A Girl Walks into AA
I want to preface this by saying I do not (believe) I have a drinking problem. I make no attempts to project my experiences with the Alcoholics Anonymous program onto those struggling with addiction, or invalidate their personal experiences, even subconsciously. I came into the program via court mandate from what a district attorney deemed a “bonehead” case. I was caught trying to enter a 21+ music festival with a fake ID and got caught. In order to have my case dismissed, I must attend 20 AA meetings within three months. As a reflective process, I want to chronicle my time in the program, and apply the lessons I learn from meetings to my everyday life.
Meeting 1: Service
I had my first meeting tonight, which needless to say was a nerve wracking experience, but an incredibly fruitful one. Before the meeting, I wandered around my local VA hospital trying to find the meeting room, and ended up in the hospital’s rehabilitation center. There I was met by two patrons, who immediately introduced themselves and escorted me to the meeting room. Once there, I realized I was by far the youngest member, adding to my growing discomfort. The attendees at the meeting were mostly middle aged veterans, who looked aged and weathered by their pasts.
The meeting began with introductions for the new members, including myself, and the presentation of “Welcome Chips” to them. We then heard from the meeting leader, who gave a brief speech before introducing the theme of the meeting, “service to others”. Afterwards, he opened the floor to anyone who wanted to speak.
Rather than the awkward silence in group settings where no one volunteers to share out of shyness, a person immediately got up to speak (In the interest of protecting anonymity, I will refrain from using names or genders in my recounting of meetings). This person then shared their experience as a recovering alcoholic in close contact with someone who hadn’t realized they needed help for the disease as well. The person then spoke about their reservations in attempting to reach out and help their fellow addict while still recovering themselves. They wondered how they could be of service to this person while still in need of help themselves. Their conclusion was simple: remain supportive and use the experience to self-reflect instead of imposing their beliefs on another person.
Another volunteer shared their tale of recovery, then relapse, as they disregarded the help offered to them out of pride and an aversion to actively trying to overcome their addiction. According to them, they “did not want to do the homework” associated with learning to cope with alcoholism, yet still expected to have the same results as those who actively followed the 12 step program. This resonated with me, since as a college student, it is easy to get caught up with achieving high grades instead of actually learning and absorbing concepts. By giving your best effort to a project, you serve yourself most efficiently, and can take the most away from endeavors.
Next, a recent returner to the program shared their story. After 13 years of sobriety, they fell off the wagon for two years, and had just rejoined the program. They credited their relapse to hubris, and an unwillingness to fully commit to Step One: admitting powerlessness over addiction. By trying to justify their reasons for drinking, the person most negatively affected was themself. Pride is the enemy of progress, making it impossible to serve others without personal accountability and a willingness to let go of one’s own personal agenda for the sake of the betterment of the world at large.
The final person to share was a 21-years-sober sponsor. Within the program, it was their job to serve other alcoholics as a mentor and positive example. However, they considered themself more at risk to relapse than even someone who was one day sober. The reason? Sobriety is the newcomer’s main objective and primary thought, while the veteran can be thrown off track by even the most mundane lapse in recovery. In order to stay sober and be able to serve others, the veteran has to constantly stay focused on their main objective. Only by having faith in their own sobriety, and a constant effort to maintain it, can they further their own progress and be available to help others.
Although I still have 19 meetings left to attend, I already recognize the ways this opportunity can help further my personal growth. I do not have a drinking problem to apply these lessons to, but that does not make them any less valuable to the ways I navigate young adulthood and the possible consequences of my newfound autonomy. In the next three months, I hope to absorb the wisdom that comes from the life experiences of those I meet in AA and use the community as a resource to stay on the path I have laid out for personal success.