What I Learned in A.A.

| April 25, 2016 | 1 Comment
The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.
             Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time. . .
Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.
                                                  Quit milling around the yard and come inside.
-Richard Siken, from “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”

If you grow up the child of a recovering alcoholic, you tend to go to a lot of A.A. meetings. Whenever no playdates could be set up or my parents couldn’t find a babysitter, I would walk with them to one of the area meeting-houses, clutching a Coca-Cola (a quintessentially Atlantan bribe for good behavior) or a library book. In my mind, the houses are all the same: dimly lit rooms with bland colors, a short table with a gavel for some reason, a roomful of chairs waiting to be filled.

All we really want is connection. | photo credit: Sept 14 -- Holding hands in paryer via photopin (license)

All we really want is connection. | photo credit: Sept 14 — Holding hands in paryer via photopin (license)

I rather liked going to meetings. The room they set aside for people’s kids usually had a decent VHS stash — classics like El Dorado and the Emperor’s New Groove, the occasional Veggie Tales — and there were always snacks. All the kids would play pretend we were grown-ups, make creamy cups of coffee just to throw them away, press our ears against the walls to hear the bouts of adult laughter from next door. Near the end of each meeting, muffled sounds would meld into the synchronized cadences of the Lord’s Prayer. We would peek under the door to witness this magical moment: a roomful of adults putting aside their pride (and germophobia) for a few minutes to hold hands.

Then the best moment of all: the hands unclasping, the meeting ending, the room breaking into a hundred sweet voices. People bee-lining it to those whose stories they’d identified with, others clapping each other on the shoulders, drying their tears, embracing with abandon. Even a six-year-old could feel the power of this moment. Peeling back the skin of the outside world, this roomful of people could touch others truly for an hour. People treated each other with fearless honesty, the bald-faced joy that attends finding others just as fucked-up and human as you are.

This moment, what I think of as the “Me, Too” moment of every meeting, is the reason that thousands of A.A.-attending alcoholics are alive today. It is the reason that “lost causes” get back on their feet and go on to live incredible, fulfilled lives. It is the reason that this bogus-sounding program with no central leadership, with no certification or membership fee, works. In A.A., people (sometimes for the first time ever) have an outlet and sounding board, a community that takes no bullshit but gives endless love and support.

I am thankful that A.A. has been part of my life, and even though I have only ever participated as a humble observer, it has taught me so much about people. I’d like to conclude with a few things I’ve learned thanks to the Program:

  1. Cliches seem stupid and tired because they were not made for people in their right minds. They were made for people crawling on their hands and knees for purpose, for anything to hold them to earth. In a person’s lowest moment, easily digestible truisms can be life-saving.
  2. Addiction is rarely about the substance itself. To this day, I have never met an addict whose life was otherwise fine. We naturally crave love and connection. It is only when we don’t have it (or don’t feel like we do) that we begin to crave other things. (If you are interested in addiction psychology, I urge you to watch this.)
  3. No matter how bad the coffee is, everyone will still drink it. Better to have a mouthful of ash than to have nothing warm to hold.
  4. The strength of spirit it takes to come back from a meth addiction makes a person prodigiously gentle and soft and good, and more powerful than people were probably made to be.
  5. You’re not special, and I’m not special, and nothing either of us feels is unique. Isn’t that such a relief?

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Category: featured, Philosophy and Religion, Reflections

Sheridan Aspinwall

About the Author ()

Sheridan Aspinwall is a senior in Sargent who is graduating in December and will miss BU dearly. She is very thankful to Culture Shock and the HTC for all the words and all the love. She hopes never to forget how wonderful the world can be - if only we choose to make it so.

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  1. Emily Hurd Emily Hurd says:

    Somehow I missed this until now, but I am so glad you wrote this, Sheridan. Lots of love for the Richard Siken quote as well.

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