Yesterday, after 26 years, I returned to AA.
Of course, as you could probably deduce from my first post, it was also the first time that I attended an AA meeting for my own benefit.
I felt rather ambivalent about going to an AA meeting. I knew I was going to attend an AA meeting at some point during this month-long experiment, just to see what it was like, but I figured that I would go sometime next week or the following week, when I had sufficiently wrapped my head around what it “means” to me to be sober. But I also believe that, more than likely, I will resume drinking (to some extent) at the end of this experiment. Accordingly, I felt like a bit of an impostor, even before I walked through the doors.
Before I left, I scoured the internet for information. What typically happens at an AA meeting? (The reading of the 12 steps, a review of the guiding principles of the organization, the opportunity for donations, and the rewarding of chips appears to be the only common denominator.) What is expected of newcomers? (Nothing, really.) Will I have to introduce myself as an alcoholic? (Not necessarily.) Will I have to introduce myself at all? (Not necessarily.) How many people will be there? (Anywhere from two to 50+.) Do I have to share my “story”? (Not if I don’t want to.)
When I left to go to the meeting, I was almost shaking. I practically ran out of the door, in hopes that a strong forward momentum would prevent me from toppling over.
I didn’t topple, and I arrived five minutes early, despite the fact that it was raining, and Texas drivers begin crashing into things when there’s even a threat of precipitation.
The AA meeting was hosted in a rented room in a more-or-less abandoned office park. And the room itself was more or less abandoned. When the meeting finally was called to order, there were six of us there, and I was the only female. I sat near the door.
Given the small congregation, I knew that I couldn’t just sit back and casually observe. I mean, I could, but it would reduce any likelihood for rapport to practically zero, and it would disrupt the sense of safety in the room. I braced myself for what was to come.
I was the last one to introduce myself. I was hoping that there would be a large enough crowd that I wouldn’t have to (but what did I expect going to a noon meeting on a Sunday?), and I was hoping there would be enough variations in the way that people introduced themselves that I could freestyle a bit and say something that best described my situation (“Hi, I’m Liz, and I’m uncertain about my relationship with alcohol”). But no — everyone took the standard, “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic.” So, by the time the metaphorical conch was handed to me, I found the words, “Hi, I’m Liz, and I’m alcoholic,” tumbling out of my mouth. I started frantically puffing on my e-cig, wondering what the hell just happened.
After a brief reading from the “Big Book,” the floor was opened for “discussion.” That’s when whoever feels compelled to speak can share his or her story. Again, because of the size of the group, and the fact that there were still a good 45 minutes left in the meeting, I knew that I would have to share my own experiences with alcohol.
Because I already discussed what inspired me to start this challenge, I won’t rehash it again here. But I must admit — I am a sucker for hearing people’s stories. I am an avid proponent of narrative psychology, and in many ways, I felt right at home in the AA environment. Besides the fact that (a) the words “I’m an alcoholic” don’t resonate with me, (b) I don’t agree with the notion that we are powerless when it comes to certain things in life (in fact, this blog is the antithesis of that principle), and (c) it was difficult for me to identify with some of the stories that were shared, given the extremity of some people’s experiences with alcohol, I very much respected the structure and purpose of the group. We are all in this together. We are not saints. One day at a time.
At the end of the meeting, they handed out chips. Nobody was celebrating a major milestone, but when they asked for anyone who was willing to continue down the path of sobriety for the next 24 hours to raise their hands, I did. That was a promise that I could make, keep, and feel comfortable keeping.