So, last night I went to my first AA meeting. I never thought I’d set foot in one, to be honest, but I’m so glad I did.
For the 90 minutes I was there, I cried constantly, sometimes bordering upon hysterically. It was the most incredible feeling of release. Although I sometimes do cry with my therapist, it’s so rare that I actually let everything come out, and I felt like the pent up agony of the past year or so of struggling with this horrible problem was being let go.
The meeting set up was basically a massive cliché. We were sitting in rows on crappy plastic chairs with an outdated tea urn bubbling away in the corner and handed Styrofoam cups of cheap coffee to welcome us.
As I entered the room I wanted to walk out immediately. There were around 25 people in the room, all men apart from myself, the chair and one other woman who arrived later. I knew that my connections online of people who have struggled with alcohol have been 90% women, but I didn’t expect to be intimidated by the male presence.
I sat down, and when they invited newcomers to make themselves known, I said my name and that it was my first meeting and was welcomed. As the guest speaker’s story was told and the 12 steps recited, I started to open up emotionally and the tears came. It’s REALLY bloody hard to stop hysterical tears in a quiet room and I was a bit of a snivelling mess at the back, snotty nosed and not armed with a tissue. WHY DIDN’T I BRING A TISSUE?!
They tell you to listen for the similarities not the differences you see between yourself and other drinkers when you’re new, and my GOD were there so many similarities.
The main thing I took away from the sharing and the discussions was that everyone in the room has struggled with who they are in some form or another, and that led them both to drink, and to find recovery difficult. There were amazing stories of self-discovery. Some of the points that were made might seem small if I recounted them, but they spoke volumes to me.
There was an overwhelming positivity that I took away- several people talked about things in their life that have happened only because they got sober. These are things that they couldn’t have done before not because they were drunk, but because they didn’t know who they truly were, or that they never had the self-esteem to pursue them. Someone described growing into an adult when he got sober, having lived 40 years as a child.
All of these points made great sense to me and gave me real hope, because I’ve always known that alcohol is making my life smaller than I want it to be, that I could achieve things I never thought possible if I could take the steps to permanently remove it from my life. And that I’m still a child in so many ways, and that’s alcohol is keeping me there.
The other thing that really clicked for me, which is the thing I expected to relate to least, was the ‘higher power’ notion. Everyone who referred to the higher power in their discussions specifically said it didn’t take a religious form to them. I had a HUGE switch click in my head with regards to this idea. I realised two things. The first is that I’ve got a gaping hole left by moving away from the Catholic religion that was such a fundamental part of my life until I was around 20, when I suddenly decided it wasn’t for me. I was shocked to discover last night, that I really missed the idea that there was something outside of myself that I could rely on. I don’t want religion back. Maybe now, my spiritual guide isn’t God, but something that dictates that everything will work out just as it should. Some sort of universal plan that I fit into.
The idea that “maybe everything is just as it’s supposed to be right now” was mentioned to me by my therapist a while ago, and it one of the most helpful ideas I have to get me through the tough times. And maybe this idea is the same thing, for me, as the notion of a Higher Power: the thought that everything I’m going through now is for a reason, and that will make me a stronger person in the long term. You can’t argue with the idea that I’m learning a hell of a lot from this struggle, and placing this in the context of a wider life plan that I’m not completely in control of was a huge relief. It took the great burden away from me and my little corner of the earth a little bit. Made me GET OVER MYSELF a little bit.
This also reiterated my feeling that I also don’t want to rely 100% on myself and tear myself up with endless introspection. I’ve talked about this before, but last night I felt a shift inside myself where I just trusted that everything will be ok. That I can pray or ask or just hope that something outside of me has my best interests at heart. That feels a weird line for me to type, but I believe it.
And the thing that really underlined the “maybe everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be” idea for me was the fact that I feel I walked into that AA room at precisely the right moment for me. I walked in, my brain telling me that maybe I didn’t have an alcohol problem, knowing that just 24 hours before I’d expressed the fear to Carrie that one day, my parents would get a call saying I’d died because of alcohol. That dramatic mindshift in just a day showed me that this disease is real, it’s serious and that it’s got me in the grips of deception.
The second thing that meant that last night was precisely the right time for me to go was it coincided with my true acceptance of this problem. When I reread old posts I’ve made, I remember the hopeless optimism I had that once I stopped and stayed stopped for a while, that would be the end of my journey with alcohol. I’ve realised in the past month or so that stopping drinking is only just the beginning. That I have so much work to do to stay sober. But that that’s ok.
If I’d set foot in that room even 3 months ago I still wouldn’t have believed this would work for me. But all the soul searching I’ve done and the honest approach I’ve repeatedly forced myself to take as I look inwards has meant that I’ve done a lot of ground work on my own, but I know that I need more help than that, from lots of different perspectives. After taking what’s been a pretty lonely road, despite all the online support and occasional meet ups with other sober bloggers, the comfort of simply having a large people group around me to listen to was huge.
As we stood up at the end and joined hands in a circle, I was absolutely crying my eyes out. The two women rushed up to me immediately after and comforted me, gave me their numbers and said lovely reassuring things. One of them was in her mid 30s, and sober for 4 years, the other 26 and had got sober at 21. They were kind and gentle and beautiful and I never wanted them to stop hugging me!
I honestly feel that I’m going to be going to these meetings long term. I think it’s going to really help me, more than I could ever have imagined. I had HUGE preconceptions and misgivings about AA, which I think many of us do, but I knew trying it was important, and I’m over the moon this morning that I plucked up the courage to walk down those stairs, shaking like a leaf, and make myself vulnerable in front of a room of tough looking men.
After last night I feel calm and I know it’s all going to be ok. It’s going to be hard, and I’m still going to have the same struggles, but maybe this new approach I’m trying will truly help me this time. I have the belief radiating from somewhere very deep inside me that it will, and that makes me want to weep with joy.
Pretty powerful stuff eh? I’m more shocked than anyone, but I’m going to stick with it and see where this unexpected journey takes me.