The first time I had ever even heard of a support group was through the movie Fight Club, in which the protagonist had begun to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as support groups for the terminally ill, in order to take himself out of his own head. The meetings were depicted as bleak—10-20 people gathered in a circle, beat up and torn up faces drinking stale coffee. And even though some were crying, the tears were emotionless, a saline solution dripping out of jaded and distant eyes.
For a long time, this is exactly what I thought Alcoholics Anonymous would be like. When I went to a private high school bordering the coast in Santa Monica, year after year, another girl would drop out and come back with a “sober companion,” chanting her maxims of sobriety, AA, and preaching her message to anybody who would listen. It was a confusing juxtaposition—were these support groups for the teary-eyed, forgotten cancer patients? Or were they filled with hipsters chewing gum, drinking fresh cups of Starbucks coffee, proudly bragging of their war stories before sobriety? Was this a program of gossip, of determining who was the next to get “loaded,” the next to bite the bullet and give up, or was this a program of old-timers who are one drink away from certain death?
The answer is all of the above.
My first AA meeting was in August 2009; I walked into the Marina Center early one morning, tired and apprehensive. I stepped into a world of rhythmic catchphrases, a world where coffee was currency to fit the pockets of Styrofoam cups. My friend was nodding off as the speaker spoke and time seemed to freeze as I popped Immodium, one after another, precisely at every “tick” and every other “tock.” After an hour the meeting was over and everybody stood up, held hands, and recited the serenity prayer.
I eventually began to regularly attend meetings—at first still high and then sober—and as I “kept coming back,” my perception slowly changed. I found meetings of meditation and forgiving Buddhist-based disciplines, and I found meetings full of kids in high school, only making an appearance because their parents’ dropped them off. I found meetings that I liked, meetings with one speaker and meetings with no speakers, and I found meetings filled with laughter and meetings with only earth-shattering silence.
What I realize now is that Alcoholics Anonymous can be whatever I choose to make it. Sobriety doesn’t have to look like a stereotypical snapshot; it can look like whatever you want it to be.