About two years ago I enrolled in a class at a local community college (because that’s what I do – just take classes – I have enough credits for a Ph.D. in enrolling in community college classes) where several assignments were to attend the meetings of various anonymous fellowships. Here is one such account *edited for the blog* of my time spent in a self-help meeting.
The meeting was started by the secretary of the group who then turned the meeting over to the leader, Bill (whom the secretary incorrectly identified as Jim – everyone chuckled). Bill read the Preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous in his very small, quiet voice. The Preamble describes the fellowship of A.A. as a whole and its purpose.
Then a man named Louis (who had raised his hand when asked if there was anyone in the room who had less than thirty days of sobriety) read the section from chapter three, More About Alcoholism. Technically, this was still the “beginning” of the meeting, meaning it was pre-break and pre-sharing personal stories. I took this time to take a head count. There were fifteen people in the meeting, myself included. How It Works and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions were read by three other individuals.
The entire meeting was only one hour, but lots of ground was covered. Bill spoke for the greatest length of time and chose the topic for the discussion, which was the Tenth Step. After he chose the topic, the Seventh Tradition was observed. No one really spoke about the Tenth Step though, everyone just shared what was on their mind. If you need to know what these Steps and Traditions are, then maybe you shouldn’t be reading this and need to find a meeting.
Bill has been sober since 1969. His first meeting was with the very same Group, in the very same building we fifteen people were huddled in. His then-wife and then-mother-in-law forced him to meetings. He drank because he didn’t “feel different” when he drank. He also drank after meetings and found other members to go drink with for the first six years. That information was relatable. When he finally got sober it was a matter of life and death. He had cirrhosis of the liver, weighed only one hundred pounds, and drank day and night. He credits the spirituality of the program for eventually saving him.
Then a man sitting next to me took a break from spooning his KFC Bowl to speak. He’s sober for seven years and thanked Bill for speaking. He last saw Bill speak four years ago and said that he always remembered what Bill said. He felt that the Tenth Step is overlooked and that he keeps it in his heart all day, every day. He tries to live it without resentments, but it’s tough. Okay, you got me. The Tenth Step is, “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” The man eating the KFC Bowl left the meeting immediately after speaking. I too, would need to leave shortly after eating a KFC Bowl.
Tony was the next to share. He was forced to become sober in 1988 after thirty five years of being “out there”. He’s been sober ever since. He partly credits genetics for keeping him alive this whole time, and other partly thanks the spirituality of the program. When he came to the program he admitted he could never say “God” and would say “Good”. Eventually, it didn’t matter. He said he had never been atheist even, let alone spiritual. Being atheist or agnostic would require caring. All he ever cared about before was the drink.
The final person to speak was this man named Pablo. He was sober for three years and was in the program starting in 1994. He was court-appointed to attend the meetings this time around. He had a court card and he talked about his obsession with drinking. He talked about having a drink last night. He’s been slowly changing the times of day and ways that he drinks, but he’s been having trouble. He replaced his afternoon meal-time beer with a Diet Coke and that replacement has been working well for him.
They did speak about newcomers a lot though, and it almost felt like they were talking to me. There were lots of crossed arms or couples placing their hands on each others backs. Those small physical cues send out lots of energy and speak volumes. I felt uncomfortable hearing Pablo speak about drinking a beer with dinner. That is more telling about myself than it is Pablo.