*This post was written by AF, a 22-year-old student at CSU Channel Islands, born and raised in Ventura County and passionate about keeping the youth and other members of the community safe, informed, and responsible.
I sat in on an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting and a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting as a non-addict hoping to learn about various perspectives and experiences of people who have abused drugs and alcohol. This post will focus on my experience in those meetings.
In high school, I was required to go to an AA and NA meeting for a health class, and honestly the meetings made no impact on me at the time. There was very little sharing by the people in recovery so what I heard was the basic introduction to those meetings. The meetings I attended this time had a larger turnout and more people shared, so it was more interesting to sit in, and I learned a lot. I got to learn about more people and their experiences and struggles with sobriety and recovery, and I am going to share some of their insights with you.
Before I go into more detail, I will share some overall insights. Some people are both alcoholics and addicts and go to both meetings. Some people go to one meeting per week, and some attend two or three meetings PER DAY, and they get something valuable out of each one they attend. Some are at these meetings because they are required to come by the courts. Some people have only been sober for days or weeks, and some are sober for decades and still need the support of the meetings. Some people are trying the programs for the first time, and others have relapsed multiple times and have had to start over. Some people were younger than me, and some were much older.
Addiction is a disease and whether or not you believe that, from the people I listened to, it sounds like a disease that needs treatment and these meetings are one form of treatment. This disease affects so many aspects of their lives, including work and family. Many people turned to other crimes to support their habits, which often included stealing. Another common theme in the stories I heard involved poor family life, and it goes to show how important good, loving and supportive parenting is.
Some have been to jail, prison, and mental institutions. Some people spent more time in institutions than in schools (and as corny as it sounds, it is important to stay in school—many of these addicts did not care about school and dropped out, or never went on to further their education, and admit that if they did, they would not be where they are today.) Many of these people struggle to hold down jobs or get jobs that have room for advancement. I didn’t learn too much about peoples’ backgrounds, but I imagine that these people come from all walks of life.
Most of the people I listened to are very grateful for their sobriety and the programs and people that helped them get there. Many people agree these programs provide them a sense of belonging. These programs tell people that they have to be honest with themselves and realize they do not have the control they thought they did. These programs are largely faith-based, and most people in the program understand that their higher power does for them what they cannot do for themselves, but that this higher power will not solve their problems unless they first put in a great deal of work. Sobriety does not come easily or freely, and these people understand that and are ready to face it.
First, I will share some of my experiences in the AA meeting.
One woman who shared has been sober for less than 6 months and has a 6 year old child in foster care that she is trying to regain unsupervised and/or full time custody of. She can currently see him 2 days per week, supervised. She is dedicated to her sobriety to be a better mother.
One man shared his struggles with alcoholism, and got honest and said that quitting alcohol doesn’t necessarily make your life wonderful, but saying that it does make it better. (Many in the meeting agree that sobriety is not easy but it is definitely worth it. Many people said things about how life is so much more beautiful than you’d realize while on drugs and alcohol.)
Someone else was also having very tough family problems and she said that this program is helping her through it. She has been sober for years, but without this program, her situation could break her and drag her back into addiction. She is using the tools and support from the program to help her through the situation.
One newly sober person shared how he has been in the program for 8 months but has relapsed 3 times, even abusing over the counter allergy medication at one point. He has lost his job at this last relapse a few weeks ago, which is causing him to take things more seriously because it is a wakeup call. Many people relapse, and a lot of people didn’t take the program seriously at first, or didn’t want to fully commit, but they now realize for it to work, you need to commit. Another man shared about he was a former gang member who has been in and out of AA programs for 20 years and is only recently began taking it seriously and utilizing his sponsor. Unfortunately now his children seem to be following in his path. This same man recently got married, which he had avoided doing for a long time, fearing that alcohol might ruin another relationship.
Another young man began his sobriety in another state, and moving to California proved to be a difficult transition, but the programs helped him create a safe home-base to help him maintain sobriety. He said that even after years of sobriety, you can wake up and it can feel like day 2. He used to think that 20 years of sobriety was impossible and people must have been lying, but the longer he is sober, the more realistic it becomes. He also said that there are multiple ways to recovery and you can work the program in your own way to make it work for you.
The NA meeting was immediately after the AA meeting. Some of the people at the NA meeting were also at the AA meeting before, but others were new faces with new stories. Here are some of my experiences from the NA meeting.
One person shared that it is important for them to not play a victim or be pitiful. Doing this shifts the responsibility onto others, but sobriety requires you to take accountability for yourself and your actions. Even when things seem crazy, this person shared how it is important to analyze what role you are playing in the craziness because most likely you are not just an innocent bystander.
One person who shared was only 19 years old, and has been in trouble for stealing his dad’s car in the past. Multiple stints in rehab and mental institutions still did not stop his drug abuse. It was bizarre to me to see people in recovery who cannot legally obtain alcohol or tobacco (because California recently increased the age for that). At the same time, it is nice to see people making an effort at sobriety at such a young age, because all those years of drug and alcohol abuse disappear in a blur and you can never get them back. This young man and other young people in recovery can change their lives now and go on to live long, successful, and healthy lives.
Another person pointed out that we all fall short of perfect, and that is not a bad thing as long as we keep working toward better things and don’t give up. This is one particular piece of advice that extends beyond drug recovery situations. This is something I can take to heart to make me feel better if I’m having a rough day.
Some people would share and another person would comment on how their stories help them in their recovery, which in turn helps the person who originally shared. That is one of the goals of these programs and one of the benefits to not trying to recover alone. Sometimes it takes someone who has been through when you’ve gone through and understands. This is the perfect place for that.
Many people find it difficult to ask for or seek help, which only prolongs the addiction. There are so many resources out there, you just have to look for it. If you or anyone you know wants or needs to begin in these programs, they are free and they are widespread. If you are not an addict but would like to sit in and learn, many meetings are open to the public, and they can teach you a lot. There are meetings on various days, at various times, and in various locations. More information and resources can be found at:
Photo from AA.org homepage