What I Learned from Mandatory AA Meetings

What started out as a punishment, evolved into a positive

Photo by Zoltan Kovacs on Unsplash

When I was around 28, I had too much to drink one night and basically terrorized my girlfriend at the time. I have a tendency to be an angry drunk and it wasn’t pretty. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say I’m lucky the police didn’t shoot me on the spot.

They would have been within their rights to.

Thankfully no one got hurt and I went with them peacefully. It was a rough time in my life. In the end, I wasn’t convicted and was sentenced to two years probation.

The judge said, “No drinking, and no more Samurai swords.”

Fair enough.

One meeting with my probation officer she had me piss in a cup. I told her I had been smoking weed. She got serious. I said I thought I just wasn’t supposed to drink since that was what caused the issue in the first place. Rather than send me to jail, she put me in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) for 90 days.

That seemed like a good trade off.

When I got there, I discovered that I was in a program for heroin addicts. I couldn’t believe it. This was not where I belonged. I had done my share of recreational narcotics, but heroin? Sure I sniffed it one time, but that was it. I did not have this kind of problem. Hell, I didn’t even consider myself an alcoholic, never mind an addict.

It took me a while to get over myself and just accept this as my situation. I was glad I wasn’t in jail with a record so I sat and listened and did as I was told. I mingled with the others and found myself actually kind of enjoying these interesting personalities with their fascinating stories and perspectives.

Everyone was supportive for the most part, but there sure was a good amount of drama and friction throughout the whole process. One girl got caught with a dirty urine and swore up and down that her aunt put coke in her coffee.

“I haven’t smoked coke in weeks! She set me up!”

I leaned over to the guy next to me, “Smoking coke? Doesn’t she mean crack?”

Apparently that was her way of making it not sound so bad.

There was another guy who was a drinker. He was the only one like me who was there for alcohol (though technically I was there for weed). He would get within days of completing the program, then intentionally drink and admit that he had relapsed in order to stay in the program. He had been doing that for years.

These were his only “friends”.

All these people were here for 90 days, like me, except most of them had been at it for many months or even years. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it but there it was in front of me, undeniable in its viscerality.

On top of getting drug tested on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, one stipulation for being in this program was having to go to 3 meetings a week. We were required to show proof of our meeting attendance from a piece of paper signed by meeting leaders or whatever they were called. I forget.

People would routinely have others in the program sign their slips to cheat the system. They cracked down on that and started asking inconvenient questions to trap people in corners. I did this one time, barely got away with it, then never did it again.

I decided to actually go to meetings.

This was in the Boston area. I found a website that showed me the times and locations of all the meetings in town, then went for walks around the city to attend. This, I discovered, was a great way to get to know my way around the city. After the 3 months, I knew my way around Boston pretty solidly. This was an unexpected benefit.

Another benefit I wasn’t prepared for, is how much more productive I was in my personal endeavors. I figured going to these meetings would take up time in my life and keep me from getting other things done, but surprisingly, the law of inertia was in full effect. The more you get done, the more you get done.

Who knew?

But onto the meetings themselves.

For anyone who hasn’t been to one, it’s pretty awkward at first, but that’s just your own insecurities. It passes pretty quickly when you realize that you belong. Whether you think you do, or you don’t, you do belong there. People are pleasant and welcoming and casually kind. They share their experiences and tell “war stories” about how they ended up arrested in horrible ways and all the things they lost and people they hurt due to their inability to stop drinking and drugging.

Similar to my feelings about entering the IOP, I felt like I didn’t really relate to these people. I was someone who drank way too much on the weekends, blacked out and suffered horrendous hangovers, but I didn’t think I was someone who had a dependency issue around alcohol. Slowly but surely, I came to realize that I actually am an alcoholic. It just takes many forms. For me, I actually can drink on occasion, but I’m playing with fire every time I do. No hard liquor is how I’ve kept myself out of trouble all these years.

After a while I started sharing my experiences with the group. It was very therapeutic. They were all supportive and laughed at my jokes and seemed to genuinely enjoy my presence. Afterward, there were always a few people who came up to me and gave me a business card and offered to be available if I ever need someone to talk to.

Of course I never followed up with any of them, but it was nice to connect with people who could understand at least to a degree. After a little while, I found myself going to a meeting just about every day. It turned out that I was going for the pleasure of it, not just because it was required of me.

Back at the IOP, I was resisting calling myself an addict, and I didn’t want a sponsor. It just seemed so dramatic and awkward. But these two things had to happen in order for me to get through the program. I didn’t exactly have a choice, so I was a bit strategic about it all. I laid on the resistance pretty thick for about a week, then got myself a sponsor.

The next day at the program, I announced I had a sponsor, and that I was an addict. I found that there was some truth to it. People patted me on the back and made supportive sounds. Some said they never expected me to get to this point. The leaders of the program said they were proud and that I made a major step.

I called my sponsor as rarely as possible. It was relatively painless, but it just didn’t really feel right to me. The whole thing was all so much. After a while I dropped off from him. I felt bad because he genuinely cared and was concerned for my well being, but it just wasn’t for me. Maybe I was in denial, who knows.

Soon I was done with the program. It was so nice to be out of there. People in there were astonished that I was only there for the 90 days.

“How did you do it?” they asked.

“I followed instructions and did what I had to do”, was my reply.

My meeting attendance dropped off immediately and I only went very rarely when I felt like it. But the experience was profound for me. Meetings are a spiritual experience and a great opportunity to connect with people who have some serious life experience. I recommend it for anyone who drinks even a little too much. You don’t have to be at rock bottom to step into one.

Keep an open mind and don’t feel above the people in those halls. We all struggle in life and it’s nice to have a place where people are always willing to give a helping hand.

Just because I didn’t stick with it religiously, doesn’t mean it wasn’t beneficial for me. I still recommend it and I’m willing to go for people in my life who I think can benefit from it.

Brian Relay is a digital artist with ten years of random work experience that loosely relates to his field of study. He lives in New Hampshire with his Batman figurines and his collection of partially worked-through traumas. Together with his un-imaginary friend, they’ve successfully completed their very first comic book. Also, he recently picked up the novel that was collecting digi-dust for an embarrassing amount of time. He’ll let you know when it’s done.

Aspiring novelist/director/podcaster/spiritual guru/normal person

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