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The People Are Nice

Sitting in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous can be confusing for the new person. At times it seems as though the members are speaking a foreign language. Although you know all the words, the way they are used is confusing.

At the beginning of almost every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, new people are asked to stand and introduce themselves by stating their name and their disease. You have high blood pressure, you have a stent, do they want to know your HIV status? When your therapist suggested you attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, she didn’t tell you you would have to announce your medical condition. In fact quite the opposite was true, she had said you could sit and listen and wouldn’t have to say anything. You listen. Both of the other people who stood up said “I am So and So and I am alcoholic”. You don’t know if you are alcoholic, you came here to find out. You sit down without saying anything. The person next to you taps your leg and says “keep coming back”.

It feels good to be asked back. You’re not sure why. Nothing has really happened yet. You are not even sure you’ll want to come back but it feels good to have been asked.

Someone is called to the podium to read. She identifies herself as an alcoholic and everyone says “hi, Betty”. She starts reading and is having trouble reading from the very beginning. You feel sorry for her and think the group should have more sensitivity about people’s reading abilities and not ask those who can’t read well to stand in front of this large group and read. As you are thinking it must be embarrassing for her, a wave of something warm and soft comes over you. It isn’t the words or the way they are being read but it seems a sense of safety and belonging came to you. This feeling is reported by many people as they sit in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Some describe it as “feeling at home”, a sense of belonging, a feeling they haven’t experienced in a long time.

A woman is called to the podium. She introduces herself as an alcoholic and says she is grateful. Everyone says “hi” to her as well. She does not read. She starts lecturing to us starting by letting us know her sobriety date, September 23, 1998. You miss some of her talk figuring out that she is sober almost 17 years. You vacillate between wondering why someone would want to stay sober that long and wondering how it was possible to stay sober that long.

When your attention returns to the speaker, she is talking about telling a story. She’s going to tell a story and she claims each person listening will leave a little better than they were when they arrived at the meeting if they are alcoholic.

This is the reason your therapist suggested you attend an AA meeting.

You listen as intently as possible but you can’t help but cringe a little when she starts talking about behaviors that shouldn’t be discussed openly. You are embarrassed for her but she doesn’t seem affected by her story and the other people in the room are laughing.

Running away from home as a teenager, living in a commune, an illegitimate child, losing jobs, drunk driving, estranged from family and friends and all the while drinking alcohol until the end. Arriving in Alcoholics Anonymous she was homeless, unemployed and unemployable. Living on Skid Row she wandered in to a church in the middle of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

This isn’t anything like your life and you are prepared to return to therapy to tell your therapist AA is not for you. You are not “that bad”.

Out of respect you stay and listen to the rest of the meeting. And the woman next to you pats your knee again as though she had heard your thoughts and was affirming your decision to stay.

You missed some of the story but the woman is talking about her life since that first meeting. She has gone to school and is gainfully employed, she has gotten married, has reunited with the child she had given up during her drinking and is leaving tomorrow for a weekend Family Reunion.

She attributes all of this to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous which she describes as “trust God, clean house and help others”.

Everyone in the room claps as she leaves the podium. You clap too because she had the guts to get up and tell that story. You cannot believe she is not going to go home and have a little cocktail to quell the shame she must feel.

Suddenly a basket is being passed around. Of course, you think, the speaker has to be paid. You wonder how much each person gives as you start looking for your money. The lady next to you puts her hand on your knee again and tells you the basket is for regular members to contribute. She reminds you that you are a guest. You assume that’s because you sat down in the beginning before identifying yourself as a newcomer. The person at the podium was talking about paying rent and supplies and coffee. The basket came to you and as you past it you realized there wasn’t a lot in there. Speaking at AA doesn’t seem to pay much.

Suddenly everyone is standing up and moving in to a circle. The woman sitting next to you takes your hand and guides you in to the circle. One large circle, everyone joined by holding hands and they recite the Lord’s Prayer. You remember this prayer from when you were a kid. It feels good to hear it again.

Everyone says, “Amen” and the room breaks in to several small groups. Twos and threes and fours, people are standing around the room talking. You spotted the exit door during the prayer and head toward it. Before you step away, the woman who had been sitting next to you hands you a slip of paper. You walk out without talking to anyone.

In your car you open the slip of paper. It says, “come back” and there is a name and phone number. You don’t know about AA but you know the people are nice.

As you drive away, you remember the speaker’s opening remarks. She would tell a story and each person who was alcoholic would leave a little better than they had been when they came in. You must not be alcoholic. You don’t feel any better. You are anxious and you are thinking about getting home and having a drink.

Then you think about that lady who read. You don’t think about how poorly she read. You think about how good you felt for those couple of moments while she was reading. You will go back to AA for those moments and you will hear another story.

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