My first AA meeting as a non-alcoholic
I was anxious and scared but people surprisingly bent over backwards to make me feel included and comfortable at my first AA meeting. I had at least five people come up to me, introduce themselves, and start a friendly conversation. There was an incredible amount of trust in the room. People felt comfortable sharing stories to complete strangers—something I could never see myself having the courage to do. Everyone came from a non-judgmental, open place. As people stood up and spoke, I realized what great courage and vulnerability it took to share their stories. Some were humble and funny while others were sad, hopeful, intimate, and enlightening.
I have only been a health educator for a short while and I was there to do research on addictions but am not an addict myself. I was expecting to see all of the stereotypes I had created in my mind about how addicts looked, acted, and spoke. I was nervous they would be offended that I was there. I was scared I would be unwelcomed. I was afraid I would meet new people and not know how to interact with them. I didn’t want to be awkward. Blah, blah, blah.
(new paragraph) To my surprise, it was an incredibly accepting, eye opening, powerful, and positive experience. No one judged me for being there. They welcomed me and took me in like they would have one of their own. Most of the people I met were kind, funny, and understanding--the kind of people who anyone would want to be around. I was surprised. At that moment, I understood the power of three things crucial to recovery:
- Support from fellow addicts who are no longer in denial
- Belief in something greater
As a health educator, I have learned that addictions come with a huge denial system. People who are addicted often don’t believe they have an addiction problem. The denial system is meant to fool you and more so themselves because self-deception allows continuous drinking and drugging. It is the mind’s defense against a reality that would be too painful if you could see it. It's meant to keep you out of pain until you are ready to deal with a painful situation. For example, if your father dies you might be numb for the first three or four weeks but when your brain and body are ready to feel the grief, they will give in. Denial collapses when you are ready to deal with the issues causing the denial. Because of this, it makes perfect sense that they first thing anyone says at an AA meeting is, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I am an alcoholic.” A person has to be completely willing, able, and ready to admit that they have a problem in order to get the help they need and do the mental, emotional, and physical work required to experience recovery.
Addictions can make people spiritually sick. People who have lost hope in themselves-- their family, job, friends, and love life--can feel depressed, angry, or even suicidal. Believing in something greater than yourself is emphasized. It reminds you that you were put on the earth for a specific purpose and that you do not have to have drugs or alcohol to achieve that purpose. It connects you to either God, spirituality, or a set of values you live by. It brings self-awareness and reflection to your life. Identifying these purposes requires some deep thought and soul-searching--which is the exact work addicts need to do once they become sober (and really everyone can benefit from it). Real purpose makes any effort worthwhile.
I found purpose and inspiration in my first AA meeting. I realized that night that people in AA have something that non-addicts don’t always have—constant support, love, honesty, and accountability with one another. They are a family and a solid family at that. Figuring out when someone realizes they have a drinking problem and why they became an alcoholic is scary and not easy. I realized that I had a lot more respect for the relationships in that room that night. They were alive because of each other, and they made it a priority to take care of themselves and one another. That is something I will never forget and always be grateful to have witnessed.