When you’re on vacation, you know what’s a great idea? Going to AA meetings.
Traveling for work, what keeps you grounded? You guessed it, meetings.
Visiting out-of-town relatives? Are you fucking kidding me? MEETINGS!
I’ve attended AA meetings in Greece, Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Spokane, Boston, and New York — at least, that’s all I can recall offhand. Especially when I’m traveling alone, the rooms feel like home. In Athens, Greece, for instance, I walked more than 2 miles from my hotel (which featured a lush tropical bar) to track down a small AA symbol partially obscured by ivy on tower centuries old. Climbing to the room, I was met with posters of Bill and Bob on the walls along with the 12 Steps & Traditions, in English.
That meeting united accents from all over the globe, but the first share came from a weeping American woman who feared for her job. A flight attendant, she’d screwed up the landing cross-check and inflated a slide, delaying the next flight by half a day. ‘Coincidentally,’ though, she’d been my flight attendant. Chucking the cross-talk taboo, I spoke up, recounting for her everything she’d done right on that flight, along with all the extra demands placed on her as the only attendant fluent in Greek. Tears streamed down her face as she listened, and she was certainly not alone in that.
Just three months sober at the time, I’d not planned on sharing. But the that experience — along with the fellowship afterward at an outdoor cafe where the whole rollicking group wrote on my tourist map about where to go and what to see — cemented the meeting policy that has served me to this day: JUST GO.
At 22 years sober, I still go to meetings out-of-town. Yes, I have an awesome life. The craving to drink is long gone. Parts of me blighted by alcoholism have blossomed. Scars from childhood are healing in the sunlight of the spirit. Whereas it used to suck abysmally to be me without alcohol, drugs, and/or the highs of obsessive infatuation, today my mind and heart feel like a comfy, cheerful place to hang out.
Hokey as it may sound, I’m just back from a travel adventure commonly known as a college reunion. Thirty-five years ago, I was lucky enough to have parents who sent me to a “seven sisters” college (Vassar). This past weekend, I was a lucky enough to get a reunion “scholarship” to revisit the place. So off I flew to New York.
The vast contrast between who I was at 21 and who I am today struck me every minute I was there. For example, only a few of my friends showed up, which in the past would have posed a disappointment. Today, it meant a chance to get to know classmates I recognized but didn’t know personally, all of whom had aged, of course, but also matured into better selves — without 12-step work! “I get nicer every year,” remarked one of my normie friends, reflecting on the effect of life’s losses and tears, “and I hold back less.”
I re-explored the grand library’s “secret” spiral staircases, subterranean stacks, and lofty tower with a new friend, giggling and chatting about the fertility ordeals by which we got our kids. With another, shopping near campus, I shared the shock and pain of lost relationships. I’d somehow imagined that everyone else from Vassar was living ideal, tragedy-free lives, but was reminded yet again that being human is painful for all of us.
To me, as an alcoholic, growth is a huge deal: trusting others with the truth of my inner experiences was, in my youth, a risk beyond my limits. Trapped by self-conscious awkwardness and social fears, I needed alcohol to cut me loose. For 14 years, daily drinking halted my emotional growth so thoroughly that by age 34, when I finally hit bottom, I was still literally going to keggers at which I tried to act cool.
For me, the difference between the selfishly miserable person I was for so long and the outgoing, happy person I am today comes down to one factor: god.
It’s my awareness of a god that loves me no matter what, the one I found in AA, that grants me the courage I need to reach out to others — courage that has emboldened me to live large and build a beautiful life.
An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was posted in the reunion schedule for Saturday afternoon, competing with four tempting lectures (on Vassar’s art, theater costumes, diversity tactics, and… Trump). I skipped ’em. I went to the meeting. I’d set an alarm on my phone. I left all my friends. There was no question in my mind as I crossed campus to find it.
Sure, booze — free booze, mind you — was flowing everywhere, and friends unaware I’m sober were constantly offering to grab me drinks. But that’s not why I went. Saying “no thanks” is as easy for me as turning down arsenic. Rather, I went to the AA meeting because that’s where my god shows up.
The fancy parlor held five of us – two newcomers, two with 20-plus years, and an Al-Anon with two. Hearing the shares of the newcomers — their feelings as if they were walking a balance beam of their commitment to life and integrity while their old tactics of escape clamored for them to hop down, and their amazement that they were actually doing it, miraculously passing up drinks — reminded me that I am still and will always be missing the crucial piece that god provides. My wholeness is granted to me one day at a time by a power outside me.
Normie friends, for the most part, can’t understand this. One chalked up my lengthy sobriety to “grit and determination.” The fact is, I tried “grit and determination” about 1,753 times, and it never worked! But god has. That connection is all I jones for these days, and I know I can always find it at meetings, no matter where I roam.