Maybe you know you have a problem with alcohol. Or, maybe you haven’t had the guts to admit it yet. But you are slowly becoming aware that things are deteriorating around you at a fairly rapid rate. You just can’t seem to put your finger on the cause – or you don’t want to. Perhaps you’ve tried to “cut down” your drinking in the mistaken belief that this would somehow make things better, allow you to see the situation more clearly and figure out where to go next. Nothing good comes out of this strategy, however, and you find yourself deeper in the pit of despair, hating yourself, but still you insist you’re darned well going to figure this out on your own.
It’s a pity when alcoholics try to wend their way out of the mess they’ve made of their lives by attacking it single-handedly. Hubris is often at the heart of this obsessive determination to go it alone. The alcoholic – you – may think you are too good to join a group of “drunks” who sit around and pathetically analyze their need to drink, chronicle in detail their missteps and relapses – and prop each other up. You reject out of hand the notion that Alcoholics Anonymous, or A.A., could possibly help you.
Maybe, just maybe, you should rethink your position. You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain by giving A.A. a chance. Why? Read on.
Everybody’s Equal in A.A.
There are no superstars in A.A., no pedestals for the high and mighty, the celebrity alcoholic, the political hotshot. Each and every member is just like the next one – an alcoholic who’s trying to work the steps, to become more firmly grounded in their sobriety, to help others new to the program, and to help themselves in the process.
Who you are and where you came from doesn’t matter. How much you have in the bank or lost due to your addiction to alcohol is irrelevant. Sure, it factors into your own personal story, but that’s unique to each man or woman in A.A., and not a badge of distinction. It neither matters nor is heralded among members. The guy sitting next to you or the woman two rows in front of you may be a Hollywood celebrity, or a high-powered attorney, a Wall Street investment banker, a real estate mogul, or a member of Congress. So what? Does their stature make any difference in the fact that they’re alcoholics and need help? Of course not. Equality is one of the hallmarks of membership in A.A. you can count on. In fact, the only requirement for membership is a genuine desire to quit drinking.
A.A. is not a Bunch of Seedy Drunks
Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. What A.A. is not is a bunch of seedy drunks. Just wipe that image from your mind forever. The only thing seedy about alcoholism is the depth to which each of us sinks when we give our lives over to drink, the pursuit of alcohol, the quest for the never-ending blurring of reality we find when we drown ourselves in liquor, beer or wine.
Are there individuals at meetings who’ve fallen far down, who’ve lost everything and are having a difficult time finding a sense of purpose? You bet there are, and you may be one of them. But just because things have gotten so bad in their lives doesn’t mean they’re hopeless or without a chance at changing things around. That’s why they come to A.A., for the opportunity to be with others who’ve not only been in the same position, but they understand completely and offer their words of encouragement and support without any demands.
A.A. is Free
Membership in A.A. is free. There are no costs, no hidden charges, no fine print contracts to read. You can join with one caveat, already mentioned: you have to have a genuine desire to stop drinking. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, many of the programs and services that A.A. offers cost money. Those funds have to come from somewhere, and some of it comes from donations by members. If you can give some money, it is certainly welcomed, and always put to good use.
The biggest benefit members receive from their participation in A.A. meetings is the unconditional support and encouragement they get from fellow members. Newcomers especially are understandably nervous about attending their first meetings. You don’t need to worry about being the “newbie” in the crowd. You will be made to feel welcome by other members. This is a genuine show of encouragement and immediate acceptance that is simply unparalleled. Nowhere else can you be assured of such a complete invitation to join in and heal.
Maybe you’re thinking now that you might give it a try for a meeting or two. That’s a very good sign. After all, if nothing’s worked so far for you, what could it hurt to devote an hour or so to a meeting? But, you wonder, what happens at these meetings? How can you find out in advance? What if you don’t like it after you go?
A.A. is a Fellowship
A.A. meetings occur somewhere in your city or town (or a nearby one) every day of the week. There are morning meetings, mid-day meetings, meetings at night, on week-ends and holidays. In fact, there are many different chapters in most major cities and towns, so you can go to several different meetings until you find one that “feels right” to you. Drop in on various meetings whenever you feel the need. Or, make it a regular part of your routine.
Early in your road to recovery, following treatment (if you’ve gone through this), or if you are just starting on your path to sobriety, you’ll probably want to attend meetings daily. The reason this works for so many recovering alcoholics is that A.A. meetings bring them into contact with others who understand exactly what you’re going through. They’ve been through the depression, the self-hatred and self-pity, the loss of self-esteem. They know what it’s like to go through detoxification and experience the withdrawal as alcohol leaves your body. They understand the sleepless nights, the cravings and urges that become so powerful you want to bash your head against the wall – and reach for another drink. This fellowship of men and women can help you through the tough times – and provide support and encouragement as you bring your life back into focus.
A.A. provides assistance every step of the way on your journey to sobriety. Your fellow A.A. members want nothing more than for you to succeed. And, they’ll be there to celebrate with you every milestone you achieve.
You Don’t Have to be Religious to Join A.A.
Many misconceptions about A.A. revolve around the idea that you somehow have to “get religion” to join the group. That’s simply not true. While the early A.A. organization did have a basis in the Bible’s teachings, today’s A.A. groups are more egalitarian. The A.A. membership ranks include people from every major religion, and those who are atheists as well. You don’t need to ascribe to any particular belief to find success in A.A. – just a belief in your own higher power, your higher self, or whatever you want to call it.
Spirituality is an important component of healing from an addiction to alcohol, or from any addiction. But spirituality can be discovered within you. In fact, that’s where it all originates from anyway. What do you call it when you set yourself goals, give yourself a timetable, prepare yourself by getting training, education, and building up your physical and mental abilities, and push forward in the belief that you can do it? That’s your own inner core of spirituality, the belief that you can, indeed, accomplish your goals.
Healing of Mind, Body and Spirit
If you’ve been in professional treatment for alcohol addiction, whether you completed it or left the program, you are most likely aware of the emphasis on healing. According to most successful addition treatment programs, several treatment modalities are utilized. Treatment professionals stress that you need to heal on three levels: the mind, body, and spirit.
What does this have to do with A.A. membership? For some individuals, A.A. is all they have. They can’t afford, or don’t want to go through, a treatment program. For others, particularly those new to recovery, A.A. provides the continuing support and encouragement they need to stay on their elected path of sobriety.
No, you’re not going to do calisthenics before your A.A. meeting. There are no hypnosis sessions to magically cure what’s wrong in your mind. No spiritual guru will attempt to have you embrace a particular philosophy. But the mind, body, spirit connection is never far from what goes on. A.A. provides seminars and workshops. There are workbooks and literature, CDs and audiotapes, all designed to help the alcoholic come to grips with some aspect of his or her sobriety.
In a sense, the healing camaraderie of fellow members is a little like free counseling. No, they’re not shrinks, and they offer no diagnoses. But they do listen to what you have to say, however painful it may be for you to get out, and there is no judgment in their support. As previously mentioned, the support from A.A. members is unconditional. And it matters. It matters a great deal.
What’s This About a Sponsor?
After you’ve attended a few meetings and found one where you feel comfortable, something you may want to consider is to find someone there to be your sponsor. This may be an individual you admire, or who has had a similar circumstance as yours with drinking, or one who has been successful in his or her sobriety for a long time.
The sponsor is a person whom you can call whenever you need to talk about your urge to drink, when a crisis, major or minor, occurs that you don’t know how to deal with, when you’re depressed, angry, lonely or confused. Your sponsor can help you navigate through the tough times between meetings or when it’s the middle of the night.
Naturally, you want to choose your sponsor carefully. This won’t be a person that you can walk over. Your sponsor will gently “kick your behind” to get back on the right track, not literally, but figuratively. He or she will be there to remind you of your desire and commitment to stay clean and sober, help you pick up and resume your journey if you suffer a slip, or just to lend an ear when you need one.
How Long Do You Need to Attend A.A.?
This is a natural question, especially from people who are used to seeing things in only a linear perspective. On a journey, there’s a beginning and an end. In mathematics, there’s only one answer, although you may arrive at it via different paths. For the alcoholic in recovery, however, there is no one answer as to how long you need to attend meetings. You go as long as you need it. For some members, according to A.A. literature, they go because they need to, while others continue to go because they want to.
Some A.A. members consider attendance at meetings to be a convenient maintenance program. Their participation in meetings helps them reinforce their resolve to be sober. Often, especially when members have been sober for a period of about six months, they look for ways to help others. They volunteer to help set up meetings or participate in other ways. Many become sponsors to new members. This is a way to give back to others, just as they received support when they needed it most.
Learn More About A.A.
If you are an uber-planner, or just want to know more about what you’re getting into, you have an easy way to find out about Alcoholics Anonymous by visiting their website. There are pages devoted to What A.A. Is and Isn’t, Is A.A. For You?, Archives and History, Literature, and more. Most important, for new members and those considering attending, is How to Find A.A. Meetings.
Become Informed and Give A.A. a Try
After you examine the A.A. website, look at some of their downloadable pamphlets and literature, thumb through the Big Book of A.A., the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, take stock of where you are right now. Where do you want to be a year from now, or five or ten years hence?
Don’t let pride stand in your way of getting the type of support and encouragement that’s available to you today, tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that.
Give yourself the gift of giving A.A. a try.