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.
9 responses to “Six Reasons I “still go to those meetings””
Omg. So freakin’ beautiful. May we never get complacent with the gift of recovery and these fabulous “rooms!”
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Thanks for sharing. I’ve never been to AA, but should have. My good friend still goes, and has years of sobriety behind her now. This helped me understand that a bit.
Thanks for responding! If you do decide to give it a try, Christina, check out a bunch of different meetings. Each has its own character, its own mood. Some groups can be a better fit than others. 🙂 I generally don’t like hour and a half long meetings, but my home group lasts that long. It’s my home group because it feels HOMEY.
Thanks! My drinking days ended long ago, but I do love the comraderie.
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Hey Louisa, happy to read you 😉 I really feel the same way as you do. I too found something in AA which goes far beyond my own drinking issue. And that is a true fellowship. AA is my church, sharing is confession, meetings are worship. I´ve never been anywhere where people are more honest. Their vulnerability makes them true human being who hide nothing and are not ashamed. AA is a school of living for me. I totally understand why people go there although they have been abstinent for 30 years. I´m really grateful for I have found something that I´ve been longing for: authenticity and belonging.
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Good morning Louisa. I am 8 months, 5 days sober after 44 years of insane oblivion. I am now 56. My Higher Power (I call it God-it because I could never understand why God would need a penis) led me to your blog in early sobriety and oh what a gift your words are to me! So, I could go on for hours about the things you write. The cool thing is-I don’t need to because I get you. Never met you. But I know you get me. The spiritual connection we drunks have for each other is truly beyond words. But I will write this: the state of absolute serenity I grow closer to each and every moment of each and every day is beyond any expectation I had upon that day my trembling hand signed the papers for my intake into that rehab facility! Please keep writing. I will keep reading. And oh yeah. Pretty sure I’ll hit a few more meetings along the way. 🙂 Much peace to you dear friend.
Mike – your comment just made my morning!
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to hear from someone “out there” reading. Seems that people tend to comment only from the Reader when stuff first comes out. Some days I do get a little discouraged (surprise!) because of the disease still alive and kicking in my head. Like some days I’ll see that a couple hundred people from X countries viewed on a given day, but not one of them commented or liked. So my anti-ego/self loathing/whatever jumps right in and says, “See? That’s because, really, they just clicked on it, saw it was boring as hell, and moved on.” (A friend who was over yesterday said she named her self-loathing voice Carl – for no particular reason. Now when it tells her stuff like that, she just says, “Shut up, Carl.” I LOVE that! Watch for a future post on it.) So, anyway, what I’m saying is, it really heartens me when people comment that the blog has helped them.
Yes, yes, yes to everything you say. Higher power – if we don’t gender the sun, or love, or epigenetics, why would do it to god? I am so happy for you that you found a way out after chasing “relief” for 44 years! I’ll turn 56 in a couple months, and the fact is, all we have is today, this moment, now. Either we’re loving or we’re shoulding, and we can choose to love.
Thanks again! 🙂