12-steps revisited. A visit to AA
Allison and I first thought we were going to an Al-Anon meeting at a local church at 7pm. We got to the giant church and the instructions only said it was on the 2nd floor. It was hard to even find the stairs! We got up to the 2nd floor and it was almost deserted. We saw a man come out of one of the rooms and asked him if he knew where the Al-Anon meeting was. He said Al-Anon? I ain’t heard of that, but they hold AA meetings down the hall. I said oh okay, that’s fine too. He was like wait a minute, which one are you looking for? I said either is okay, but I was thinking I hope he isn’t the leader, that would be weird if someone comes in and doesn’t care what meeting they go to! Anyway, he was skeptical, but pointed us down the hall. It was a large empty room with chairs in a circle. Allison and I sat down and waited. We were about 10 minutes early. About two minutes later, the man (apparently maintenance/janitor man) came in and said, normally the person who leads this group is almost an hour early, so it was probably canceled if he isnt here. Allison and I asked if we could wait 10 minutes and then we’d leave. He said fine, but only 10 minutes because he was closing the place up. He left. Then he came back in with a printout and said, show me what meeting you are going to. We were like um, we don’t see it on this printout, but it said on the website this place/time. He said the meetings he had known about were 6 to 8pm and on Saturdays at noon but nobody had been going to the Tues/Thurs in the last week so maybe something had changed. We were like oh okay, thanks. He said to us as we left “It’s okay with me if you drink. I drink.” Allison and I both had to stifle our giggles. That was pretty much the most inappropriate thing you could ever say to an alcoholic!!!
So we were bummed because we had taken the time to drive there and be there, and we both really need to get them done. We came back to my house and decided to see if we could find any at say, 8pm. The only ones were like in Mississippi, and then there was one on this stereotypically bad street. I looked it up on the map and it was awfully close to a good area, so we decided we’d drive by it, and if it looked too scary, we’d just keep driving and not go.
So we drive there, and it’s mostly a nice area ,and then bam, we get to that street and it’s almost immediately awful. We drive about a block and it is getting progressively scarier, plus the addresses are getting higher so we’ve luckily clearly missed it. I did an immediate illegal U-turn in the middle of the street because I wasn’t willing to go another millimeter in the direction we were currently going. Unfortunately I didn’t realize we had come down a 1-way street and couldn’t go back the way we came. I almost braved it and went the wrong way down the (very wide) 1 way street because I was terrified of getting lost in a really bad part of town. Luckily the street joined up with a familiar one and we tried again, realizing the place must have been right at the corner if we had missed it so fast. It was an unassuming building with bars on the window and a big triangle surrounded by a circle. It looked dead and a tiny bit scary. Allison and I pondered over whether we were brave enough. It was 740pm and it would start in 20 minutes. I commented on how empty it would be and right that second, about 15 different men literally walked up to the door, so we started laughing hysterically because obviously, it was going to be a big meeting. We drove back to the nice area (about 30 seconds away!) and sat there in the car. I called my friend and asked her to look up the triangle/circle to find out if that was 12-step related. Allison and I were like, maybe it’s some devil symbol! (Mostly in jest). Anyway, it turns out it is a 12-step symbol of AA. We told her my friend it was an Al-Anon meeting and she couldn’t find it so we were like oh well whatever, we know it at least said it was an open discussion even if it is AA. We were still nervous because we had only seen males and we thought maybe it was like going to be a gay male AA meeting we were about to crash. Allison and I discussed it and decided we’d at least walk in and ask if it was open to everyone, because we both wanted to get this meeting over with. We have so many other projects going on that trying to find 12-steps has been a big stress. So we went back at 750 and walked in. It honestly looked like there was a bar on the right side. The entire place was dim and dingy and smoky. Glossy spindly chairs with circular maroon vinyl pads were scattered all around the giant room on the left side. Fans blew gently and the lights glowed dimly in the smoke. There was a pool table in one corner. We tentatively walked in and I asked the man sitting there if this was an Al-Anon meeting. He looked puzzled and asked another man, this an Al-Anon meeting? The other man said no, this is an AA meeting. I said oh, is this an open meeting? is it okay that we are here? He said of course, come on in. There were over 20 men sitting around on these chairs, lounging back, chain-smoking, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. We sat down and the meeting began shortly after, with the chain-smoking leader. It was a literature discussion night. He had different men around the room read parts of the book, and then share their own feelings, and then others could contribute as well.
In all honesty, it ended up being an amazing experience. I was truly astounded at the profound wisdom coming out of the mouths of these men. Their words might have been liberally sprinkled with cursing, but the vocabulary was often advanced and the concepts they grasped were mind-boggling. One man talked about the “high cost of living low”. Another man discussed how being abstinent means, in a reworded way, “YOU CAN’T DO SH**” (he meant it positively). Other men discussed how on their first few drinks, they’d give you their mattress, their house, their car, their last cigarette…but as they kept drinking everybody would become “motherf**kers and sumb**ches”. They talked about how they felt like there was no point in electricity, they’d be fine with just a lighter. They’d talk about how long it took them to realize they had no control over their drinking. They talked about hopelessness and the importance of a spiritual path/higher power. It really felt like it was a bunch of high school students laboriously pouring over Shakespeare, the way they’d point out specific lines in the paragraph they had just read that had called out to them. They’d say things like “I didn’t have any f**king control and the f**king truth was that I didn’t f**king realize it…” etc etc. They’d all hoot with laughter at some of the things people would say, as they recognized themselves in the comments. I’m struggling to remember some of the other things they said because there were so many good points thrown out there that it was kind of like being in those carnival game booths where they blow money into your booth and you try to grab as much as possible and instead end up with almost nothing because you let go of one bill to catch another. I realized these men, men I could easily judge if I saw them on the street, had true insight into things that I had never even thought about. It gave me a lot of respect for these men.
I also liked how they always had to say their name and that they were an alcoholic before they spoke, and that after they finished speaking they said “I’m glad to be here.” When we went around the rooms introducing ourselves, Allison and I did not say we were alcoholics. The leader asked us why we were there and I said, truthfully, I have a family member who is
a recovering alcoholic and I want to learn more about his perspective.”They all nodded appreciatively. I didn’t think it was appropriate to add on that it was a requirement too!
The group lasted exactly an hour and you could really see the group dynamics taking place. People spoke up with their feelings and validated each other. It was a very friendly meeting of men sharing their humble knowledge of knowing what it is like to be powerless. These men were all tough-looking and covered in tattoos, yet they earnestly shared their thoughts. They never looked twice at us as imposters or intruders or anything at all, and I appreciated that as well.
Anyway, this is incredibly long…I’ll probably copy paste some of it for the reaction report I have to write. I just didn’t want to sleep on it because then my emotions and remembrances would be dulled. It was certainly an exciting experience and also one that taught me a lot. Now I can’t wait to hit an Al-Anon meeting, I think I am going to one tomorrow evening.
And always remember…you can’t Cause, Control, or Cure a problem, but you sure can Contribute to it.