When I saw the Alcoholics Anonymous assignment on our syllabus earlier this semester I thought, "Oh my god, I have to go to some stupid AA meeting." In the weeks prior to attending the meeting, I was very nervous about attending it because I did not know what to expect. Some of the questions going through my mind were: "Was everyone expected to talk at the meeting?" and "Was I going to be criticized as the outsider wanting to know what AA was all about?" Those were my two main concerns.
However, I knew someone who is currently a member of AA. His name is "PB". "PB" is the husband of my supervisor and he was more than willing to take me to a meeting and show me what Alcoholics Anonymous was all about. Before leaving for the meeting, I asked "PB" several questions. They ranged from the length of the meeting to specific problems some of the members. He told me not to be surprised if there were some members who were admitted alcoholics and narcotic addicts. As I questioned him further, he said that many of the people in that predicament were also former criminals. One person in particular was so involved with both drugs and alcohol that he nearly died at the emergency room from an alcohol overdose. Now that my questions were answered, I felt much more at ease and ready to go to the meeting.
The building where the meeting took place is located in an office park near The Colonnade. The meeting room is perfect for Alcoholics Anonymous. The room is surrounded by numerous oak trees with a small pond in the center of the complex. Having this view in front of the group could only help a person feel at ease with themselves. When "PB" and I arrived, he introduced me to all of the members who made me feel welcome. As I surveyed the participants, I could notice that they were from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. One section I found interesting is the differing occupations of the people in the room. Some of them were very surprising to me and I will mention them in a later section.
As the meeting started, we began with a serenity prayer and read the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The second step was the focus of the meeting. I stared at the poster containing the step because it took me quite some time to interpret what it meant. This step states: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." My interpretation was that an alcoholic had to believe that a power such as God or another deity could cleanse his or her mind of this insidious disease. As it turned out, I was half right and half wrong.
The first speaker was named Marshall. Marshall is a successful businessman and has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for over ten years. He relayed his story about how his Power restored him to sanity. Marshall said that prior to becoming a member, he knew everything. "I could do anything I wanted to when I wanted to. If anyone disagreed with me, I would do whatever it took to have that person agree with me. It was my way or the highway." With those statements, Marshall admitted that when he was drunk, his temper got the best of him. After becoming a member, Marshall along with many of the members of the group was able to complete the first step with ease. The second step, however, was going to be a problem.
"When I looked at that sign, I was scared because I have been an atheist for most of my adult life." He was hoping that he could skip step two and return to it later, but he was told that he had to complete it before he could advance. Marshall said it took quite some time but that higher Power did come to him and it wiped out the "insanity" that was ruining his life. After listening to his speech, I was wondering to myself why these members felt they were insane. If I saw one of these people on the streets, I would never know that they were alcoholics or they were "insane".
The next person to speak was named Vern. Vern has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for nearly thirty years. He admitted that he was very wild when he was younger. As a matter of fact, when he entered the military, he was placed in a group that commanders called the "wild bunch" because their psychological exams showed that he had a tendency for extreme outbursts. It was not until his dishonorable discharge that Vern decided to make a change in his life. Just like the other members, Vern had difficulty coming to grips with the second step.
"When I was young, I grew up in a very religious family. However, I never was involved; I just went because my parents told me to do so. Because of this, most of my young adult life was pretty much a rebellion against my family and God."
Vern once again mentioned the word "insanity" in reference to discovering a higher Power. The words he used were: "I came, I came to and now I believe." To me, it seems as though the first phrase was easy. "I came" is basically just coming a meeting and understanding what AA is about. "I came to" is the difficult part. This is the process that most members have a difficult time coming to grips with because of their lack of spiritual belief. Vern dealt with this process through his sponsor. He said after weeks of talking with his sponsor, he was taken to an area chapel. It was at that point where he realized that he was at peace with himself, but he never knew why. According to Vern, two words summed up that visit to the chapel: "I believe." Just because someone believes does not mean that someone completely believes in God. It just means that a person's mind has been cleansed and is accepting of a higher Power saving them. It was not until listening to Vern that I understood what "insanity" in their terms meant. Here is my definition of insanity: A person's life is so impaired by alcohol that his or her mental processes can no longer determine the difference between right and wrong or good and evil.
Once the meeting ended, I felt as though I had left a church service. The sense of camaraderie and the openness of the group made me feel enriched both in mind and in spirit. Listening to the members, I was half correct in that a member had to believe in that higher Power. However, I was incorrect in that someone had to completely accept God. Marshall was a perfect example of the prior statement. It just shows you that even an atheist can be "saved". Prior to the meeting I had an open mind about Alcoholics Anonymous, but I was not completely understanding of their cause. Maybe it was because of the negative stigma that alcoholics receive or it could have been my maturity level and how some people my age react to serious problems such as alcohol. However, after listening to the members' stories, I now support Alcoholics Anonymous one hundred percent.
The occupational levels of the group cleared up my misconception of who can be an alcoholic. Some of the occupations of the group included a high school coach, a college professor, a USAA executive and several retirees. My initial impression was that only people from the ghetto or unemployed people were alcoholics. Since I was just a visitor, I did not ask how alcoholism affected their families, but it was definitely a question I wanted to ask of these people. Obviously, the correct impression is that alcoholism, like most negative aspects of our society, does not discriminate its people.
Personally, I learned some things that I can pass on to a family member of mine who is currently incarcerated. The saying "Patience is a virtue" definitely applies to Alcoholics Anonymous. In my opinion, patience is the most important factor of AA. Without patience, there is no way that a member can even begin step two because many members have never practiced any type of organized religion in their adult lives. Of course with any religion, patience is a key component. Regardless of whether someone believes in God, Allah, or is atheistic, patience must be preached at all times. The incarcerated family member has had problems in the past with drugs and alcohol. Once he is released, I will do my best to get him involved in Alcoholics Anonymous because I have seen firsthand how successful it can be for even the most serious alcoholic.