At the insistence of my most recent therapist, the CBT, I decided to try to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. All I’ve ever known about AA was what I’d read in Stephen King books. The most recent one I read was Doctor Sleep, in which the main character, a grown up Andy from The Shining has been battling his own demons, one of which was alcohol. I learned all about the 90 in 90, the twelve steps, and having a sponsor.
I went online and found a meeting near my neighborhood at around 10pm the same day of my therapy session. I find it’s easier for me to get stuff done right after talking to a therapist, especially if it’s outside of my comfort zone. I put on some clothes, grabbed a fresh pack of cigarettes and took the train to the church where the meeting was taking place. I started to get cold feet on my way there, using the fact that I was running a couple of minutes late as an excuse. However, I convinced myself to at least walk by the church and if anyone was standing outside to go in. As it turns out I’m not the only night owl in Manhattan. The place was packed. There was a young guy locking his bike up on a nearby post and I smiled nervously at him as I walked down the steps to the basement room where the meeting was being held.
There was coffee, there were cookies, and there were pamphlets galore. I spotted a seat towards the middle and kept a panic attack at bay as everyone around chatted happily amongst themselves.
There were people there who were my age, there was even a boy who was 17. The guest speaker that night was an old, eccentric looking man with Albert Einstein hair and Elton John’s sense of style. He told us all about his exploits. One story in particular was very amusing. He described the car he had in his youth. Apparently he felt he needed to have a pimp mobile in order to establish an identity for himself. So he went out and bought a Caddy with all of the bells and whistles of that time. I kept thinking about what an excellent character he would make in a novel.
Other people took turns “sharing” and when they finished others would respond with their own stories and encouragement. After everyone was finished sharing, the hostess asked if there was anyone in the group who was there for the first time. My heart leaped and beads of sweat just appeared on my forehead with no warning. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, but I also didn’t want to get in trouble for not saying anything. I quickly began weighing options and consequences, and just as I was about to raise my shaky hand she moved on to another question about if anyone else was a member who was in from out of town. I exhaled, feeling enormously relieved. I felt as if I had dodged a bullet. For some reason I thought I was going to get stoned or burned at the stake if I didn’t raise my hand, but no one even noticed. Anonymous indeed.
At the end of the meeting I ran out of the meeting after an awkward moment in which I found myself trapped in the middle of some prayer circle thing while I was busy putting on my sweater. I actually think that’s the reason I didn’t go back. I was so embarrassed at not having known that I had to take my neighbor’s hand that I actually dashed out of there as soon as they were done. I didn’t even grab a cookie.
I’ve read a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and the way that it has helped a lot of people cope with their alcoholism or other similar addictions. I’ve also read a lot of articles from some conspiracy theorists about how it’s a brainwashing cult. All I can say about it is that the people who were there helped each other out. Some of the able bodied men there volunteered to do some recycling the next day. It was a friendly, welcoming community. Of course, cults are also welcoming communities. But no one forced me to stay and chat, no one grabbed the back of my shirt as I rushed out of the room in embarrassment, and no one shoved a pamphlet in my face and forced me to read the Big Book. So in my own opinion I don’t think it’s a cult. I don’t think it’s a brainwashing scheme. I think it’s a group of people helping each other out. Much like a church or the Salvation Army. And although it may not have been for me, I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who feels the need to get sober.