I recently attended my first AA meeting. It surpassed many of my expectations; however it ruined others and left me slightly dumbfounded.
My imagination, with the help of television and movies, painted a picture in my mind of what an AA meeting would be like. It portrayed a room filled with people that obviously looked like addicts; unkempt appearances, borderline offensive hygiene, and at least one person emitting a radiance of booze while swaying back and forth in his chair, balancing on the line between falling forward to the ground and staying in the seat.
My imagination laughed at me as I entered the room. One look around made me realize that I was deceived. The majority of the members were clean, well kempt, and looked healthier than my medical school classmates. Skeptical, I scanned the room again for the person that showed up with a pint of liquor in his/her system. My imagination rationalized that they must have not shown up today, for certainly you can’t have an AA meeting with 100% sobriety. To say the least, I’m still discouraged by its elaborate depiction of this clean and encouraging environment.
After walking through the threshold and soaking it all in, I found a seat near the back where I assumed the newbies were relegated to. Upon finding my spot, I was immediately welcomed by an older gentleman, John, whom was eager to invite me in and listen to my story. I explained everything that you already know about me i.e. intrinsic interest in addiction and an interest in learning from the people that have the greatest depth of knowledge and widest breath of experience in alcoholism, you.
John and I hit it off and he had a great story that ended in him picking up alcohol counseling after retiring from the school system and being happy and sober for the past 27 years. He introduced me to his friends in the meeting who were equally as welcoming as John. As the meeting got underway, I reprimanded my imagination again for feeding me lies.
It was an open discussion that began with the storytelling of one member’s lifelong battle. This was followed by comments from the audience about how they could relate and included a glimpse of their own story which allowed me to capture a little bit of each person in the room. I would be lying if I told you that I did not relate to the thoughts and expressions in the words that I heard.
I found myself intrigued by a discussion on dealing with life events by using alcohol. Many of the members agreed that at one time or another they used alcohol to squelch negative feelings, even if it was as minor as a bill in the mail. This brought my thoughts back to college years. I couldn’t ever comprehend the thought process of the one or two friends that after breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend would announce to the world, “I need to get drunk!” Why is it that people want to get drunk when that is the least effective remedy for such an ailment? In fact, alcohol tends to make it worse because the person inevitably makes a bad decision that night. Taking an already emotionally laden person and adding alcohol is like throwing gasoline on a flame. My hope would always be that the night would end in crying over the person rather than the late night vandalism of his/her house.
As the discussion continued, I was struck by another gentleman’s comment on hitting bottom. A rough rendition of his words was, “I thought I hit rock bottom 20 years ago, but I was wrong. Many years later I found out that at the level I thought was rock bottom there was still an elevator that went even deeper to the sub-basement.” This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about tremendously when it comes to Horatio. What will his rock bottom be (or sub-basement)? I know that I can’t force him in to sobriety. The hardest part may be that the only thing I can do is watch and wait for that day. Will it be when he loses his house? Maybe his addiction will take him as far as living on the streets before he’s finally ready to change for good. I have been mentally preparing myself that one day I may have a homeless brother.
As the hour came to an end, I expressed my appreciation to John for taking me under his wing in a place I would have otherwise been lost. Knowing my interest in learning, he informed me about an AA meeting oriented to young addicts (under 25). I look forward to the discussion I will hear there, as well as at my first Al-Anon meeting.
“Nonmaleficence” is a medical student who blogs at his self-titled site, Nonmaleficence.
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