Alcoholics Anonymous

February 25, 2012

As soon as I walked through the door of the old brick church she saw me. “Oh my,” she stammered. “It’s so nice to see a familiar face here; although I never would have expected you!” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled. It was a Saturday afternoon, 3:00. “Is this your first meeting?” She asked, “You look nervous.” I paused with an “Umm, yes, but…” and she cut me off: “Well don’t worry; everyone here accepts everyone. We’re all struggling with the same thing. That’s whole point of AA!” By this time, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was there on assignment. I was working on my masters in Guidance Counseling, and my professor required each of her students to observe a group meeting and write a paper on our observations. I decided to simply thank my greeter for her kindness, and we were called in so the meeting could get started.

Even though I knew the reality of this fact before I walked in, I could not help being surprised by the variety of people who were seated around the circle of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There were definitely all of the stereotypical alcoholics in the room, some were even obviously under the influence, but there were people from every walk of life: a young man right out of high school, a successful businessman, a teacher and even a sweet little old grandmother. Everyone seemed to be in a different place with their recovery, but there was an atmosphere of acceptance and support throughout the whole meeting.

When the meeting started off, however, I found it to be a little dry. The leader, an alcoholic herself, began by reading off AA’s mission statement and purpose, then someone read a summary of the twelve steps, and another volunteered to read something about the need for a higher power, all very formal and non-motivating, but what happened next changed the direction of the whole meeting. The woman leading asked if there were any new comers. I nervously shrunk in my seat because I didn’t want to admit why I was there. Fortunately a woman put up her hand and stated, “This is my first time at any meeting.” What happened next made it clear to me why the Alcoholics Anonymous Program has been so successful for so many people for so long. One at a time someone in the room welcomed her, told her how they understood where she was coming from, shared their experience of their first time, talked about what it took for them to overcome their addiction, and finally how their lives had changed for the better since they’ve made the commitment to stay sober. Their stories were very real, and therefore very touching and inspiring. While individuals were sharing, a list was going around for the ladies in the group to put their phone numbers on so the new member would have someone to call and talk to “whenever you need it, any time of the day or night.”

From my brief perspective, it seemed that the power behind these meetings was not really dependant on the program itself, but on the people in the program, their willingness to be transparent, their ability to accept anyone, regardless of their outward differences, and their determination to help each other stay focused on their goals. They obviously cared for each other and they shared a bond that goes beyond the common experience of addiction; it was a bond that is made through joining together in the struggles to overcome the addiction not just in themselves, but in anyone who is willing to make the change. A bond that reveals what any group of humans can accomplish when there is a willingness to accept one another for who they are, give each other support and encouragement during their weakness and trials, and celebrate together their successes and accomplishments, all while acknowledging a higher power with humility and submission. It was no surprise to me when I found out that the Twelve Steps are originally based on Biblical Principles handed down to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter L Richardson
May, 2007