I recently attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the first time. Because of the fact that I live in a small rural town, I had expected not to find a meeting anywhere in my local area. To my surprise, there were two different meeting locations all within walking distance from my house. The fact that my small town needed two separate meetings, and there were many others in nearby towns as well, was an eye opener for me. I was very hesitant about attending the meeting, I was worried what people would think about me being there, afraid that someone would think I was actually an alcoholic, and I wondered if I would recognize anyone there. Thanks to stereotypes and what we see on television and movies, my imagination had pictures a room full of unkempt, middle aged, drunk people. As I walked into the room where the meeting was held and looked around, I realized almost all of my expectations had been wrong. Mainstream media had deceived me as far as what your “typical” alcoholic looks like.
The people in this room did not look anything like the alcoholics you see in movies. They all looked healthy and clean, and dressed well. It was a mix of men and women, the majority of them appeared to be middle aged, and they were all smiling and socializing with each other. It was very sad for me to realize just how harshly society judges people who are alcoholics. These people could be anyone’s mother, father or grandparent. A friendly blonde woman was running the meeting, she invited me in and told me I was there on a special night. One of the men attending the program was celebrating reaching ten years of sobriety and was going to be sharing his life story. To start off the meeting, everyone around the room had to introduce themselves in the traditional “My name is…and I am an alcoholic” format and told a little bit of their life story. I was touched by all the personal stories and how open everyone was about their problems and mistakes. As the discussions continued, I realized almost all of them had used alcohol to deal with negative feelings.
Even if it was only a minor problem, alcohol was the only answer. I found myself relating to a lot of the stories, but it made me wonder why people turn to alcohol so frequently when it is not an effective treatment. Adding alcohol to someone who is upset or emotional is like putting fuel on a fire. The key speaker was an older gentleman who could have easily been my grandfather. He looked frail, and was dressed in faded overalls, wheeling an oxygen tank behind him as he walked to the front of the room. He began his story talking about being abused as a child, growing up poor, and the way his upbringing caused his drinking problem. As shown by the oxygen tube he has to wear all day, his health was damaged by many years of addiction. Despite this, he stated that his drinking habit continued for 20 years until he went to his first AA meeting.
With tears in his eyes he thanked everyone who had supported him over the years, and announced that he had now gone 10 years without a drink. As the meeting came to a close, and everyone celebrated with a slice of cake, I found myself feeling highly inspired by these individuals. They had endured so much in their lives, and then struggled with addiction, and managed to persevere. In barely an hour my view of addiction had changed. I could now see the person behind the addiction. These are mothers and fathers, grandparents, sons and daughters, and friends; professionals and those who are unemployed or retired. However, they all come together with a common goal and strive for a better life. Whether or not you agree with the AA philosophy, I believe having this type of group support is essential, and very effective if you are willing to commit to changing your life.