Why go to AA meetings?

At first, I went to stop drinking.  Next, I went to stay stopped.  At a certain point I was terrified of drinking again.  This was a healthy, realistic fear.  Drinking was killing me. It was to be feared.

At my meeting last week, a woman came for her first time to that particular meeting.  She has been sober for a long time, but somewhere through the years she stopped going to meetings.  She was back because she was dissatisfied with the quality of her life.

The topic was the Serenity Prayer.  I honestly said that I don’t say the Serenity Prayer except at AA meetings, so I probably say it once or twice a week.  That’s one reason I keep going to meetings.  At first I used the prayers and the rituals to stay away from alcohol because alcohol was killing me.  Now that I’m not afraid I’ll drink I don’t run away from fear, anger, dishonesty and other things that at first I knew I had to run from.  The Serenity Prayer, repeated once or twice a week over the course of more than three decades, has worn a Serenity-Prayer-shaped rut in my soul.  I’ve incorporated it into my very psyche.  It has changed my mind, literally, my mind has been changed and continues to change.  In the good direction of better living because, and only because, I continue to go to meetings.

I know that plenty of non-alcoholics and alcoholics also, I suppose, change and get better by other means as they get older and learn more.  I do, too, but the main agent of change for the better in my life continues to be AA.

I was thinking about the people I socialize with.  They are mostly people I work with, and people in my family.  After those two groups AA would have to come third.  My mother is retired, and she moved away from where she lived all of her life until retirement.  I think she mostly socializes with family on the phone and on visits, then with people she used to work with, mostly by talking on the phone.  After that it’s probably neighbors for her, and it’s only one or two because she hasn’t lived where she does for a very long time.  Her mother, my grandmother, didn’t work outside of her home.  She socialized with family, first, watching some of her grandchildren up until the time she died.  My uncle ran his business out of her house, and he saw her every day.  After family would have come neighbors for her.  She lived in the same house for something like 60 years and died there.

If I’m ever fortunate enough to retire, I picture AA as a major activity of my life in retirement.  I know I’ll go to more meetings, yes, to keep getting better, blah blah, but also to participate more in the defining activity of my life.  It’s a place where I can always contribute by showing up, by helping out, for as long as I’m able to show up and help out.

Those are some of the reasons I keep going to meetings.  I don’t, right now, LOVE meetings.  I wasn’t a bar drinker and I don’t seek out company after a day of interacting with people, or even after a day alone.  But it saved my life and I’m pretty sure I won’t ever forget that it is a lifeline.  It is my lifeline.  As long as I want to live, I need to keep that lifeline strong.

… the fallacy of our defiance was revealed (step two continued)

“When we encountered A.A., the fallacy of our defiance was revealed. At no time had we asked what God’s will was for us; instead we had been telling Him what it ought to be. No man, we saw, could believe in God and defy Him, too. Belief meant reliance, not defiance. In A.A. we saw the fruits of this belief: men and women spared from alcohol’s final catastrophe. We saw them meet and transcend their other pains and trials. We saw them calmly accept impossible situations, seeking neither to run nor to recriminate. This was not only faith; it was faith that worked under all conditions. We soon concluded that whatever price in humility we must pay, we would pay.”

Because, I remember, the alternative is ‘alcohol’s final catastrophe.’

I have often thought and sometimes written that ultimately I do what I do because I like to do it, because it makes me happy.  The people I help and take care of are fortunate that I like to help and take care of people.  The above paragraph has a lot of truth in it, for me.  I do see people in AA deal with things I fear I might not be able to deal with.  Of course, seeing them, I have a much better chance of succeeding when my time comes.  So if I decide I will pay whatever price in humility I must pay, isn’t it because I want to be happy?

Also, the cynic in me sees people crushed by impossible situations.  For every one person who sits triumphant for this day at a meeting, there are countless others who couldn’t bear up and who are suffering tremendously, or have lost the battle.  And I guess that’s there for me.  Nothing says it’s not.  It is alcohol’s final catastrophe I can escape.

