This is David’s story about attending his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Ten o’clock in the evening on a Wednesday. Not exactly prime drinking time, but close enough. Instead of enjoying the first of many beers at one of my steady hang-outs, I found myself trying to find the parking lot at an ancient, castle-like church, one of those Catholic monstrosities they quit building in the 1950’s. I was twenty minutes and fifteen miles from home in a town I don’t frequent. I had arrived for my very first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. And I was scared.
Does anyone want to be here?
I certainly didn’t.
I went on the advice of my attorney. He told me that attending 90 meetings in 90 days would go a long way toward keeping me out of jail. I was facing my second DUI within two years, and after getting slammed by the first, I understood it was going to take some effort to convince a judge I wouldn’t simply repeat the behavior. I had a sheet to record the meetings I attended and spots for someone to sign to prove I was there at each one.
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After finding a postage-stamp sized parking lot in the back, I made my way to the basement. There wasn’t a sign for the meeting and I wandered a bit to find a room with any activity. At first, looking through the door, I didn’t think it was the right place. The room was obviously a nursery or kindergarten – there were alphabets and colorful cartoon characters on the wall. But a second glance at the chairs and the dozen or so people in there convinced me.
These were the faces of people I knew from bars. Not people I actually knew, but the same tired look, the same downcast eyes. My immediate thought was, “I’m not like these schmucks – I’m better than these losers.”
I’m not an Alcoholic
The meeting was slow to start, so I made a cup of coffee, although I didn’t have any change for the little contribution cup next to the pot. Having the coffee to sip gave me something to do. I wondered if they ever made an Irish version of the coffee and thought that a drink now would do wonders for my nerves. Instead, I sat with eyes downward, looking at my attendance record sheet, wondering who would sign it for me, and how long this meeting would last.
Someone in the front row finally stood up and said, “My name’s Mike, and I’m an alcoholic.” The group responded with a less-than-enthusiastic, “Hi, Mike.”
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Mike, it turned out, was running the meeting, although in a very loose fashion. I’m sure they recognized I was the new guy, because they started going around the room for introductions. “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m an alcoholic” “Hi, so-and-so.”
When it got to me, I just said, “My name’s Dave” without the alcoholic part. No one seemed to care much and they dutifully said, “Hi, Dave.”
From there, the meeting seemed fairly structured. They passed me a copy of the Big Book and we took turns reading from what turned out to be step one, although I didn’t know it at the time. That was followed by the most powerful thing I’ve experienced in a long while.
Several of the members just started telling stories about themselves, their lives and the impact of alcohol. I was prepared to be preached to, and the reading from the book had come across just that way. But suddenly, in turns, real people started spilling the beans. They weren’t complaining and they didn’t sound like they really wanted anything other than to tell their story. And those stories hit me hard.
There was a guy younger than me who had gotten his third DUI before he was 23. He’d lost a great internship and had to quit college. There was a woman who was struggling to get back her kids now that she was out of jail. There was a businessman who’d gone bankrupt because of alcohol and gambling. And more.
By the time they got to me, I’d already heard some people say, “Pass” and I did too. But as others spoke, I couldn’t escape how much their stories were my story. The time I blacked out in my car and woke up in a field, not knowing where I was or how I got there. Treating my hangover with a few drinks before work to “get straight.” And much more.
There was no denying the truth on offer. And no denying they were speaking, at least in part, for me – describing my life in little swatches of theirs.
After about an hour, Mike asked if anyone else wanted to speak and looked at me. I chickened out, looking away, so he said we would end in prayer. The group said the Serenity Prayer in unison. The guy next to me opened the Big Book to the right page so I could read along.
The meeting kind of dissolved from there. I was a little shaken and sat a bit, not wanting to see any of these people in the parking lot. The guy next to me told me he was glad I came and shook my hand. I didn’t say anything. By this time, they were putting the chairs way, so I threw out my empty cup and made to leave.
Mike tapped me on the shoulder.
“You want me to sign your sheet?”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.” I had forgotten all about it.
He filled out the first line with the group’s name, the date and time, and signed it. It was pretty obvious this was my first meeting, since the rest of the sheet was blank.
I asked him where to put the book I had been using.
“Keep it. It’s yours. Bring it with you next time you come.”
Well, I didn’t make 90 meetings in 90 days. It took me longer than three months. But I did come back and I’ve attended meetings held by other groups since. Lots of them. I bring my copy of the Big Book and I’ll keep bringing it – until I find another first-timer I can give it to.
And when that happens, the person who gets it will find the same thing I did. On the front fly leaf there’s a list of first names with years next to them. Ten in all, going back to 1980.
I added, “Dave 2012.”