Alcoholics Anonymous in a New City.
AA has many different flavors. There are dozens of different kinds of meetings and lots of different procedures and idiosyncracies. There’s no “right way” to run a meeting. There’s a few “wrong” ways, but those mostly involve things easy to correct and in fact generally self-correcting, like allowing too much cross-talk and running too far over time. But I’ve seen these problems addressed with group conscience and solved. I’ve seen meetings where a tyrant runs it according to his/her whim and I don’t go back. I’ve seen bruised feelings cause people to leave meetings where no reason for them to do so exists. We’re just like other people, except we’re alcoholics.
I spent a few days in ECC last week, getting my apartment found and leased. I found a place that I think I will like. It’s not perfect. But it’s better than just good. I’m excited to go live there. Wednesday night, I went to a meeting near my hotel, right downtown. It turned out to be a gay newcomers meeting. And, of course, just like I knew it would be, it was good old AA. There were things that were different. They asked if anyone had any non-AA related announcements. Um.. yuck. I go to an AA meeting for AA. But that’s not “wrong”. It’s just different. They also asked everyone to go around the room and give the length of their sobriety. Just odd to me. Not wrong.
Despite not being gay, and not being a newcomer, I was quite welcome. People were enthusiastic about me coming to ECC and offered to help me get connected at meetings and involved with the AA community. The truth is, I’m not super involved with the AA community, other than as a member. I have no interest in organizing potlucks and dances and conferences. That’s not my interest and not my talent. I just want to stay sober, make friends, and connect with my people. That makes things feel like home faster. And ECC has an enormous downtown population. There are hundreds of meetings within walking distance of my new home. I’ll find a few that feel right.
I also have a friend here who has a friend there who has been in the program a long time. A former cop, now a union representative for ECC government workers. My local friend gave me his number, and I called him out of the blue last night. I left a message, and he called me back within 20 minutes. We talked for about 10 minutes, and he was immediately friendly, helpful, and warm. He told me to call him day or night, and told me that when I move to ECC he’ll take me to a ballgame and show me around the AA circuit.
That’s how we do things. I didn’t feel at all weird about calling up a stranger and asking him to help me find meetings. He didn’t feel at all weird about getting a call from a stranger and being asked for help. Just like I wouldn’t if the circumstances were reversed. And they have been. We are, as a rule, eager to help strangers. Because once, I was a stranger to everyone in AA. And everyone helped me.
As I became more stable, more grounded, more sober, I became capable of returning the favor. Of carrying the message. There are people out there now who are sober who were not sober when I came in to the program, and who I have helped some. I am, of course, never responsible for another person’s sobriety. But I know I can, and I know I have, helped. And that’s powerful to me. Lives reclaimed. Lives restored. Families rejoined and careers rescued. AA leads people to living well.
It can be a difficult road. The program of recovery in action is simple, but it is not always easy. And I have never claimed it is the only way. But I have never seen anything I would rather attempt as a path to sobriety and better living. I have seen some other programs, and I have found them lacking in my limited (extremely limited) engagement with them. But I may not have given them a fair look. After all, I’m a scientist, a mathematician, an engineer (yes, sort of all of those things), and I have no need to re-invent wheels. I’m better at building off of others’ work than I am at inventing new ways to do things that already work well.
So I am a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Because it works for me. As it works for millions of others. As it has worked for every single person I have ever seen who actually worked the program, did the steps. I have never seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed the path. This community of seemingly hopeless alcoholics, among whom I numbered then, and among whom I number now, has found a way to collectively emerge from a ruthless darkness, and into a scintillating new light.
It is a light that is all around all of us. One perhaps that normal people cannot see, because they can not know the dark space that counters it. Can we know paradise if we do not also know oblivion?