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Fellowship Among the Reclaimed.

30 May 2013

I am starting to really feel at home in my Wednesday night men’s group. There is a core group of five or six men who are consistently there, and have long-term sobriety. We regularly go out to eat after the meeting. I’m really beginning to connect with the men and feel comfortable among them. It takes time. It takes time for me to feel settled and able to open up. It takes time for a group of men who all know each other to accept a new person into their group.

Yesterday the topic of discussion was those cultural and city events like “Taste of ECC” where people can go and sample beers from local microbreweries and restaurants and have fun getting sloshed outside on a gorgeous spring day, etc.. Some of the guys really miss that. I’m ambivalent. I don’t like those crowds, and I didn’t when I was a drinker. I ended up feeling frustrated that I couldn’t really get enough and then had to get home to where I could drink the way I wanted to.

I ended up sharing that I kinda stopped drinking beer long before I stopped drinking. It just didn’t get me anywhere fast enough. Sure, I drank beer at the baseball game, or whatever. But I couldn’t get drunk fast enough on beer. I needed wine or liquor for that. I liked good beer. A lot. But the time came that I was mostly choosing beers for their alcohol content, not their flavor.

I think one of the really crucial reasons that AA works is that it’s a social system. There’s good evidence that social groups have powerful influences, good or bad, on the individuals in the group. Smoking[1], Fitness[2], and many other things are well known to respond to the social environments that people inhabit. Being among a group of men with long-term sobriety helps reinforce the things about sobriety that I love. It helps provide me with accountability. And part of that is the deep shame and horror I know I would feel if I were to drink and have to confess it to them. I am willing to do a lot in order not to feel that. Luckily, all I have to do is not drink.

My commitment to AA is bolstered by AA’s commitment to me. It’s bijective and adaptive. As my needs change, the things I get from AA change too. As my abilities change, what I give back evolves. I have to recognize that I am now one of the men who is approaching “long-term sobriety”. I have much to offer new people. I have much to offer other people who have more time in the program too. I can draw from a wealth of experiences I’ve had in sobriety to offer aid to people in many different stages of the program, and life.

One of the promises in AA is that we will come to see how our experience can benefit others. What a promise! As drinkers, we couldn’t care less how anything we did could benefit anyone. We cared about getting more liquor, and about knocking down the impediments to our inebriation. The promise that I will see how my experience can be of value contains within it the implicit promise that I will value being of benefit to others. And I do.

AA holds many promises. They’ve essentially all come true for me. Some days more than others. But this I know: I have become a member of the fellowship of the reclaimed. I am not always right. I am not always good, even. But I am sober. And I am working to be a better man. And that by itself is a small kind of miracle.

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[1]Ross L, Thomsen BL, Boesen SH, Frederiksen K, Lund R, Munk C, Dalton SO, Bidstrup PE, Kjær SK, Tjønneland A, Johansen C. Social relations and smoking abstinence among ever-smokers: A report from two large population-based Danish cohort studies. Scand J Public Health. 2013 Apr 10. [Epub ahead of print]

[2]Warner LM, Ziegelmann JP, Schüz B, Wurm S, Schwarzer R. Synergistic effect of social support and self-efficacy on physical exercise in older adults. J Aging Phys Act. 2011 Jul;19(3):249-61.

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