Sometimes if I share that I’m 21 years sober, people unfamiliar with AA will ask: “You don’t still go to those meetings, do you?”
The answer is, hell yes! Yes, yes, YES!!! And I hope I always get to!
The fact is, I’m talking about something completely different than they are. They’re thinking of whatever bullshit AA they’ve seen on TV and in movies. Yuck! The actors always use this solemn, self-deprecating tone of confession, or else they blurt out horrific embarrassments that cue mindless laughter. I’m always angered when I see these depictions. They have nothing to do with the AA I adore.
Here’s a photo of my most recent AA meeting (that preserves anonymity):
We’re all former loners and shy people who’ve hiked to the top of 3,000′ Tiger Mountain for a meeting that happens there every Sunday morning in all kinds of weather. Coffee’s in the middle – people bring big thermoses – and treats of every description, from lemon bars to fresh baked calzones, circulate in plastic containers. Why hold an AA meeting up in the mountains? Because it’s fun! Because friendship, exercise, nature, and recovery are all great things!
Last week before my old homegroup, a friend and I met downtown for coffee, which was tremendous fun. The two of us differ drastically (he’s half my age, Korean-born, and hip), but because of our shared disease and the way of life that cures it, “there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful” (17).
When this friend, back from relapse with about a year sober, chaired the meeting of 150-200 recovering drunks, he called on a young woman who raised an interesting question. She said, “I don’t understand why, even though I have 11 years sober and I’m a yoga instructor with my own spiritual practice and I read spiritual books and meditate and pray, I still get crazy if I go too long without a meeting. Why is that?”
Answer: Because she’s still an alcoholic.
Six Reasons I’ll Always Go to Meetings
- Treating fear and ego: Alcoholism is a dis-ease of maladjustment to life, a suffering in selfhood and social interaction that we tried to alleviate with a dopamine-boosting neurotoxin – until that strategy began to kill us. But even after we’ve stopped drinking and worked the steps, whenever that maladjustment crops up – whether as anxiety, resentment, or self-loathing – ego volunteers (“pick me! pick me!”) to fix it. Ego puffs us up as “special,” turning us away from god and love, which brings on all the old feelings. In meetings, as we connect via others’ shares, we remember the common humanity our stepwork revealed. Hearing others lay out their inner experience, a privilege we find nowhere else in our culture, reopens our hearts.
- Reminders of what it’s like out there: Only in meetings do I witness this story in a way I can’t doubt: “I was doing well so I tapered my meetings. I decided I had my act more together now so I could drink normally, and I did great for a couple weeks: I’d have a drink or two and stop. But then it took off, worse than ever, and I had no brakes…” The person isn’t just saying this. You can see it. You can hear it. My friend Carl came back a near skeleton. Others end up in the psyche ward. And some just plain old wanna die.
- Chances to help others, to be of use: Meetings give an opportunity for service work, whether by making the coffee or reaching out to someone who’s new or hurting. It’s a spiritual axiom that when I give, I get.
- Learning from others: At almost every meeting, my internal Rolodex of AA wisdom gets updated with cool stuff – like this Rolodex metaphor! Last spring I learned of Drop the Rock, a great book on Steps 6 and 7. A month ago I heard the excellent term “awfulizer” for that part of my mind that jumps to worst case scenario.
- Laughter: Succinctly stated truths of experience we’d thought to be ours alone are what drive all great stand-up comedy. My fellows are fuckin’ hilarious. And laughter heals.
- Love, love, love: At that big meeting, another friend responded to the young woman’s question about why we need meetings: “It’s the love. This room is full of it. We know each other, we love each other. We’re family. We’re like a good mafia.” He pointed out people here and there, naming memories that connected them. To my friend, the chair, he said, “We saw you when you were out there, man, and it hurt my heart. You were ridin’ your bike, you had this big ole abscess on your arm and your eyes were dim and you’re all like, ‘It’s cool!’ But we knew it wasn’t. I’m so glad you made it back, man!”
Threads connected me, too, to so many in that room. Over there was the young woman with multiple sclerosis I called from a parking lot in a panic at my cancer diagnosis, who comforted me and has miraculously cured her own symptoms. Here was that wise-ass guy I thought would never make it, whom I just saw at Starbucks reading the Big Book to a teenage junkie – also present. That suicidal girl I sat down with on those steps twelve years ago, who now has a beautiful marriage and toddler and sometimes cuts my hair – I sent her a smile.
As for the “good mafia” part – it’s true we take care of each other. I’ve edited cover letters, resumes, and financial aid requests that helped people move ahead in life. Alcoholics have built my deck, given me (amazing) facials, fixed my car, rewired my home, split my firewood, built my website, changed my locks, fixed my sink, and more – much of it for free. And what’s more, all borrowed when I stood atop the 14,380′ summit of Mount Rainier the first time were my ice axe, crampons, helmet, harness, gaters, shell pants, and goggles – from alcoholic climbers. Who else does that?
We’re not drunk.
We’re not dead or wishing we were, as we did for years.
Because the truth is, alcoholism made only one mistake: it’s the same for all of us (Rolodex item #557). By meeting and sharing our stories, we call out this disease on its cunning, insidious lies and take steps toward a higher power that kicks its hoary ass.