Approaching the 80th Anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous with an expectation of close to 80,000 people arriving in Atlanta, Georgia to celebrate early in July 2015, there continues to be misunderstandings about alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“What’s wrong with you?” “What do you want?” Alcoholics have been asked these questions since man first stomped grapes. The alcoholic has never been able to answer the questions satisfactorily. They may say they want a new car but they get the new car and that wasn’t it. The questions are still asked, “what’s wrong with you? What do you want?” They may say they feel creatively restrained at their job. The boss gives them more creativity but that isn’t it. The questions are still asked, “what’s wrong with you?” What do you want?”
Could the answer be as simple as “one person who understands my story because they have their own story”?
Eighty years ago Bill W. sat with Dr. Bob and told Bob his story. Bob had never heard anybody talk like Bill was talking. What seemed like a few minutes turned in to hours.
This conversation is the cornerstone of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Alcoholics gather together in groups of ten, thirty, one hundred and more to tell their stories and a wondrous thing happens. In the midst of stories about alcoholism, alcoholism wakes up.
If you struggle with a dog giving him medicine, you might wrap the pill in cheese and administer it that way. Alcoholism is a hard pill for some people to swallow. They might prefer to go to a psychiatrist and receive a diagnosis rather than self proclaim themselves ‘alcoholic’. In AA meetings, like the pill hidden in the cheese, alcoholism is hidden in the experiences being shared by members.
Treatment centers that are 12 step based are best served by taking their clients to AA speaker meetings in the community. Statistically only one out of ten people entering treatment believe they are alcoholic. Several may label themselves hard drinkers and a few might simply be in treatment to appease a parent, a partner or perhaps the courts. ‘Alcoholism’ can only be diagnosed by the drinker himself. Family members, a doctor, friends and co-workers may call a man an alcoholic, and they are probably correct, but the drinker must accept his condition at a core level. This acceptance does not come easily and is not successfully accomplished because another person said it was so.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are gatherings of alcoholics. A newcomer to the meeting may walk in before the meeting is scheduled to start and be confused by the number of people standing in groups or two and three and five. Members are talking, laughing and crying. There are handshakes and hugs. The newcomer will not be standing alone for long. Someone will approach, introduce themselves and ask if the newcomer has a seat or ask if they want coffee. They’ll comment that they notice the person is new to the group and in the middle of the conversation (one where the newcomer probably hadn’t had a chance to say anything because the member was enthusiastically talking about himself and his recovery), an announcement will be made that the meeting is starting and everyone will take a seat. The newcomer might be sitting next to that person who greeted him.
The main part of the next hour is someone telling their story. They talk about the years before drinking, the years of drinking and the years of sobriety. The speaker tells stories about himself that many would be embarrassed to tell one person and yet this person is telling over 100. The stories aren’t told in a boastful way. They are told in the hope of connecting with the man or woman in the room who is harboring reservations about the severity of their disease.
The alcoholic hears for the first time another person share that beverage alcohol “made their skin fit”, “put the nerves endings back in to their body”, “allowed them to breathe easier”, “brought them a sense of ease and comfort” along with other descriptions that are not prevalent among social drinkers. The alcoholic hears others who missed important family events because of alcohol, people who ruined holidays because of alcohol and they laugh and they cry. The laughter and the tears are identification. “Yes, I have done that. Yes, I have felt that. I am no longer alone with these secrets”.
For almost 80 years men and women have questioned Alcoholics Anonymous. For the alcoholic, beverage alcohol was, in his mind, a solution to the discomfort he felt in life. He never felt as though he fit in, he never felt as though he were enough. He never felt smart enough. Beverage alcohol gave him the courage to fit in socially. He had courage. He knew he had value. As years went by, regardless of any negative consequences presented as a result of his drinking, the alcoholic began to rationalize and justify his actions. He gave the excuses, he heard the excuses and he believed the excuses. If people left his life he told himself he was better off without them. If he began to lose jobs, he knew there were other jobs much better suited for him. The alcoholic always held on to the sense of ease and comfort he got from taking that first drink years before and, in the end, it was simply a memory.
Could Alcoholics Anonymous provide him with that same sense of ease and comfort? Yes, but it would not be instant. It would come slowly but it would come with a stronger foundation.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not an organization, it is not a business, it is simply a fellowship. A fellowship that releases alcoholics from a world where all they think about is themselves, a world that revolves around their childhood and the stories they live with as adults. It is a fellowship of men and women who are connected by alcoholism. Together they can break down the walls of isolation and loneliness and individually become usefully whole.
Email your questions or topic suggestions to: email@example.com and let’s experience this journey together. You will remain anonymous.