My Take on AA

I wrote in one of my first posts that I wouldn’t discuss AA, as the program promotes attraction rather than promotion.  However, I think it’s important to discuss the various mechanisms and support systems that support recovering alcoholics.

The first week of not drinking was particularly challenging–especially because of the withdrawal symptoms and, at the same time, I was going through a break up from a very serious relationship.  My body and mind weren’t in great condition–so I looked up local AA groups in San Jose.  I staggered to my first meeting on a Monday night at 8pm, and really had no idea what to expect.

I walked into the meeting confused and filled with sadness–I stared at the floor as I walked to my seat, and my palms were sweating due to elevated anxiety.  The members of the group seemed to have a strong bond–they were laughing, talking, drinking coffee and giving each-other hugs. I looked up and glanced at the Twelve Steps which were posted on the wall–and most steps I couldn’t relate to…it was the first one that stuck out to me.  Step 1: admitting you are powerless over alcohol and couldn’t manage your life.  At first, I thought to myself, “i’m not powerless over anything, and my life has been managed pretty well despite my issues with sustaining relationships.”  Then, reality set in–here I am 33 years old and overweight, my girlfriend walked out on me, I had to find a new apartment for me and Lila and I was riddled with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.  Ok, maybe certain aspect of my life could be managed better.

The meeting started with a moment of silence–then the Serenity Prayer.  To tell you the truth–I consider myself more of an agnostic in my beliefs when it comes to a higher power.  I noticed right away that AA, or at least this group, is sensitive to the fact that not everyone believes in god as he is described in biblical text…they often say “a higher power as you understand it.”  I thought to myself: “good, they won’t be making an attempt to convert me to the christian belief system.”

After the Serenity Prayer–members of the groups are asked to read the AA Traditions and a few other writings from the AA book.  I should mention that the group I am talking about is a mens group–which I find to be much more productive.  The groups are usually male dominated if it’s an open group, and once a woman walks in you can tell some members lose their focus.

Once the introductions were made, Serenity Prayer and other writings were read–we broke up into two groups.  One group focused on discussing the first three steps–the other spoke about the “tradition” of the night.

Of course I went to the group focused on discussing the first three steps–and it was an interesting collection of people.  I noticed almost every age group from young adult to senior citizen was represented–and since we live in the Bay Area, it was also culturally diverse.  The meeting was made up of working professionals, blue collar folk, the mentally ill and those who got what they call “a nudge from the judge.”  The personalities were strong–you could tell right away when you were encountered by someone who just wanted to preach–or someone like Jay, who was just silent/intense and didn’t want to be bothered.

In the small group–each person got a chance to talk.  I was uncomfortable–both from the withdrawal and fact that I had to now openly admit that “I am Leif and i’m an alcoholic.”  It felt good to speak about my experience and have people actually understand how broken you feel during the first stages of sobriety.  It felt good to not be alone.

I have made the Monday meetings a steady part of my routine–and it helps.  AA, in the sense of working the steps, isn’t for everyone…including me.  The benefit I get from the Monday meetings are: reassurance that I can’t go back to drinking, encouragement that I can’t just fill myself with regret, the notion that things only get better once you stop drinking, a bond with others in my situation and the ability to help others who are starting down the path of sobriety.

I constantly get asked “Leif, do you have a sponsor yet?”  I always reply “no, it’s just not for me right now.”  I have my daughter, work and other responsibilities that are helping me cope with being sober–I simply want a refreshing reminder from other alcoholics that we made a good decision putting down the bottle.  The Monday meetings have become my weekly reset button–and I really love the guys who attend…same group every week. People like us can’t drink normally–and trying is just setting ourselves up for another plummet to rock bottom.

Here are some pros and cons of AA:

Note: I strongly recommend attending men’s meetings if you’re a man, women’s if you’re a woman.  Also, everything I write is my opinion, based on my experience.

Pros:

  • When you find the right meeting to attend, where you feel comfortable, it is a constant reminder of who you were when you drank, and how much better life is sober.
  • You exchange phone numbers with members you can call for guidance, and during tough moments.
  • You learn that other character flaws exist outside of drinking that can be addressed in order to make you a better person.
  • No one is judged based on their past.
  • You can give back to others who are just starting on their pathway to sobriety.
  • AA is self supported and doesn’t accept outside contributions, which keeps its mission and function pure.

Cons:

  • I understand why the courts order that individuals go to AA meetings, but you can tell they don’t take the meeting seriously, and often times enter late and leave early.  I would suggest that anyone attending AA meeting on a court order should be mandated to attend meetings that are men and women meetings only.
  • The use of the term “powerless” bothers me–as I don’t believe that I will always be “powerless” over alcohol.  In fact, I believe that I once was, but I am now empowered to regain control of my life, health and overall well-being.
  • The notion that you can only remain sober by getting a sponsor and rigorously studying the 12 steps, and doing things like attending 90 meetings in 90 days.

I feel grateful, despite the fact that i’m am not attending AA meetings with a sponsor, to have the guidance and support of those who truly understand alcoholism.  My path to sobriety is a different approach than other members, but one size doesn’t fit all.  If I continue to 1) refocus as a healthier father and individual 2) commit to working hard every-day in my profession 3) attending a weekly group meeting 4) locate productive ways of coping with stress and life–I know that life will only get better and better.

 

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