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Assignment: Infiltrate Alcoholics Anonymous
Infiltrate Alcoholics Anonymous
Twenty-nine years of work experience and this is what I’m reduced to: writing a reaction report about my personal feelings in attending a meeting of reformed drunks.
My first reaction is that I don’t want to do it. But my boss, Davis, is insistent. And a pay raise is dependent on this assignment in conjunction with others. So I decide to suck it up and do as Davis asks. But I don’t have to like it.
I first select a time and place: 10 a.m., Monday, October 4, 2004, St. Barnabas Church, 3257 Post Rd., Warwick, RI, an open discussion meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. This particular group calls itself “Open Mind,” a bad sign because I never keep an open mind.
I decide I want to blend in so I put on a pair of blue jeans, a button-down shirt and white sneakers. I don’t wear my fedora as it makes me look too much like Mike Hammer and everyone knows Hammer would never be caught dead at an AA meeting.
I show up exactly at ten o’clock. I hadn’t given it a lot of thought but I picture a group of about ten middle-aged men sitting around a table admitting their drinking problems and giving each other support in their efforts to stay on the wagon. I had also heard that AA was religious-based so I imagine the meeting starting with a prayer.
I initially have trouble finding the meeting entrance with doors locked in front and on the right of the building; however, when I go down a walk to the left I spot a couple of women smoking near another entrance. I presume correctly that I’ve found the meeting site.
I’m surprised by the number of people here; a later count gives me roughly forty attendees. I’m also surprised that the group is pretty evenly split between men and woman. I don’t know why I was expecting men and not women. The reason I suppose is that I hadn’t given it explicit thought, demonstrating the danger of thinking things through only implicitly. I had also imagined a middle-aged group, but the reality was that the ages ranged, at best guess, between late twenties and early eighties.
I stop and introduce myself to a man sitting at a table and explain about my assignment. I ask to speak to whoever is in charge. He tells me no one is in charge at AA meetings but that I’m welcome to stay and observe as this is an open meeting. An elderly woman comes up to me and introduces herself. I do likewise. She welcomes me as a new face and invites me to help myself to coffee and pastry they have set out. I decline and decide to find a place to sit. I spot a good-looking blonde sitting by herself to my left and decide to sit behind and slightly to the left of her. At least I’ll have a good view if nothing else.
I look around the room and observe that I may be over-dressed. There are only two people in the room dressed in what might be called business casual: the blonde and the guy who opens the meeting. Most of the people are dressed in sweats or old clothes you might wear to paint your house. I’m dressed in between.
I notice signs up in front of the room, the most prominent being the “Twelve Steps.” Upon reading them, I’m appalled with the heavy influence of religion on what is written. This is not a plan for atheists like me, in spite of the broad non-definition of God and religion so many profess.
The well-dressed guy gets up and starts the meeting. He reads some AA principles or some such (I’m having a little trouble hearing) and reads a prayer. He then introduces a man who comes and sits in front of the room and talks for about twenty minutes. He talks about how alcohol destroyed his life and how it is just through AA he is able to survive today. Others then take turns speaking briefly from their seats about the same things. I’m not enjoying this. My immediate reaction is, “What a bunch of losers!”
The good-looking blonde in front of me keeps quiet. I notice she’s wearing a diamond and a wedding ring. I’m wearing a wedding ring, too. That’s two strikes, at least.
I’m anxious for this meeting to end. Fortunately it does. A basket is passed for donations. This is feeling more and more like church every second. A raffle ticket is drawn and a winner is announced. I didn’t hear what he won. Maybe it was a pass for skipping the next meeting. A closing prayer is said. I quickly exit out the door.
I clearly did not feel I belonged at this meeting. Even though it was an open meeting, I felt as if I were being deceitful just by being present as a non-alcoholic. The religious emphasis, also, was distasteful to me.
I think it’s impossible to separate feelings and thoughts so I have to give you both. If I was an alcoholic, the last thing I would want would be to attend one of these meetings. I’m sure AA helps some people but I believe it does so on a very shaky foundation. AA and the people involved in it need to “get real.” Forget this “not having control of your life” nonsense and “putting your life in God’s hands” foolishness because what’s needed is exactly the opposite.
Here is my own easy-to-follow four-step plan:
1) Accept reality
2) Decide what you want
3) Decide how to get it
4) Do it
My impression is that most of the people at this meeting are having trouble with the first step of accepting reality.
Okay, enough of this “touchy-feely” stuff. Davis, where’s my pay raise?
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