My First AA Meeting

Through the motivation of helpful and caring people like Jen, Heidi, and Eden I attended my first AA meeting on Sunday. It surpassed many of my expectations; however it ruined others and left me slightly dumbfounded.

My imagination, with the help of television and movies, painted a picture in my mind of what an AA meeting would be like. It portrayed a room filled with people that obviously looked like addicts; unkempt appearances, borderline offensive hygiene, and at least one person emitting a radiance of booze while swaying back and forth in his chair, balancing on the line between falling forward to the ground and staying in the seat.

You should ignore the video if you only know Bob Saget as Danny Tanner from Full House.

My imagination laughed at me as I entered the room. One look around made me realize that I was deceived. The majority of the members were clean, well kempt, and looked healthier than my medical school classmates. Skeptical, I scanned the room again for the person that showed up with a pint of liquor in his/her system. My imagination rationalized that they must have not shown up today, for certainly you can’t have an AA meeting with 100% sobriety. To say the least, I’m still discouraged by its elaborate depiction of this clean and encouraging environment.

After walking through the threshold and soaking it all in, I found a seat near the back where I assumed the newbies were relegated to. Upon finding my spot, I was immediately welcomed by an older gentleman, John, whom was eager to invite me in and listen to my story. I explained everything that you already know about me i.e. intrinsic interest in addiction, Horatio, and an interest in learning from the people that have the greatest depth of knowledge and widest breath of experience in alcoholism, you.

John and I hit it off and he had a great story that ended in him picking up alcohol counseling after retiring from the school system and being happy and sober for the past 27 years. He introduced me to his friends in the meeting who were equally as welcoming as John. As the meeting got underway, I reprimanded my imagination again for feeding me lies.

It was an open discussion that began with the storytelling of one member’s lifelong battle. This was followed by comments from the audience about how they could relate and included a glimpse of their own story which allowed me to capture a little bit of each person in the room. I would be lying if I told you that I did not relate to the thoughts and expressions in the words that I heard.

I found myself intrigued by a discussion on dealing with life events by using alcohol. Many of the members agreed that at one time or another they used alcohol to squelch negative feelings, even if it was as minor as a bill in the mail. This brought my thoughts back to college years. I couldn’t ever comprehend the thought process of the one or two friends that after breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend would announce to the world, “I need to get drunk!” Why is it that people want to get drunk when that is the least effective remedy for such an ailment? In fact, alcohol tends to make it worse because the person inevitably makes a bad decision that night. Taking an already emotionally laden person and adding alcohol is like throwing gasoline on a flame. My hope would always be that the night would end in crying over the person rather than the late night vandalism of his/her house.

As the discussion continued, I was struck by another gentleman’s comment on hitting bottom. A rough rendition of his words was, “I thought I hit rock bottom 20 years ago, but I was wrong. Many years later I found out that at the level I thought was rock bottom there was still an elevator that went even deeper to the sub-basement.” This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about tremendously when it comes to Horatio. What will his rock bottom be (or sub-basement)? I know that I can’t force him in to sobriety. The hardest part may be that the only thing I can do is watch and wait for that day. Will it be when he loses his house? Maybe his addiction will take him as far as living on the streets before he’s finally ready to change for good. I have been mentally preparing myself that one day I may have a homeless brother.

As the hour came to an end, I expressed my appreciation to John for taking me under his wing in a place I would have otherwise been lost. Knowing my interest in learning, he informed me about an AA meeting oriented to young addicts (under 25). I look forward to the discussion I will hear there, as well as at my first Al-Anon meeting.

  1. Lisa DeLille Bolton FNP said:

    on another matter — thanks you you, I have now read Samuel Shem’s “House of God” — thank you — lisa delille bolton fnp

    • I hope you liked it! 🙂 He’s an amazing storyteller, right?

  2. I LOVE this post! You capture what that first meeting is like and I had honestly forgotten that I had the same preconceived notions at my first meeting. This really brought back memories.

    I look forward to your Alanon post. I expected martyr Whiners; like me….


    this is really well written and will be VERY helpful for people who are thinking of attending their first meeting.

    I know this is not an easy path. I admire the way you walk it…

    Peace, Jen

    • Thank you so much, Jen. It really was shocking how sober and clean every person was. In fact, many of the members there were more than 20 years sober.

      It was a very uplifting experience overall and a great way to support friends that are going through the same fight.

  3. Reblogged this on Step On A Crack…Or Break Your Mother's Back and commented:
    Blogger Nonmalficence is writing very honestly about his journey as the brother of an alcoholic. He is also a med student with an interest in Recovery.

