovery, I knew that I was a drug addict plain and simple….and that my favorite drug was alcohol. But I used other drugs as well, every single day, and I really recognized deep down that they were really all the same. Anything to self medicate with.
I also had periods of my life where I tried to stop drinking alcohol, but continued to use other drugs, and I quickly learned that this does not really work. The drugs always led me back to the alcohol eventually.
Because of the long term treatment center that I stayed at in my first 20 months of recovery, I was introduced to both AA and NA meetings, and was attending at least one per day for about the first six months.
At first I stuck pretty much to AA meetings, simply by chance, and because there were more of them available. But later on I got a sponsor in NA, and I felt like I connected a bit more with the message of NA, and so I started attending more NA meetings than AA. While the core message is the same in both fellowships, I still noticed subtle differences in each, for example: AA meetings seem to choose a specific topic and stick with it, whereas NA meetings seemed to be more open. If you go to a lot of meetings, this gives an advantage to AA in my opinion. If you only do one or two meetings a week, then I would go to NA instead.
It is all about the people
They have a saying in the fellowship: “Principals before personalities.” This is to remind us not to let a disruptive or rude person drive us away from the meetings. We can still get recovery even if there are people at the meeting that rub us the wrong way.
Depending on the size of the town or city you live in, this might dictate the level of variety you can experience when attending different meetings. The city I live in has about 50 NA meetings each week, and probably about 2 to 3 times that many AA meetings each week, but I still have a tendency to see the same people over and over again, regardless of which meetings I attend. To be honest though, I have attended probably less than 5 meetings in the last 5 years of my recovery.
Which brings us to another good point: should you go to meetings at all, and if so how many? For me, the answer to this question boiled down to the opportunity cost involved. What am I doing if I decide not go to a meeting?
Am I using my time in order to benefit my recovery?
Am I reaching out to other addicts and alcoholics in some way?
Am I living a holistic life of recovery with balance, and with a focus on personal growth?
Am I pushing myself to grow in my recovery?
If you are not doing any of these things then you should probably go to a meeting. Even if you are doing these things, a 12 step meeting is not generally going to be a bad thing for you. But it is all about priorities and your personal growth in recovery. AA and NA meetings are extremely focused. They are not generally focused on how you should exercise in recovery, or if you should quit smoking, or if nutrition plays a role in your long term recovery and health, and so on. They are focused on how to make it through the day sober. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Their singleness of purpose makes their focus very powerful. You have to honestly assess how focused you need to be in terms of not picking up the drink or the drug today, and then figure out how to best use your time in order to grow in your recovery.
Some people thrive on meetings and really connect with the people in them, and that is great. Others, like me, have found other ways to leverage their time and energy in order to both help others in recovery, as well as to grow personally. There is no right or wrong here.
Just keep in mind: you are ultimately responsible for finding a path in recovery that works for you. This means you might have to experiment a bit, regardless of what others are telling you to do.
AA and NA meetings are tools. Use either of them if they work for you. Experiment to find your path in recovery.