* This post was written by a Ventura County young adult.
Substance abuse is not something commonly spoken of or even thought of in the culture of my religion, which is why it felt especially alien and nerve-wracking to attend a substance abuse support group meeting – which I did – this week.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at Alcoholics Anonymous late that Monday evening. But soon my eyes would be opened and I would see and feel things I would never have imagined. When I was first approached I was not sure what to do, but from the minute I walked up to the church building, I was asked to “come out of the shadows.” Strangers were introducing themselves with empathetic hugs and support. Each and every person I even wandered near wanted to show me that they cared about me and my journey.
There was no judgment. There was no disdain. There was no “you cannot and will not be able to succeed.” It was all positive thoughts and encouraging statements such as, “you have made it this far and that’s all that matters.” Each day will be a struggle, but people are here for you. They are united as one in their time of difficult healing. Even I felt as though I fit in with their tight nit circle. I was told I could call anyone of them and show up to any meeting and I was offered rides and support just moments after meeting and being introduced to these people. The concept of a stranger does not exist within these meetings. I hate to say it, but it was a more welcoming environment than most of the church meetings I attend.
Oddly enough, this experience other than just being one of the most welcoming places I have ever been, was also one of the most spiritual. Not everyone believed in the same God or even in a God, but they believed there was a higher power – someone or something who would be able to help them through their trials and make them stronger because of it. Someone to be there as a reminder they are not alone and they never will be. I can think of very few instances in which I felt the spirit so strongly. Now, for them, it may have been the spirit of love, but to me it was the spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost and healing and a million wonderful things. It was a spirit and a warmth like you would expect to feel at church or after doing some great service and it came from the most unlikely place and from some of the most unlikely people.
The thing about these meetings is no one is the same, but at the same time no one is alone in their journey. They each had their own stories of change, of triumph, of relapse, of life. I was definitely able to grasp a fantastic understanding of the challenges faced by each individual. They shared memories of being homeless, jobless, without family, and somehow it felt real to me and it felt like what they were saying was helping the healing process of, I do not know of who, but what they said touched people and it amazed me. It absolutely amazed me. They all came from different places and different backgrounds and they all have different lengths of time in which they have been sober, but they all also have been successful – some for twenty-two days and some for twenty-five years.
Each of these people in each of these stages of recovery were supported and were healing and bettering themselves. Some looked back on life and said “I am changed”, “I am better” and “if she could only see me now” or “if she had stuck around for just a little while longer.” They reminisced about the people that made them better and the people that led them to becoming an alcoholic. They imagined what life would be like without the program and decided that, although it is difficult, they are better now and they are happy now. They can live life one tiny miracle at a time.
These amazing people shared with me a lifetime of lessons. I will never forget their gratitude for each day that they wake up. I will never forget their acceptance of a stranger. I will never forget their love and compassion. I will never forget that great spirit that came with sitting in a yellow, run down, mosquito filled building with a bunch of people that had been through some serious crap in their lives. One day I am sure I will fail to remember their names or how long they had been sober or even why they joined the program and headed toward recovery in the first place, but I will never forget that this was one of the most enlightening, enlisting and spiritual evenings of my life. I felt at ease and loved in a way I never thought possible from such a diverse group of people and I have never been more grateful for an experience in my life…