June 4th, 2018
When I made my first visit to a local church for Sunday night’s AA meeting, I went along with a friend, as the thought of going alone made me quite nervous. I had absolutely no idea what to expect the first time I went through those doors; this was my first time ever attending an AA meeting and I was doing so to fulfill a class requirement. To my surprise, I was greeted by two friendly women with a handshake, smiles, and a few pressing questions:
1) Is this your first meeting?
2) Are you a student? You must be a student?
You’d think we had “students” written on our foreheads, as we were asked this same question a few different times during that first meeting alone! Well, yes. I am a student, and my sole purpose of being there was to gain exposure, observe, and discuss my experience with my peers. I did in fact do all of those things, but I also enjoyed it and learned far more than I ever anticipated.
These particular AA meetings were held in a church and consisted of a large, diverse group of people. At 7pm sharp the group coordinator stood at the podium. To the left and right of her, two large boards held up by easels presenting the very famous 12 steps in large black font, for everyone to see. She began the meeting by introducing herself, directing us (members) to greet and meet those around us, and ended with a moment of silence before beginning the actual meeting. These meetings were structured similarly both times. It began with a short introduction and housekeeping announcements, readings of both the 12 steps and traditions (by pre-selected members), stories from the two speakers of the evening, and ended with the acknowledgment and celebration of members reaching sobriety milestones and a group prayer.
I found myself the most struck by the encouragement and excitement all members had for the milestone celebrations of the week. The two that I got to witness were a 9 month sober celebration, and a whopping 33 year sober celebration! Both amazing milestones, and both equally as exciting. The strength and commitment each and every member demonstrated was truly inspiring.
I was astounded by the stories I heard from the guest speakers (willing members), and members who chose to respond. Through their difficult stories and hardships, they found the strength and power to create better lives for themselves, and make the decision to become sober. They all talked in great detail about where they were in their personal steps and journey. Along with this, they also shared the wonderful relationships they have established with their sponsors, the courageous step they took in order to become a sponsor for others, and accept the responsibility that comes along with that.
While sitting in these meetings, I could not help but mentally refer back to the 12 steps of AA with Father Martin YouTube video (linked below). He highlights a few aspects of AA that I saw demonstrated clearly in the meetings I attended. The first aspect I thought about was gratitude. Father Martin mentions that, “it is impossible to stay sober without gratitude”. He correlates this statement to the 12th step of AA which reads “having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all of our affairs”. In other words, Father Martin states this step is simply “walking the walk”. This final step is a command. A command alcoholics abide to. Through the stories shared, there was not one single person who did not mention gratitude. Gratitude for their experiences and how it got them to where they are today, gratitude for their sponsors and sponsees, and gratitude for their fellow AA members who encourage and inspire them to continue to be sober each and everyday. Powerful, right?
All in all, this experience was valuable. I can tell you for sure, those attending AA, and have the opportunity to find a home in a community of people like I witnessed, are truly getting adequate and life changing help. The recovery process can be hard and extremely challenging. This can be even harder if one does not have a support system. Accountability, reassurance, compassion, and care are all critical components of a successful recovery. This was something that I, as an outsider, was able to witness while attending these meetings. I could not help but rejoice with those who were celebrating recovery, and commend those who are attending these meetings religiously in order to make a better life for themselves. I definitely learned a lot as a guest.
I wanted to end with a quote that I feel is appropriate for anyone recovering from alcoholism or any other addiction… “it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.” The work you are putting in for recovery is noticed, admirable, and most importantly, worth it!!
12 Steps of AA with Father Martin YouTube video: (https://youtu.be/sqKvijuc89k)
12 Steps and Traditions: https://www.projectknow.com/research/alcoholics-anonymous-12-step/
For more info on how to find AA groups near you: https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-local-aa
Alcoholics Anonymous: The story of how many more than one hundred men have recovered from alcoholism. (1939). New York: Works Pub.