Recently, I attended an AA meeting. I am not an alcoholic. I’ve been sober since I came out of the womb. But I have friends to whom I offer my support, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my friends.
Some of the most beautiful people I know have the darkest pasts. It is a special moment when they share these times with me and allow me to ask questions that they answer honestly and entirely.
AA meetings, by the very definition of the name, are anonymous. And so I will not dive into the personal narratives shared, or the hodgepodge of non-stereotypical attendees. I will, however, speak to you about the strength of this program.
What can we all learn from AA?
#1: The best way to survive on this earth is with mutual aid fellowship.
AA is rooted in this understanding, that group members are both providers and recipients of the intended goal. In the case of AA, that goal is sobriety. If we applied this to our world at large, perhaps we could be one step closer to ending world poverty and achieving world peace. Maybe the medical sector would be run by scientists instead of pharmaceutical companies. Maybe government leaders would be influenced by morals and the voice of the people instead of money.
What happens if we apply this to us on an individual scale? Perhaps we can strengthen marriages or lean on each other to calm anxiety within ourselves. In trying times, we are all we’ve got.
#2: Everyone deserves a second chance.
English poet Alexander Pope said it best: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” People make mistakes. Victims can choose to run away or offer forgiveness. Oftentimes, individuals who choose to overcome hardship utilize their past to better their future. AA, for example, encourages members to make amends to those wronged and to follow up with continuous “personal inventory” of future actions. Recovering alcoholics remind us how powerful and successful restorative, not retributive, justice is when dealing with righting wrongs.
#3: Self-reflection is a necessary part of living.
AA stresses believing in yourself. Though the program is founded upon spirituality—God as we understand Him—ultimately the 12 steps are about bettering one’s self. The guidelines encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. They invite individuals to face their fears and resentments head on so that they can tackle them whenever these feelings rise up.
My travels have taught me the importance, the necessity, the sacred nature of self-worth, understanding and acceptance. Like AA, my vagabond tendencies have impressionably opened my eyes to alone time and the journey toward knowing and appreciating one’s self that accompanies such inevitably reflective moments. This all culminates in a more compassionate individual. If every member of your community made time for self-reflection, imagine the honesty, humility and generosity that would arise.
Furthermore, AA is a judgment-free program. It teaches us that not only are there others not judging us, but also that we should not judge ourselves. By overcoming self-loathing, we give greater focus to our talents and passions. We teach ourselves that we can be anything we want to be.
#4: Life is best lived one day at a time.
Our past shapes us, our present defines us and our future encourages us. As the saying goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.” There are a lot of maybes that arise when we face change. Turmoil can result from worrying about the before and after. If we all took life by the reins one day at a time, imagine how peaceful this earth might be.
Life can be hard; there is no denying that. Death is inevitable. Break-ups suck. Taxes are a pain. Mother Nature is unpredictable. The list goes on and on. But when we are overwhelmed with the big picture, baby steps can help us to reach our goals. Reciting the Serenity Prayer, a mantra at AA meetings, is an especially helpful reminder to live for today. It is a constant in my battle with anxiety. The prayer teaches us that happiness is found by living in the moment, not dwelling on things beyond our control.
#5: We are not alone in our problems.
Addiction comes in many forms; it can happen to anyone. Many in today’s society are addicted to social media. Kids are addicted to technology. We can be controlled by food, sex, money, exercise, self-image and materialism.
Addiction has no face. Your kid’s teacher may struggle with pornography. Your daughter may battle anorexia. Your college lab partner might be addicted to sex. Old Mr. Johnson next door might have a gambling addiction.
Our imperfections, struggles, problems and fears are viewed as shameful by society. Instead of reaching out, we feel alone. We close ourselves off in secrecy and try to take on the world without any outside help. But when we share our issues, we open ourselves up to each other. We build community. And, ultimately, we realize we’re not alone.
AA open meetings invite anyone wanting to help alcoholics achieve sobriety to attend. Some meetings are closed in which only alcoholics and recovering alcoholics are welcome; some are only for men and others for women. Meetings are either speaker-based or discussion-oriented. Al-Anon, another program I have participated in, is for families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the individual recognizes his or her addiction. Both programs are self-sustaining and self-funded.