What follows are the comments of an alcoholic who recently attended his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have inserted occasional comments (in italics) to help the reader better understand the purpose behind his experience.
I have just attended my first AA meeting. I didn’t really want to go because I don’t think I drink all that much. My wife, doctor, and counsellor all seem to think I do so I went primarily to get them off my back. To be honest, I was apprehensive about going. I really didn’t want to listen to a lot of depressing sob stories from people who drink out of paper bags, live under bridges, and beg in front of liquor stores. I don’t belong in that group. I didn’t want a lot of religious fanatics preaching at me and telling me that I’ll never be able to drink again. And there was certainly no way I was going to get up and speak. This promised to be a big waste of time.
On arrival, I was warmly greeted at the door and told to help myself to the coffee and cookies. I did. There seemed to be about 40 people of all ages in attendance but I didn’t spot any “skid-row” drunks. I found a seat at the back near the door, just in case. The meeting opened with someone reading a short script on the purpose of AA; then someone else recited the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions. Each time someone spoke, they introduced themselves by saying, “My name is George and I’m an alcoholic.” The rest of the group responded with a resounding, “Hi, George.” Through this public declaration of one’s weakness in relationship to alcohol, the speaker seeks to avoid slipping back into denial. All who speak demonstrate their trust in the support of the group.
Individuals were chosen to share on the topic of the night, “Honesty.” Some declined the invitation and this was readily accepted. Others shared on aspects of the topic from their own experience and I found this sharing to be personal and uplifting. The focus seemed to be more on successes than on failures. One fellow was celebrating the 14th “birthday” of his sobriety and had brought a cake to share with the group. This is known in AA parlance as “getting a cake” and represents the anniversary of the person’s sobriety. He beamed with pride as he was congratulated time and again. He gave a most inspirational, and at times humorous, talk about his life and recovery. I could not help but be impressed by the courage and commitment it must have taken to overcome his addiction. The meeting closed with a passing of a basket and a group recital of the Serenity Prayer. AA is a self-supporting, non-profit organization. We then all had a piece of cake and more coffee. The entire meeting had lasted less than one and a half hours.
Many of my preconceived ideas about AA had proved groundless. I had not been forced (or even invited) to speak publicly, I was not inundated with religious dogma, and I didn’t hear one morbid, depressing story. In fact, I was surprised that there were a good number of young people present who were in their teens and early twenties and that about half of those in attendance were women. Also, the mood was so light-hearted, warm, and friendly; there was so much laughter and humor, and the meeting seemed so short. There was no judging or preaching, only openness, acceptance, and encouragement. I never once felt threatened or uncomfortable. Being there to accept and support one another seemed to be the main purpose of the meeting. It is through the support of others that each develops the courage and commitment to work at their own recovery.
I left the meeting feeling light-hearted and glad I had attended. Maybe I do need to look at my drinking habits a little more closely. I think I’ll go back next week and see what happens. AA meetings maintain a similar format throughout the world but each group has its own mood and dynamics. Individuals are encouraged to attend different meetings until they find a comfortable setting.