Day 483: Woman Walks Into a Room.

I went to my first AA meeting last week. And I also ran my first race, a 10K where the back half was mostly hills. Hey, guess which one was scarier?

Yep.

I almost didn’t go at all, honestly, except that I had decided I would, had even picked a day and time and a neighborhood I’d decided would attract My Kind of Alcoholic. (If you’ve read my previous post, “Like a Canning Meetup But For Alcoholics,” you might recall that my prime motivation for getting into the AA game was to make some sober friends.) And I am so stubborn that once I’ve decided something, even I can’t get me to change my mind. So off I went to an Episcopal church in one of Seattle’s tweedier, old-money areas, mouth dry with anxiety, telling myself to just be brave and pull the band-aid off. The church complex was large and many-doored, and probably I would have ended up just crashing a choir practice or something except for a small wooden ‘A.A.’ sign hanging from one doorknob. I don’t want to go in there, I said to myself. Tough, I said back. In I went.

I’m a planner, and I had made a detailed plan in my head of exactly how the meeting would go. First, it would be all women–the AA online meeting finder might have been built in 1993 in a triple-encrypted and possibly dead language, but I’d managed to decipher the gender stuff. So women only, and I had decided there would be at least 30 of them, and they would be seated in rows of folding chairs facing a podium where someone would speak for most of the meeting. I would slip in, sit near the back, avoid all but light pre-meeting chitchat, keep quiet during the meeting itself, and lam it out of there the moment it was over. Like auditing a college lecture, right?

So naturally, I walked into a room with one biggish round table that was unoccupied except for a 70-something man with a white walrus mustache. “Hello there, young lady!” he beamed. “Are you looking for the Ladies’ Halloween Festival Committee? It’s in the next room.” I am not making this up or even embroidering–this is what he said, verbatim. A little voice inside whispered “Here’s your out! You can say yes and go be on this church committee thing! They could probably use help with the festival!” But goddamn it, my outer voice was already answering “No, I’m here for the AA meeting?” with just the annoying upswing in tone that the question mark suggests. He looked pretty surprised for a second, which in itself surprised me, because I figure anyone you see on the street could be an alcoholic, and it seemed like Wilford Brimley there ought to know that even better than me. But he recovered fast, introduced himself, and showed me to the coffee (in an urn, just like at a TV A.A. meeting!) and cookies.

The second person to walk in was a pretty young girl in a U-W hoodie who greeted Wilford as though they’d known each other forever, though she was 22-23 maybe. “Just trying out a new meeting?” she asked when we were introduced, and my inner voice hissed “Say yes!” just as my faithless outer voice said “No, this is my first meeting ever, actually.” Well, that got their attention, especially when I added that I’d been sober for sixteen months. “Wow, you sure picked a rough way to do it,” the teenager said, and Wilford agreed. That was actually the only hint of A.A.-is-the-only-way attitude I got the whole night, and seemed to come from such a friendly, caring place that it was easy to let it roll off my back.

So, eventually the room filled up, by which I mean about ten people gathered around the table, which I would like to remind you was not my plan. There were a couple of fishing-cap older guys who talked Seahawks before the meeting; a elderly retired doctor; a younger, also recently retired man who deeply impressed me with his casual use of the word ‘attenuated’; a hippieish couple with round rimless glasses and everything; an outdoorsy-looking woman who was recovering from a bike accident; and a woman around my age in an arty scarf. It was basically a perfect cross-section of North Seattle. It was clear that some of the attendees had known each other for decades, and I felt as though I’d barged into a private gathering of old friends–not because anyone’s behavior even remotely suggested that, but because that’s my habitual way of walking around in the world, and this situation was perfectly structured to throw it into relief. When Wilford introduced me at the start of the meeting and I was welcomed heartily, I thought to myself, they don’t really want you here, they’re just being nice because they’re afraid you’ll go have a drink if they aren’t. 

