Why I Belong To An AA Group
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Why I Belong To An AA Group


This post was originally published on September 4, 2014.

One of the best things I did when I came into AA the second time was to join a home group. Granted, I did it while I was still drunk, but being in that group was one of the things that kept me coming back until I was finally able to put down the booze and drugs. And when I say I joined a group, I don’t mean that I just put my name on a piece of paper. Once sober, I actually began participating as an active member by setting up chairs, picking up coffee and cookies and going to business meetings. In a weird way, I felt that what I was doing was actually important. And it was. Not so much for the group, but for me.

I still find it pretty astonishing that I—not to mention many of my group members—would ever join any organization, let alone one (that seemed) as fucking wholesome as AA. One of the old-timers in my group says that his thinking prior to joining the group was this: “I got myself into this mess and I’ll get myself out.” So joining a specific meeting went completely against his (and my) anti-conformist nature. But it’s probably the single most important thing I did when I actually got serious about being sober, and it continues to be today. And, yes I have a sponsor and do the steps and go to lots of meetings and do service and don’t drink or take drugs. But the group is what has really made the difference for me.

I was thinking about that the other night while on a commitment with my group. (In the Northeast, a commitment is when one group—from two or three people to as many as 25—travels to another group to share their drinking and using stories and to tell how they got sober with no follow-up discussion, in the style of the often-overlooked back of the Big Book.) I was feeling pretty emotionally charged because in addition to the full “super” moon we were having, it was also the five year anniversary of my younger brother drinking himself to death, so my ears were pretty wide open.

As the group members told their stories, two things occurred to me. First, the people in my group really are, almost to a person, really fucking serious alcoholics and addicts. There aren’t many of us who came because we threw up on our prom dresses, as my first sponsor is fond of saying. I heard stories that night of women losing their children and not caring, trips to psych wards, relapses that lasted a decade and addiction-related suicide attempts. My group mates are generally not the type of people who can pick up a drink and come back the next week with no consequence greater than a change of sobriety date. But they’re not derelicts either. There are a lot of working class people in my group, but there are also a lot of highly educated folks that have great lives if you’re judging by the traditional American yardstick for success.

The second thought I had was that the nearly all of the members stressed the important role that belonging to a group had played in their sobriety. My friend Joe said that by joining a group, “I got to interact with people on a personal level and I got to see what was working for them. And whether I was really looking for that answer or not, it was there.”

John, who got sober with Joe nearly 25 years ago, said that it was the fellowship that did it for him. “It was being in the middle of the herd, as opposed to winging it on my own. That’s how so many people get picked off, just like on the National Geographic Channel. I wasn’t an outgoing, extroverted guy, so nobody would have known who I was if I didn’t join a group. I would have just been by myself until I talked myself into drinking again.”

Because my group is in a region that does the aforementioned commitments, one of the most common phrases heard around there has always been, “Get in the car.” Which literally means that you get into a car with your group members (many of whom you would normally never associate with in your everyday life) and you drive to a detox, a jail or to another group to tell your story. On the way, you mostly talk about recovery, which usually includes a lot of laughs thrown in with the horrifying circumstances about what brought us here in the first place. It’s a great way to get to know people in the group, and to see that they were and are just as fucked up as you—but are doing something about it.

In the beginning, it is just as uncomfortable as it sounds, and I was terrified the first time I went. I was 16 days sober, still going through withdrawal (no rehab) and my group was going to the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter for drunks in Boston that had a meeting in the cafeteria on Saturday afternoons. On the way over, I thought I was going to have a panic attack, even though I knew I wouldn’t have to speak (you need 90 days to speak before a group). But on the way back, after listening to this odd collection of people tell their stories, I felt like a part of the group, because everyone was so fucking encouraging and seemed genuinely happy that I was there. That day was a real turning point for me.

I learned a lot by being in a group that I didn’t know that I was learning at the time. I’m self-employed and I really don’t like being accountable to anyone, but I took those jobs making coffee and setting up the hall where I had to show up—something I sucked at when I was using. I had to learn to listen to people and (gulp!) let them take my inventory and give me suggestions without getting defensive, because I practically had wet brain when I got sober and I didn’t know shit about addiction, at least the recovery part. And I had to learn how to let people help me, and to eventually give help to other people without looking for anything in return. Because that what was done for me.

And for people like me that couldn’t buy into the God stuff at first, the group served just fine as a Higher Power. So when my brother drank himself to death, when I got fired from a job for something I didn’t do, when I got divorced, when I put my mother in an Alzheimer’s ward, when I broke my leg, I didn’t have to drink or do drugs and I didn’t have to go crazy and I didn’t have to do it alone.

My friend Joe was the final speaker the other night and he ended the way he always closes: “If you don’t belong to a group, you’re cheating yourself. So if you want what we have, come along with us.”

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About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.