    This post took me back to my first 12 step meeting. I remember my preconceived notions and how thoroughly they were shattered that day.

    This post is a great read for anyone interested in Recovery
    AND for anyone just curious about what an AA meeting is like.

    Thank you Nonmalficence for taking the time to write this!


  4. Court said:

    I felt the same way when I went to my first AA meeting to support my recovering husband. I am now in Al-Anon and we are both recovering with the help of the 12 steps. Best of luck to you and keep coming back – cause it works if you work it.

    • That’s great to hear! It’s always nice to see people are doing so well. Your comment reminds me that recovery isn’t just for the addict, it’s also for the people that love him/her.
      PS I didn’t know there was a 12 steps for Al-Anon as well. I’ll have to ask you more about this after I attend a meeting.

      • Court said:

        Al-Anon has adopted the 12 steps of AA. A lot of the other support groups like NA or other addiction groups also use the 12 steps from AA and have adapted them for use in their fellowships. 12 steps and 12 traditions are used in both AA and Al-anon. I go to as many open AA meetings as I can and I go to my weekly Al-Anon home group. I get a lot out of the AA meetings even though I am not the alcoholic, it gives me a better understanding of what he is going through. Addiction hurts the family – not just the person doing it. It is so very awesome to hear that you are going to go to AA and Al-Anon!

        • PS thank you for the information in your last comment. After you said that I started to look up information on the 12 steps for Al-Anon. Thanks for your help!

  5. This totally reminded me of what it was like! Thanks for posting 🙂

    • I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I really enjoy reading your stories.
      Thank you so much for reposting it!

  6. Heidi said:

    Tears in my eyes, here. The program works…indeed. I’m so very grateful that you started doing the ‘homework’ about your family situation and are discovering the 12 Steps programs. Your life, should you decide to take the journey, will never be the same. I am grateful every day for what I’ve learned because I went through that door and decided to listen to those who knew what they were talking about.

    You’re unusually brave and obviously really interested in learning about addiction. Welcome to the student body at large!

    • Heidi,
      Thank you so much for your kindness. Your blog as well as your comments have been a great motivation for me and I want you to know that I truly appreciate all of your words.

  7. Debbie said:

    You may have ‘lost a decent amount of empathy’, but I have no doubt it will return to you in new ways as you open your heart around the tables and here on your blog.
    My son had a surgeon that had been a trucker. He had a bad accident, resulting in 3rd degree burns over much of his body. When he finally healed, he went back to college at 40 and then to Med School.
    He was brave and compassionate and wise. I think you have all the ingredients to be that kind of physician.

    • Debbie,
      I’ve been a quiet fan of yours since a few weeks back when Jen piqued my interest with the Liebster Blog Award nominations. I’ve really enjoyed your writing, and to be fair, I’m even a bit intimidated by how honest and genuine you are. I am constantly struck by your strength and ability to display your words, in turn displaying your very essence. You are an inspiration.

      I thank you for your words and will continue to learn from you.

  8. Excellent post – thanks. I’m a member of al-anon and OA and had to come to AA when I first started learning about my now ex-husband’s addiction.

  9. Ron M said:

    Hi! I’m liking the way you write, but this comment is to address your question, “Why is it that people want to get drunk when that is the least effective remedy for such an ailment?” One huge factor in alcohol abuse/dependence is the simple fact that alcohol is an extremely effective remedy for many of our social and psychological ailments. Simply put, it works. At least until it stops working. And in my experience, many if not most alcoholics will continue to drink beyond the point it stops working in a misguided effort to make it work again. All of which has led me to believe that an alcoholic will continue to drink until the pain of drinking becomes worse than the pain of facing up to the problems that we’re trying to get relief from. My two cents. Thanks blogging!

    • Thanks for making it over and taking the time to answer my question.

      What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I may have missed it on your blog, but you should write a post on this subject if you haven’t already. Your thoughts are very logical. I particularly like the part, “many if not most alcoholics will continue to drink beyond the point it stops working in a MISGUIDED effort to make it work again.” Very nice words, Ron.

      Your thoughts coincide with an article I was recently reading about this. The thought was that these habits that have a negative impact on us in the long run are similar to primitive reflexes that developed many years ago. They were only meant to help us cope with short term indifferences in the environment. A reflex is not supposed to help you cope with anything long term. Thus, alcohol may help in the immediate future, but it was never meant to be used any longer than that. How this short term reflex translates in to a long term coping mechanism is what you answered with, misguided efforts to make it work again.

      I’m a big fan of your blog. Thanks again for your helpful words.

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