What should in fact be a relatively simple question, is often quite difficult to answer, simply because there is normally another issue underlying it.
For many people, going to an AA meeting itself is an acknowledgement or a recognition of the fact that they may have a drink problem, and this is often a huge deal for them and other people.
Most people who have a serious drink problem are in denial about it, often for a large part of their life.
It often takes something seismic for them to recognise that they have a problem, let alone become willing to do something about it.
AA has become almost synonymous with the idea of getting sober and staying sober.
Whilst people may have very differing interpretations of what alcoholism is and means, the reality is often that going to AA is the first or the most focused thing people will do.
People may go on to other types of treatment, or simply get sober and stay sober on their own, but at some point there is a strong likelihood they will go to an AA meeting.
The nature of denial is often misunderstood, especially in the context of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Anyone who is an active alcoholic is likely at some point to become protective about their drinking, and depending upon the extent of that alcoholism, that defensiveness will increase as the drinking progresses.
Denial in this sense is protective, and someone who is an alcoholic is likely to get to a point where they see alcohol is being only thing that matters to them.
At this point, the worse things get both internally and externally, the more the alcoholic will turn to alcohol as being the only thing that matters, the only thing it is important for them to hold onto.
This is often why it is so baffling for someone who is not an alcoholic to understand try and make sense of why an alcoholic will carry on drinking in the face of almost relentless pressures to stop, both internal and external.
There has to come a point, where the internal pressure is so great that the alternative of going to AA as opposed to carry on drinking becomes a reality.
It is at this moment that someone might attend an AA meeting. Timing is crucial, as this may be the only time the alcoholic is exposed to the reality of what can happen to help them get and stay sober.
This is really about the reality of what happens at an AA meeting. There may be many different formats, readings talks etc, but there is one central element which should run through all and any meeting.
What is at the heart of all AA meetings is a mix of people from all walks of life, some of whom will be new, some will have been sober a long time and some have been sober for differing lengths of time. there may also be some people whoa are still actively drinking, although not usually at the meeting.
All are there on an equal basis, and will share with each other what helped and did not help them get sober, and what they find helpful in their day-to-day life regarding sobriety.
It is this sharing of experience, both at a group level and on a one-to-one basis that really is the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous, and should be at the heart of most meetings.
There is also often continual sharing between people before and after meetings, and often on the telephone during the day or at night when there are no meetings taking place.
The Spirit of AA
The practicality of describing an AA meeting can give it a sense of normality that in fact it does not have.
In addition to individuals sharing with each other about their alcoholism and recovery, there is an energy to the meeting that transcends the actual event itself.
This energy is hard to define, but most people seem to experience it, albeit in different ways.
This energy goes a long way to explaining the reality of Alcoholics Anonymous, but is also as one of the undefinable elements that makes it so hard to give a concrete picture of what Alcoholics Anonymous is, and how AA meetings work.