I’ve always had enormous respect for Alcoholics Anonymous. Just the idea that, nearly 80 years ago, two guys, both desperate to stay sober, found a way to help each other, then help others, then write a book and start a life-saving movement — one that now has more than two million members worldwide — is astounding. AA’s history is fascinating, and I will always be inspired by it, regardless of my own relationship status with the fellowship.
Because it’s been a bumpy one.
Since 2005, AA has been like that boyfriend you love, then leave, then run back to for all the wrong reasons, then leave again, for a long time. Until one day, years later (if you’re lucky), you reunite once more, but only after both partners have had the life experiences they needed to change, to grow, to sort out whatever stuff was getting in the way of a successful relationship in the first place. That, in a nutshell, sums up what my love life with Alcoholics Anonymous has been like.
AA is a curious phenomenon when you think about it. You have a group of strangers, of all different creeds, colors and backgrounds — people who would probably never spend time together in “real life” — sitting in a room (often uncomfortably close) because of one thing and on thing only: the desire to stop drinking alcohol.I felt so uncomfortable at every meeting I attended — which hurt because I knew so many people who loved AA. I constantly asked myself the question: “What’s wrong with me? Everyone is no nice and welcoming — why can’t I like this?”
I loved AA at first, and by “at first”, I mean my first meeting, where you are by far the most popular person in the room. Everyone flocks to the newcomer with phone numbers, words of encouragement, huge smiles, and even hugs. My ego soared. But very quickly, (once I was no longer “special”) my mind started in with the silent judgments. Who are these people? Why are they all so happy? Don’t they realize the fact that we can’t drink totally sucks? And now that I think of it, why are they being so nice to me? What are they going to want in return? Are they eventually going to audit me? Should I flee this scene right now?
I felt so uncomfortable at every meeting I attended — which hurt because I knew so many people who loved AA. I constantly asked myself the question: “What’s wrong with me? Everyone is no nice and welcoming — why can’t I like this?”
Looking at that statement now, it’s obvious why I felt that way, and it had nothing to do with “the rooms,” as AA meetings are often called. Yes, I was still in denial about truly being an alcoholic, but even more telling, I still hated myself to the core.
While I was drinking, my contaminated mind took every chance it could to scold me. To beat me up. To tell me that my feelings were wrong and that something was always wrong with me. That illness chastised me every day, 24/7, so I’d continue to numb those hateful, esteem-decimating thoughts with gigantic gulps of vodka. And that’s the thing of it — one of the facets of this insanely complex disease — it just loves to point out all the reasons why I suck. “You just said the DUMBEST thing, what is wrong with you?” or “You’ll never be able to live up to what what’s expected of you here.” or “This place isn’t for you, these people are uncreative Pollyanna robots. Do you really want to become an uncreative Pollyanna robot?”
Now that I’m at a place where I can (for the most part) tell that asshole voice to go to hell, I see what “it” was doing. My alcoholic mind was feeling 100% threatened in a place that might led me to sobriety, and was in hyper-drive to swiftly shift my course for the nearest pub. And sadly, when it spoke, I listened.
Flash forward to April 2012. I had just returned home from my third stint in rehab, which I was sent to after I’d hit my true bottom (which you’ll all hear about eventually). I had spent four months working really hard to get sober, and I was finally starting to see with eyes that weren’t soaked in vodka and filled with alcoholic delusions. I was truly ready to do whatever I needed to do to stay sober, and even though I dreaded it, going to meetings was part of that plan. So I penciled the Pollyanna robots into my daily schedule and started regularly attending AA meetings.
For a quite a while, I basically just showed up and kept quiet. I heard things that resonated with me, but still felt terribly uncomfortable and out of place. But after about eight months (and lots of discussion in therapy) I realized: These rooms are here to help alcoholics. I am an alcoholic, which means these rooms are here to help me. So be me. Be yourself, and maybe you’ll find some other people who feel the same way. Or at the very least, maybe these meetings will feel just a bit more like a blessing than a burden.
And guess what? THAT worked. I spoke the truth, I let my vulnerability show, I even revealed that I was having struggles with AA itself. And to my utter shock, these people did not threaten to kick me to the curb or “declare me suppressive.” In fact, many told me that at one time they felt the same way; some even admitted that occasionally they still do. So that’s what it took for me finally feel comfortable around all these people that were “just like me.” To JUST BE ME.
Because the truth is, AA isn’t a room of people I barely know TELLING me how to live my life. Rather, it’s a warm circle of people who suffer from the same affliction I do, and have found a program of living that’s gotten them sober. It’s also enriched their lives enormously along the way, and all they are doing is SHARING what they’ve learned in the hope that it will help others who are still struggling.
Now I need these people to remind me not just that I’m an alcoholic, but also that I’m not alone. And I never have to be. Whereas I used to always look (and easily find) a bar anywhere I went, now I know I can look (and easily find) an AA meeting wherever I go. Call it a “cult”, call it a “clique”, call it whatever you want. To me, AA is like a tribe, and I know that whatever I go through, for the rest of my life, someone from that tribe will always be there to hold my hand. To listen to my fears. And most importantly, to help keep me away from a drink.