I learned early on to ask for knowledge of God’s will.  I don’t actually like to be in charge, and I rarely know what’s best for me or for anyone else.  And I’m stuck and stymied by the whole “bad things happen to good people” thing, especially when I think if the poorest people of the world and the problems they face.  God’s will, or chance, I don’t know.  I do know that today I’m among the lottery winners of the alcoholic sweepstakes.

October 11, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0225I was part of a “higher power” discussion last night with a young man who is hesitant to do the steps because he is an atheist.  As he talked about the difficulty with finding a higher power as an atheist, he mentioned yoga, which I understand is a mental, physical, and spiritual practice, much like AA is a mental, physical, and spiritual recovery from active alcoholism and alcoholic drinking.  I don’t know much about yoga, but I wonder if it can “restore me to sanity.”  Do I need some semblance of sanity to practice it to begin with?  Do I need that to practice AA?

I’m in danger of twirling in a complicated mental circle.  Like I said last night and like I’ve said here, I don’t know if there is a supernatural or supreme being.  I don’t need to know to be successful in AA.  Our books suggest making AA or the group our higher power at first.  Here is a group of people who have solved the drinking problem, certainly a power greater than me.  That worked for me at first, and it works for me now.  I don’t mean the specific people who gathered at the group with me last night, although the same young man had a question about how to treat his sister.  All of the people within earshot voiced their opinion and agreed that he should not give her money.  I mean all of the people of AA from the beginning until now, and the program as it is written in the books and practiced by the people I come in contact with.  It is a power greater than me.  It is a plan for how to live and it is concrete, immediate, free and sane help with the specific details of my specific existence, here and now.

I don’t believe our young man should make a sponsor or a person his higher power.  Individuals are famously and sometimes tragically fallible.  But the program, its history, its present and its people are a higher enough power for me.  Personally, I can’t completely identify with someone who claims to be 100% atheist because I’m just never that sure of anything.  I can’t understand how those people don’t have a tiny doubt, but that doesn’t matter.  A power greater than them can restore them to sanity, and it can save them from an alcoholic existence and an alcoholic death.


Denial – an assertion that something said, believed, alleged, etc, is false.  Disbelief in    the existence or reality of a thing.

Alcoholics go to their deaths saying they do not have a drinking problem.  Or, admitting they do have a problem, they die trying to prove abstinence is not the only answer, that they don’t need AA or other help to arrest their alcoholism.

My own history is slightly different.  I knew immediately that I was an alcoholic and for that I’m grateful.  I did however deny that I had to abstain.  I really wanted to be a functioning alcoholic and I did nearly kill myself trying to function under the influence.

Traditionally in AA we don’t call anyone alcoholic who doesn’t take the label on him or herself.  But we know one when we see one.  One of my favorite moments in this was when a friend was telling me about the problems she was having with her partner.  The partner passed out, fell over, threw up, blacked out.  I asked, “Do you think alcohol can be a problem?”  She said, “Well, two psychologist and three doctors and a social worker say no.”  This response told me that alcohol was a problem.  All these professionals don’t comment on something that doesn’t exist.

They told me when I first went to meetings that “no one gets here by mistake.”  Cynical, I thought, “No one?  Not ever?”  But now I understand.  All the misery and tragedy and awfulness that propel a person through the doors of an AA meeting do indeed mean that the person is an alcoholic.  Saying “no” doesn’t change that, it just postpones recovery, sometimes forever.

“The disease that tells you you don’t have a disease.”  I believe it is the alcoholic mind that tries desperately to live and survive and drink again that fights against acceptance and recovery.  I can still, at times, gets slightly frightened by the thought that I may never drink again.  But since lots of sanity has returned to me, I quickly realize the much more frightening thought is that I someday might drink again.  I believe in the reality of this thing.