So what to do with that feeling, in that situation, about as far from my plan for the evening as possible? I did two very basic but difficult things: kept my butt in the chair, and paid attention. I noticed how often people laughed, an A.A. rumor it was nice to have confirmed. I noticed that almost no one mentioned God or any other higher power (also characteristic of this largely unchurched city). I paid attention when blustery Wilford talked about saying something thoughtless to a young man doing some work on his house–how he was afraid he’d made the guy fear for his job, and deeply regretted it. I wanted to tell Wilford I thought he was being too hard on himself, but had also noticed that there was no cross-talk of that sort. People spoke, and when they were done, they were done–like a Quaker meeting I’d once attended in my twenties. I noticed that almost no one talked about drinking, or wanting a drink, or how long it had been since they’d had a drink. If you didn’t know better, it could have passed as a meeting of just, you know, people with varying levels of manageable problems and conflicts, not alcoholics. And I recognized myself in almost every speaker–their vacation plans and their constant doing and striving and their dogs and their semi-bad days.

And yes, I shared. I assure you I had certainly not intended to do any such thing, but the outdoorsy woman asked if I’d like to and once again, my mouth part started talking. I barely remember what I said, though I do recall making them laugh once. And I said I love how much more time my life seems to contain now, though I’d hated it at first. And that I’d been really scared to show up that night, but was glad I had. When I finished, they thanked me, like they–we–thanked everyone who spoke.

Afterward the outdoorsy woman found me a printed meeting schedule and started listing off all her favorites. It came out in our conversation that she’s been sober for 27 years, and I had a flash of panic at the idea that she still goes to a meeting almost every single day. In 27 years I will be 71, and the notion that I would still be building my days around A.A. meetings terrified me and made me wonder if my sobriety is much more tenuous than it feels.

But then again, as she put it, meetings are where she met her best friends, and where she knows she’ll see them. And new friends are the whole reason I got myself through the meeting door, right? So just as I assumed sobriety would be an ongoing test of my grit and endurance when in reality it’s turned out to be largely a joy, maybe my assumptions about meetings need to be put on ice until I’ve actually attended a few more (of varying shapes and sizes). Who knows–maybe like her, I’ll find my people there, people who I can hang out with and talk to for hours. Sometimes even about being an alcoholic, maybe. We’ll see.

20 thoughts on “Day 483: Woman Walks Into a Room.

  1. Well done for going! I know how scary it must have been, I’ll never forget my first one. You will find your people and a whole lot more I can guarantee it. I’ve been going for 6 months now, at first I went because it was strongly suggested. I went again because I didn’t know what else to do. Then I went because I felt I had to but I didn’t really want to. Then I avoided going because I didn’t get it and I didn’t need it. Then I went again because I wanted to and I found relief, acceptance, friendship, laughter and so much understanding. I definitely need the meetings now. I don’t go every day but I have to go every week or I don’t feel right. I have some lovely AA friends, we go out to dinner and laugh our heads off all night on sparkling water, it makes me heart soar with happiness! I belong, I feel welcome, I love saying hi to everyone and having a cuppa, I love listening and I always walk away better off than before I walked in. Keep coming back .. it works if you work at it … and you’re worth it 😉

  2. I’m giving you a standing ovation as we speak. You made me feel like I was right there with you. I’ll re read this when I decide to attend my first meeting. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I came to the conclusion shortly after my first AA meeting almost five years ago that what screws me up most in life is the picture in my head of how I think it ought to be!

