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My Experience at an Aa Meeting

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I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on 7/11 in Elizabeth NJ at the immaculate Conception School on Prince Street. It was an open-discussion meeting. It reminded me of any therapeutic group; although it did seam more structured and ritualistic, almost like a religious group. Before the meeting, everyone was socializing gathered around coffee and cookies. Most people seemed to be very close to each other. There was a stand with many pamphlets containing information about alcoholism, the program, their beliefs and values, statistics regarding alcoholism and the movement of Alcoholics anonymous. According to their data, 64% of participants drop out in their first year, but many alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety. Currently, the American Psychiatric Association recommends sustained treatment in conjunction with AA’s program for chronic alcoholics. The overall tone in the church was friendly and inviting. I introduced myself to a friendly looking man, who I will call S.T., and explained to him who I was and why I was there. He was very helpful to me throughout the meeting, explaining to me the various intricacies of their “traditions.” I asked S.T. whose responsibility it was to bring the refreshments. He explained to me that people volunteer for the job. During every meeting, money is collected (but not required) for this purpose and to pay the rent for the facility being used. Generally, newcomers are expected to take this responsibility to show commitment to their sobriety and the program.

The meeting commenced exactly on time. The meeting was called into order by a chairperson. This person read the “AA Preamble” which explained what AA is and what is their purpose. According to the preamble, the only requirement for membership to AA is to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA; they are self supporting through their own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, political party, organization or institution; A.A. does not wish to engage in any controversy and neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Their primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. After the preamble, another person read an explanation of “how it works.” Another person read the “Twelve Traditions”, and then another person read “the promises.” S.T explained to me that these exact readings take place at every meeting and the readers are chosen before the meeting by the chairperson or by volunteer. The Chairperson then asked if there were any newcomers who wanted to introduce themselves. Three people stood up and introduced themselves by saying their first name and asserting that he or she was “an alcoholic.” They all received a white key chain that had the Alcoholics Anonymous logo on it. Then the chairperson asked if there was anyone “coming back” and two people did the same. S.T explained to me that key chains are given out for different durations of sobriety such as 30 days, 90 day, etc. The one that the new comers or people ‘coming back’ receive is “Just for today.”

After the giving out of the key chains, a speaker took the stage. Apparently every meeting is structured differently and this particular meeting was a “speeker-disscussion meeting” which meant that the majority of the meeting would consist of this one person speaking and telling his story and afterwards there is a brief group discussion.

The speakers story was entertaining, informative, inspirational and occasionally comical. Everyone seemed engaged in what the speaker had to say. He spoke about what lead up to his alcohol dependence and how he “hit bottom.” He then talked about the 12 steps, his sponsor and how AA helped him overcome his addiction to alcohol. According to AA, you are never “recovered” you can only be “recovering.” Afterwards, there was a brief discussion. People raised their hands and the chairperson selected them. Most people just had additional input about how to work the program but it seemed like they were pretty much just talking to the newcomers trying to encourage them to stay in the program. S.T. explained to me that each person was aloud to speak for a maximum of three minutes, although this rule is usually loosely enforced. During the discussion, a basket was passed around for donations much like at a church. When the discussion ended, another volunteer read the Twelfth Tradition. Then everybody stood up and said the “Lords Prayer”, which I found somewhat off-putting because S.T. had told me that A.A was not affiliated with any religion.

Ultimately, my impression of AA was a mixed one. On the one hand, it was evident that many people did find success with sobriety through AA. On the other hand, there were a lot of things about that might put me off to it if I were seeking help for alcoholism. The thing I least liked about it was the Christian undertone of the entire thing, despite their claim to be non-secular. God was mentioned numerous times throughout the meeting and was even a big part of the twelve steps. According to AA, if you don’t believe in a higher power and give up your will to this power, you will never be sober and thus never lead a functional life. I imagine this may be very discouraging to your local atheist or agnostic. They asserted many times that you do not have control over yourself; and unless you give up your control to god, you cannot recover. To me, that gives the message that people should not take responsibility for their actions or control of their lives. I also did not like their insistence that AA was the only possible way a person could achieve sobriety. As a nurse, I know that people can recover by other means. Lastly, I did not like their insistence that if you ever develop a drinking problem, you are an alcoholic and need to continue going to meetings for life. According to them, if you stop coming to meetings, even if you completely stop drinking, you have “relapsed” and are labeled a “dry alcoholic”, which means that you are an alcoholic that just isn’t drinking but is still spiritually sick and in need of their help.

Despite these criticisms, I did appreciate their core values and purpose, which were to stay sober and to help other alcoholics. They stress anonymity, altruism and inclusion of all who want to stop drinking (so long as they believe in a ‘higher power’). The faith that people had in it was clear, as was their friendly and welcoming attitude. It was, all in all, a positive experience.

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