by John W.

Click for audio by Henry Y.

How often I have heard the words “I stopped going to meetings” as an explanation for a slip, a decision to have a drink after a period of sobriety. Whether it was one drink or many did not seem to matter. Sometimes years followed the slip. Nor did it seem to matter how much time the speaker possessed before succumbing to the desire, impulse, or just plain lie which preceded the drink. I never heard anyone describe the wonderful time they had while out. Invariably they mentioned regret, remorse, frustration, horrible loss and the progression of an illness that was relentless in its effort to devour and destroy its host. No wonder many believe the most important person in the room is the newcomer. Newcomers are escaping this horror and reminding us of it and how close it lingers to each recovering alcoholic.

A painting, by an ex-con A.A. who attended meetings for 20 sober years, hangs on the wall as a reminder of how this program turns lives around

During a meditation/discussion meeting I had recently attended, the topic posed was one’s favorite, most memorable meeting. In my mind the clear choice was my local 7:00 a.m. Mill Valley Log Cabin, 7-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year, meeting where I got sober on Tennessee Valley Road. Although not a log in it, in those early days the fireplace could be used to burn logs. This fire often made the smallish “L-shaped” room quite cozy, despite the benches and hard folding chairs. A painting, by an ex-con A.A. who had graced that Log Cabin for 20-odd sober years, still hangs on the wall as a reminder of how this program can turn a life around. 

Upon the reflection promoted by the meditation aspect of the setting, I realized that while this was my favored meeting on so many levels, it was quickly challenged by the 7:00 a.m. at the Masonic Hall. This was a larger, open room, which was always cold, even in mid-summer, belying the warmth of its members.

photo courtesy of Christine R.

Then I thought of my home group at 7:00 a.m. in the Alano Club in San Rafael. I liked it because it was A.A. on the ground floor. It had the frankness of one drunk talking to another at the most basic level. If you could not find a person there who told your story, you were not trying hard enough. 

Although a bit of a longer drive for me, there was also the daily 7:00 a.m. Attitude Adjustment Hour in Fairfax, in the large room which, I was told, doubled as the City Council meeting location (46 Park Road). Great pastries in the morning, often home-made and great sobriety there. Everyone seemed to have at least 100 years, except the frequent newcomers who were welcomed like family, at least the family you wanted to be part of. My son got this caring treatment while he was there attending meetings and I could never thank those folks enough for their kindness to that stranger to them.

Then there was the 7:00 a.m. Urgent Care meeting. This smaller, more intimate group’s die-hard persistence stressed in personal, actual terms, the seriousness of their purpose. On Wednesdays, it seemed like half the drunks in Corte Madera showed up on Meadowsweet Drive.

I looked for a common thread

As I mused about the attractions of each of these meetings I looked for a common thread. I saw these meetings were all at 7:00 a.m. It dawned on me that whenever I traveled, whether New Jersey, Los Angeles or anywhere in between, I always looked for a local meeting which started around 7:00 a.m. Over the years of practicing the principles of staying sober which my sponsor had drilled into me that those folks at the 7:00 a.m. meetings, no matter the city in which they convened, had what I wanted in A.A. That was not to say similar experiences did not occur at other meetings. Of course it did. Yet I experienced a whole new attitude and outlook upon the day in front of me when I was able to start it off with a meeting. It was also what my sponsor did and what his sponsor did.

This practice worked for several decades for each of them. Who was I to knock success where before had been only failure? So 7:00 a.m. meetings remained my favorite. Focusing back on the reflection from the meditation/discussion meeting earlier, my alcoholic “monkey mind” continued to spin despite my efforts to contain it. What else was I missing?

Meadowsweet Drive

I remembered a beautiful Friday afternoon in June of 2005: high blue skies, with white clouds, a perfect afternoon to start the weekend. “Favored or memorable” had been the topic. