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5 Ways AA Helped Me

“Our findings are shedding light on how AA helps people recover from addiction over time. The results suggest that social context factors are key; the people who associate with individuals attempting to begin recovery can be crucial to their likelihood of success. AA appears adept at facilitating and supporting those social changes.” ~ John F. Kelly, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine There is at least one in every family – a relative who has a not-too-subtle problem with alcohol. Maybe they’re always making a fool of themselves at family gatherings, maybe they just can’t seem to keep a job, or maybe they’re always getting into one legal scrape or another, all because of drinking. In my family, that relative was me.

My Family Forces Me to Deal with My Alcoholism

Without going into the sordid details, my downward spiral of self-destructive drinking had finally reached the point that my family performed their own version of an intervention. I come from quite a large family, so when a dozen relatives gathered together to tell me exactly what was what, I didn’t have many options. I contacted an outpatient alcohol rehabilitation facility, and after I went through detoxification, my personal recovery program was created. I had to attend various counseling and therapy sessions at the facility, but part of my program included daily attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I really didn’t know much about AA other than the stereotypical stuff I have seen on television and in the movies. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it. Was I really going to have to spill my guts in front of a bunch of touchy-feely ex-drunks that I didn’t even know? They could make me go, but they could not make me like it. I was instructed to attend the magical “90 meetings in 90 days” that so many experts recommend. I was resentful, to say the least. And go to a meeting every day? Who had the time for that? I couldn’t even go to the therapy that I was paying for every day, but I was somehow supposed to find my way to a group meeting every single day for the next three months? We’ll see.

I Learned from AA In Spite Of Myself

As it turns out, I was not the first person to be resentful because I was going to AA under protest, and I was also not the first person to arrive with my own set of preconceptions. In a way, my resentment and my stubbornness made Alcoholics Anonymous and me a perfect fit.

  • I learned that AA is everywhere – Finding an AA meeting wasn’t hard at all. In fact, I live in a decent-sized city, and I was surprised to learn how many different AA “groups” there actually were. If I wanted to, I could easily go every day, several times a day.

I counted it up. Between the various groups, I could actually attend 23 meetings a week, if that’s what I wanted and needed. Right away, this helped me change my mindset a little. Whatever else I was thinking about AA, I had to admit this – they are serious about being available for people who want to quit drinking.

  • I learned that I am not alone – When I walked through the doors of my first meeting, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. I felt like the new kid at school that I didn’t want to go to.

I had my little attendance form that the rehab facility required. That was embarrassing – now everybody here was going to know that I was in rehab, just like they would know that the rehab facility didn’t trust me to go on my own. Surprisingly right at the beginning, was the fact that there was a small group of people right near the door who seemed like they were waiting on me. Each of them smiled, shook my hand, and genuinely welcomed me. A lot of times, I have referred to myself as the “black sheep” of my family, because I’ve always felt that I was somehow different from the rest of my relatives. Sometimes I felt as if I was born into the wrong family. Right away, these strangers were making a real effort to welcome me – to let me know that they were glad that I was there. It’s hard to describe, but from the first moment, I could feel the sincerity. Maybe I had found my tribe.

  • I learned that my past mistakes don’t have to define who I am today – It’s no exaggeration to say that in one way or another, I was always “acting out” around my family. I had messed up because of my drinking so many times that it was actually affected how my other relatives thought of me.

According to some, I was always going to be the screw-up, the guy who couldn’t be trusted, the drunk, the embarrassment… I was never to be relied upon or given any responsibility. But as I sat there in my first few months’ worth of AA meetings – observing everything – I looked at the people around me, and I listened to their stories. I heard tales – tragic, horrifying, heart-breaking, and yes, howlingly funny – from people who seemed to have their act together. They had moved past their mistakes and sins. They would acknowledge them, true, but having done that, they had moved forward and were actually living their lives in the present. Maybe… Just maybe… If they could put their sordid pasts behind them, perhaps I could do the same. Perhaps I could get my act together, as well.

  • I learned to let go – of everything that I learned in AA, this is the lesson that has stayed with me and had the most profound impact upon my life.

I am extremely stubborn. I want things when I want them, and I want them done how I want them done. Compromise has never been my strong suit. If I think something isn’t the way I wanted, I jump in and try to “fix” it, even if I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s how it was with me and drinking. It will probably come as no surprise that I had tried to quit drinking before, my way. I quit cold turkey, I white-knuckled it, I tried to switch from liquor to beer, I tried to drink only on the weekends – and I always went back to my old habits, usually worse than before. Listening to the “old-timers” in AA, I learned that my stubbornness was one of my biggest character defects. Obviously, to any sane person, my way of thinking was flawed, and so, my way of doing things usually just make things worse. It slowly dawned upon me that maybe I wasn’t always right. Maybe I didn’t have to try to fix everything. Maybe someone or something bigger and smarter than me – God, my Higher Power, my counselors, the recovery process itself – had a better idea about how to solve my problems and I did. It was a hard step, but very gradually, I learned to let go of my own ego and my own way of doing things, so I could trust in those forces outside of myself.

  • I learned to give back – If there’s one thing that I am sure about, it is the fact that I am positive that my drinking and my resultant behaviors hurt other people. I’ve lied, I’ve broken promises, I’ve stolen time and money, and I have caused unnecessary stress and drama in the lives of the people around me.

Alcoholics Anonymous taught me to take an honest look at myself and the damage that I have caused. As part of my recovery, I am supposed to make direct amends to those people that I’ve hurt. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been possible. In some cases, I’ve screwed up so badly and so long ago that any efforts I make today will only make things worse by bringing unnecessarily bringing up old hurts. So how do I balance my karma? First, I make sure that I am scrupulously honest in everything I do today. I also go the extra mile to make sure that I am considerate of the thoughts and needs of others. This doesn’t fix my past mistakes, but it does minimize the damage I do today. Secondly, I try to give back. Now that I have been sober for a few years, I am strong enough to give of myself. I often serve at AA meetings in some capacity – handing out anniversary chips, cleaning up afterward, and I’ve chaired meetings numerous times. I have even sponsored a few people as they began their journey of recovery. As the 12th Step suggests, I have tried to “carry this message to others”. How does this help me? When I serve others, I feel useful. I realize that my life can have a purpose. Because I have a purpose, my life has meaning. And, because my life has meaning, I don’t have to throw it away because of alcohol.

Alcoholics Anonymous Worked for Me

Looking back, I can see how the fellowship, love, acceptance, and support that I found at Alcoholics Anonymous changed my life for the better. I came in resentful and anxious, and now, years later, I am grateful and serene. I’m under no illusions. I am still an alcoholic, and I will always have work to do on myself. But within the four walls of the AA meeting halls, I learned how to change what I could and accept what I could not. I’m still gaining wisdom to know the difference.