Hi, My Name is Maddie

In November, I had a minor brush with the law when I tried to use a fake ID to get into a 21+ music festival. I recieved a ticket from a police officer instructing me to appear in court, ironically, two days after my twenty first birthday. My punishment for this infraction was to attend 20 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous between February and mid-May. Obviously, given the circumstances of how I received the ticket and the fact that I do not have a drug or alcohol problem, I was highly skeptical of the impact AA would have on my life. I went into my first few meetings thinking that I would have nothing in common with “those people” and that my attending any meetings, let alone 20, was a waste of both my time and theirs. However, by the time I finished my last meeting, my opinions on the program and the people in it had completely changed. Therefore, I think it’s important that I share the ways AA helped me grow, and the reasons I am thankful for the opportunity to attend meetings.

We live in a society obsessed with labelling people and things as “other” in order to separate ourselves from and discriminate against them. This is especially true when it comes to addicts, who are often seen as degenerate and unable to contribute to society. When I first found out I had to participate in AA, I subscribed to this popular opinion. The thought of spending an extended amount of time around “drunks” and “junkies” made me extremely uncomfortable. It was almost as if I were nervous that being around these people would somehow turn me into an addict. However, this narrow-minded view ignores the fact that addiction is not a conscious choice. No one would choose that life for themselves. Nine times out of ten, addiction is a result of genetics, self-medication of a mental illness, PTSD, or any combination thereof. No normal person wakes up and says “today I’m going to ruin my life by becoming dependent on a substance.” Addiction is a disease like any other, and doesn’t deserve the huge stigma attached to it, especially when that stigma is a result of ignorance and misinformation.

The taboo surrounding addiction also leads to the social construction that all addicts are greedy, immoral, and easy to point out. Before my first meeting, I halfway expected to meet a terrifying, angry, and unfriendly biker gang. However, it took me less than 15 minutes to realize how incredibly wrong I was. Never in my life have I met a group of people more welcoming, kind, and helpful towards a complete stranger. I was never asked why I was there, or forced to share a story with the group. The fact that I showed up to the meeting and listened to the speakers was enough for me to be accepted and supported. AA is an intensely community-based program. Everyone leans on each other for support, and hold each other accountable for their own sobriety as well as the sobriety of everyone else in the room. Their common problems and commitment to better themselves create loving and lasting relationships between members, often stronger than those among non-addicts. It was refreshing to see people give so much of their time, energy, and support without any expectation. It was even better to see that almost all of them received the same treatment back. AA members firmly believe that there is no “I” in “team”, and that the best way to improve yourself is to help others improve themselves at the same time.

By far the most valuable lesson I took away from AA was that the program truly works if you commit yourself to it. Before AA, many of the people I met were destitute, alone, and on the verge of death, both mentally and physically. For many of them, AA was a last resort before spending life in jail or dying; they truly had no other options but to work the program and follow the 12 steps. And often, when they did so, they watched their lives change before their eyes. Some of the stories I heard were dark, showcasing the sheer misery of hitting rock bottom. However, the stories about people being “reborn”: regaining their health, finding love, and making a new life for themselves, etc. overshadowed the sad stories almost completely. From my first meeting until number 20, I was inspired by these people I once labelled as “other” and considered myself better than. Their strength, self-control, and unwavering faith in both the program and each other was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It doesn’t take a drug or alcohol problem to relate to the stories you hear in AA. In order to get and stay sober, these people had to overcome major adversity and fight tooth and nail against their own DNA, and I am so glad to have been able to learn from them.

My main point of this was to bring attention to the stigma against addiction and hopefully change a few minds about how we view addicts, especially ones trying to get sober and better themselves. There is no shame in admitting you have a problem, but rather strength in self-awareness and the humility to seek help. If you or someone you know have a problem (or think you might have a problem) with substance abuse, I urge you to not hide it from your friends, family, and most importantly, not from yourself. You can find an entire community that wants to help you in the rooms of AA, all you have to do is show up. And if you’re scared about going alone, bring a friend for support! But please, if you take anything away from this, it should be that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

You are not broken.

Your life is worth saving.

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