A Place to Come To: Alcoholic’s Anonymous

I was wearing a green v-neck sweater and leggings.  I remember this well because my head was hung down as I trudged up the narrow cement path to the side door of the church.  This had to be the place to go …. there were people smoking outside.  I remember their talking and laughing and thinking how peculiar it was …. to laugh when you can’t drink.

It was a sunny September day – some September day in the ’90’s – with a balmy breeze and the scent of autumn leaves mingling with scents of summer.  The beauty of the day seemed misplaced considering how I was feeling.  I smelled the church – that woodwork smell with coffee and an underlying must.  The room was bright with wooden floors and metal chairs.  There were big blue books everywhere.  I snatched one and quickly started thumbing through it, trying to look busy.  I felt like I was in high school and I was the letch with no friends.

This was a noontime meeting.  The room was teeming with retirees and a handful of unemployed folks.  One teenager was there; she was pretty.  Whose kid was she?  The man sitting next to the gavel and brochures spoke in a low voice, a French accent.  People looked at me with curiosity, and I held the book closer to my face and affected a look of being engrossed.  I desperately wanted someone to talk to me and was equally horrified by the thought that they might.

The French man banged the gavel and read some kind of intro – which today I would call “the Preamble”:

Alcoholics Anonymous
is a fellowship of men and women
who share their experience, strength
and hope with each other so that
they may solve their common problem
and help others recover from
alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership
is a desire to stop drinking. There
are no dues or fees for AA
membership. We are self supporting
through our own contributions.
AA. is not allied with any sect,
denomination, politics, organization,
or institution: does not wish to engage
in any controversy; neither endorses
nor opposes any causes. Our primary
purpose is to stay sober and help other
alcoholics achieve sobriety.”

I remember being caught up in the requirement for membership (the ONLY requirement):  a desire to stop drinking.  I suddenly felt out of place. I wasn’t sure I had that desire.  I knew something had to change.

Someone read “how it works.”  In it are the 12 steps.  I couldn’t wrap my head around them.  It sounded like a lot to do.  I was drawn to the first step, I remember.  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

My life was damned unmanageable.  I had had my first REAL blackout.  I had them before, just a couple of hours here and there.  Sometimes I’d be amazed to hear that I was at _____________ [insert bar name] the night before.  I’d be baffled when so-and-so came up to me and laughed/reminisced about what we did the night before – and then I’d be angry.  They were messing with me.  I couldn’t NOT remember that, could I?  But this time was more than a slice of a night and it was more than an hour or two.  It spanned from 2 in the afternoon until the following morning.  My then-boyfriend was pissed at me and would not tell me why.  His roommate was livid as well.  No explanation.  Just a glare and folded arms, a quick head cocked toward the door.  They were so pissed they wouldn’t even speak to me long enough to tell me to leave.

And here I was.  I must be crazy.  I cautiously scanned the group of people in this church room, noting that they were from all walks of life.  Some were professionals, some were old , and what was the story with this teenager?

I kept thinking I was in my 20’s.  I had my life ahead of me.  My mind raced with scenarios such as my wedding day – and I wasn’t planning on my then-boyfriend being my husband; he was already married technically.  As I write this, he sits in prison for dealing drugs.  But my wedding day …. no champagne?  What about Christmas?  That would be here before I knew it.  No cognac?  And New Year’s Eve?  What about my birthday? I loved going out to the bar and having a nice chum tell everyone it was my birthday – free beers, free shots , free free freedom.  Now I felt chained to abstinence.  There was something about being in a meeting that felt like a call to action.

“Hi. I’m __________ and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hi, _________________!”

I sat and sulked.  People announced anniversaries coming up and there were rounds of applause.  I was sober for about 8 hours, I think.  They read a chapter from the Big Book. I don’t remember the story, but I remember hungrily reading it and identifying with it.  The ensuing discussion went around the room.  People talked about being homeless.  Shit, I wasn’t THAT bad.  People lost jobs. I wasn’t THAT bad.  Shit, if I ever got THAT bad, I’d stop.  Jeeez.  Lost husbands, lost children, lost wives, crashed up cars …….. one man talked about his worst blackout when he ‘came to’ in a train station and didn’t know where. It turned out it was in Chicago – which is halfway across the country from here.  I leaned forward, hungrily consuming his words.  I knew that might have been me.  I mean, who knows?  Apparently he was BENT on going to a Cub’s game and his friends couldn’t talk him out of it.  Someone had to wire him money to get him home.  He had to wander around and read the teleprompters to ascertain where he was.    He had no idea.

Then my turn.  I gushed about the blackout.  Not only had I blacked out, but I had broken one of my rules. I drank before noon.  With every pause, someone would shout “keep talking.”  I’d pause again, choking back tears:  “Don’t stop!”  At the end, an older lady who had been knitting during the entire meeting led every lady over to me.  They hugged me and gave me their phone numbers.  And that teenager? Her, too. I resented that.  How could some KID know more than I do?  She was sober for 18 months – but she looked squeaky clean.  How could she possibly relate to me and my sordid life?

I can’t say my sobriety started there.  I think I got a week.  What led me to drink was a friend moving away and our having a going-away party for her.  I couldn’t just …. drink SODA, could I?

So that wasn’t my start in AA, but their support for this newcomer was remarkable.  I knew I had a place to come to.  And I came back many times spanning many years before it started to sink in.