  4. Brilliant account of your first meeting and I’m happy that you found it rewarding. When I quit drinking in February of this year I attended two meetings. The first one went well but the second one lost me. It was poorly moderated and I left feeling I had np connection at all to the women that were there that night. I actually find incredible support online here in my Sober Blogging Network. I do realize though, that sooner or later I might have to seek out others like me, if only to make new sober friends too. Oh, and Thank you for sharing. 😉

  5. I hope it goes well for you… it is posts like this that make me question whether I should give it another shot. It really does sound so nice to have a sober social life. Good for you for being so brave! xo

    1. Hello dear Jen! Nice to see you! Yeah, I will probably give it another try. I wish it were easier to find the ‘right’ meeting for your personality, demographic, etc.–we need Yelp for AA, which I guess would kind of conflict with the whole anonymity thing. 😉 XO

      1. I love this, and I had much the same longing the two times I went to an AA meeting in the past 4 years, just to see if it was right for me. It may have been the day, or it more probably was me, but AA didn’t quite feel ‘right’ at the time(s). I am committed to sobriety for the first time, and am considering going back and trying again. Thank you for such a great cross-section of a meeting. Love the humor.

  6. Thank you for your post….I usually awake ready for my daily walstreet journal but find myself exploring blogs, never knowing who I’ll discover. I’m on day 17 of giving up alcohol and am recording my journey as well. You write beautifully and I look forward to exploring your blog further. Chad

    1. Congratulations on your 17 days, Chad! That is major and you have so much good stuff to look forward to. I’ll look forward to reading your blog too. 🙂 Kristi

  7. Love this: “I felt as though I’d barged into a private gathering of old friends–not because anyone’s behavior even remotely suggested that, but because that’s my habitual way of walking around in the world, and this situation was perfectly structured to throw it into relief.”

    I sometimes call AA “accelerated social college” because of the way it magnifies our social hangups. It’s kind of like intense immersion therapy. Maybe that’s why I don’t go everyday. But around 3 times a week seems to be working out for me! I’ve definitely bonded with some awesome sober women.

  8. I’m glad to hear you had such a positive experience! What a nice outcome for what could’ve been a scary situation. I am planning on going to my first meeting on Monday, and am feeling a little anxious about it. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. I think the anxiety is SO normal–you just kind of have to suck it up and get through the door, and then it settles down a bit. Let me know how it goes for you!

  9. So refreshing in so many ways, and a tremendous reminder to me how exclusive “old-timers” can appear to be at a glance, unless they carefully put themselves in the shoes of someone who is new to AA or just new to a meeting and welcome them accordingly. (I’m sharing your post with all the guys I sponsor … as a reminder that our purpose is to carry the message, as well as “the welcome” it takes to keep someone coming back.) I, too, remember thinking (actually, for quite some time), “Is this it? Is this really going to be my life? Are these really going to be my friends?” Now, a few 24 hours later, I honestly don’t have much time (nor do I care to make much time) for socializing outside of AA. I have lots of friends at work, people I travel and dine with. But when it comes to my free-time, it’s mostly spent with my comrades in recovery–the same way you would dedicate time to your family, because they are my family, and they are my kids extended family. Just got back from a 3-day men’s spiritual retreat in Minnesota with 22 other men, and, in a week or so, I’ll leave for a 5-day golf vacation in Vegas with my sponsor and a bunch of other men in his sponsorship line as well as guys I sponsor. Yeah, it’s tough being sober in AA — too much to do, too many friends to do it with, and not enough time to squeeze it all in. Hang around, embrace the similarities you find, tolerate the differences and disagreements as best you can, and let yourself relax. You’re absolutely going to love the journey and enjoy the ride. 🙂 Kayko

  10. Nice read. So glad you took the initiative to branch out and try a meeting. I don’t know if I would have had the courage after 16 months of sobriety. I made it to AA because I was 3 days sober and confused as a lost soul can be and the man I called for help, one of the few I knew who didn’t drink, took me to it. He said “all I can do is show you how I did it.” I hardly remember my first meeting because at 3 days sober I was still hungover from the last debauch. I got sober with AA, it saved my life. My first year I went to at least one meeting a day. Now I go to 3 regularly each week. I have made wonderful friends and enjoy giving back through sponsoring other men who ask me to be their sponsor. I’m 1240 days sober today, almost 3.5 years. My life is better than I ever dreamed it could be. Thanks for the follow over on my blog. I’ll be doing the same here. Cheers!

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