I remember my first AA meeting as if it was yesterday. A day after I left rehab, on the advice of my drug and alcohol worker, I found myself out the front of a church in St Kilda. It was a cold night in the middle of June. To say I was nervous was a massive understatement – I was terrified.
Having rarely entered a church in the 25 years I had been on this earth coupled with the fact that I almost knocked over a sandwich board with the letters AA emblazoned across the front I started to wish the ground would just swallow me up and put me out of my misery.
Would someone see me walking into the church, was I going to be captured by a sect? These were the questions that swirled around in my head. I wanted to back out, to run away and escape, and fast. Fortuitously, the words of my counsellor came into my head, somehow capturing my attention, “You use alcohol to escape reality, you have to stop running away, take responsibility and face up to your life or you will never get better.”
The truth hit me hard and somehow my legs started to walk up the stairs, my life was in tatters and I was terrified of going back to drinking, deep down no matter what my head said I knew that I had to do this. As soon as I got to the top of the stairs and looked inside the doors, a smiling face appeared.
How it works
AA meetings are a welcoming environment for alcoholics, all are welcome and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. When I got to my first meeting, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to stop drinking, I was terrified of drinking again because of all the bad stuff that happened, and I really wanted the bad stuff to stop. I knew deep down that there was something very wrong with my relationship with alcohol, but I was still in denial.
The denial started to shift though when I heard alcoholics sharing from the floor. It was like they were telling versions of my story. I related to what they said, the feelings and the behaviours - I was transfixed. I couldn’t believe that there were people out there, just like me who had suffered from the obsession and uncontrollable urge to drink, had done the shameful things that I had done, but who had now found a solution and were sober and happy living full and meaningful lives.
The members at my first meeting listened to my story without judgement, some of them even nodded their heads. The best advice I received was to try and listen for the similarities and not the differences. To try and attend regular meetings for a month before I made a decision on whether it was right or wrong for me, to give it time and take it ‘one day at a time.’ I came to realise that we were all in the same boat, no matter that our journeys looked a little different, when it came to alcohol and how it affected our lives, we were all the same.
Format of meetings
The format of an AA meeting is based on people sharing their story in the hope that it may help someone else. Meetings usually run for an hour or an hour and a half and members take turns in sharing. People frame their shares around what it was like, what happened and what it is like now.
I made that first meeting in the church in St Kilda my home group. A home group is a meeting you attend every week. By going to a meeting each week and getting to know the other members I started to feel connected and a real part of the group and AA as a whole. It was so healing and powerful to feel a part of something after feeling disconnected and alone for so long.
AA meetings are all run by volunteer alcoholics and so different service positions are available to help the meeting run smoothly. Eventually I started to bring the milk each week and having that responsibility meant that when my head tried to tell me that I didn’t need a meeting I would be reminded that other members were relying on me to bring the milk for their coffee and tea. This helped me to get to the meeting each week and gave me a feeling of purpose, it felt good to give back.
In AA a sponsor is another alcoholic who takes you through the 12 steps. The 12 steps are the spiritual program of AA. I met my sponsor in an AA meeting and it has been an enduring relationship that has got me through so many ups and downs. My sponsor provided me with a safe place, non-judgement and guidance through the 12 steps. My sponsor gave me hope when I had none and a promise that if I did what was outlined in the AA program I could not only let go of all the baggage I had been carrying but that I could also be free from the obsession to drink and be happy about it.
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