Encountering Colleagues at AA Meetings.
The meeting rooms are a haven for us alcoholics. A place free from judgement regardless of the worst things we’ve done. I know rapists and murderers and thieves. And I’ve done my share of horrible, unforgivable things. When you walk into an AA meeting, all that shit’s on the table. People might know, they might not. But what’s liberating is, it doesn’t matter if they do or they don’t. I can breathe easy without any fear of what I might reveal or how I might be seen. We’re all drunks. Drunks do terrible things. No one in the rooms has done anything I might not do if I were to drink again. We’re all the same.
Which is why it can be so disconcerting to meet someone in a room that you know from elsewhere. At first, when it happens (and it does happen), I generally feel disoriented. I think, “I know that person, I think, where from?” And it takes me a while to reintegrate lives I usually keep separate. There’s shock, panic, fear. I try not to betray any of that. I generally go say hi, and we talk about how we never thought we’d see each other here. Almost always I end up with a better friend or acquaintance than before.
There are two basic flavors of the occurrence for me now. The first is running into someone who also has longer term sobriety. In this case, there’s nothing to fear, and all is immediately well. The second is someone coming to the program newly, early in sobriety or not yet sober, who suddenly sees me and is astonished. This feels slightly more dangerous. Will they stay sober? What if they don’t? Do they understand anonymity? Will they behave appropriately outside work? etc.
Then I need to step back and relax. I need to remember what anonymity is for. I’ve been sober for nearly eight years. I keep my anonymity because I want to help the newcomer. I don’t really need to protect myself anymore. The harm that could come to me from revealing that I’ve been sober for as long as I have is minimal. My anonymity is to protect the new person. But demonstrating that I have kept my anonymity and have gone on to productive and effective participation in society, I show that newcomer that the end of their drinking doesn’t have to be the end of their life. And that they can regain their dignity without being publicly shamed for being an alcoholic.
I’ve had encounters of both types, and none has resulted in my being “outed” at work. Not even when one of the newcomers relapsed and never returned to the program (to my knowledge). He recognized that I was sober, that I wanted what was best for him, and he decided he couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t stay sober. But even though he returned to booze and crack, he never talked about me at work. And I never talked about him either. Nor would I.
But I also need to remember the other way round. When I was new, I ran into someone from work who had 20+ years of sobriety. I was shocked and terrified, because she was my boss’s personal assistant. It never occurred to me at the time that I was a far bigger risk to her than she was to me. When you’re new to sobriety and you run into work colleagues at meetings, you don’t need to worry. You just need to keep your mouth shut outside the meetings. They will too.
AA works because we all know that we are in the boat together. There’s nothing you’ve done I wouldn’t. There’s nothing that’s happened to me that might not happen to you. The pain and the shame and the fear is common to all of us, and that deflates its power. We walk together. Long is the way, and hard, that out of darkness leads up to light. But I know the way now. And when we meet in meetings, work colleagues or family or friends or foes, we are all just drunks, making our way from darkness to light.