Thursday, February 06, 2014

We are legion

Until I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I had no idea how widespread this epidemic truly is.

Over the years, I've known a few people who have gotten sober due to their alcoholism, but I can count them on one hand. In hindsight, there must have been dozens of others who were secretly suffering or were on their journey to sobriety. Still others don't recognize their obsession with alcohol and still believe they can "drink like gentlemen."

Each week, there are hundreds of meetings in the OC and Harbor areas of southern California alone. Every meeting I attend has between 20 and 65 people, men and women, young and old, all races and social classes. Some of the people appear with court cards, meaning their attendance is mandatory. Many arrive as repeat "newcomers," having to start over after years and even decades of sobriety was overturned by taking that first drink/pill/toke. There are people with 25 years of sobriety, and people like me, with 8 days of sobriety.

There are people living in sober housing, homeless shelters, cars. Many have done jail time. Many have multiple DUIs. Many have lost custody of their children, or their marriages have crumbled. They've lost their homes, their jobs, their drivers licenses, their friends and their family. Still others have suffered heart attacks, strokes, liver damage or permanent brain damage.

I'm a rarity, it seems. I'm fortunate enough to have caught this disease before it caused chronic health problems or catastrophic damage to my life and my relationships. For this, I thank my Higher Power daily.

I attended two different AA meetings for the first time last night. There was an old-timer (many years of sobriety) who shared, and he said something that was both funny and tragic: "We're so sick, they have a whole OTHER meeting just to talk about us!"

He was referring to Al-Anon, which is a support group for the friends and family of alcoholics and addicts. I haven't attended any Al-Anon meetings yet, but I believe that I'd learn some valuable things by listening to the words of the people who are hurt by the actions of alcoholics like me.

In the mean time, I'm going to many AA meetings each week and listening as intently as possible to the stories of my fellow alcoholics. Regular attendance is an important part of sobriety (especially for babies such as myself), and the most successful recoveries belong to people who continue attending the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for the rest of their lives. With the fellowship comes accountability and commitment, and those are tools to warn off our demons.

Another important aspect of membership is a willingness to be of service to the group as well as those who still suffer outside those walls. One of the ways to do that is by making a "commitment" to the group, which may consist of anything from acting as treasurer to making the coffee each week.

Yesterday, the 6:00 group I attended was looking for a new chip giver, and a man with nearly 5 years sobriety piped up and said, "I nominate the newcomer!"

I was the only newcomer.

But because I loved the group so much after just one meeting, and because this club is very close to my house, I accepted the six month commitment to be of service to my fellow alcoholics. I'm so excited to return next week to hand out chips for the first time.

I attended a second group at 8:00, which was held in the living room of a sober house. I knew a couple of the members/tenants from the first club I attended. It was another touching and valuable meeting and included a man who got to take a chip for four years of sobriety, what we call a birthday. He was so happy to receive the birthday chip, and the look of joy on his face was contagious.

After the meeting ended, I was AGAIN asked if I'd like to take a chip commitment, and once again, I accepted.

I hadn't realized I'd be serving any groups so early in my sobriety, let alone two different ones, but I've been praying daily, including saying, "Thy will be done," and, "Please help me to be a blessing to other alcoholics," so I can only assume there is a reason I was asked to hand out chips for two different meetings in one day.

For the first time in my life, things seem to be happening for a reason.

For the first time in my life, I'm not going to waste my energy trying to understand it.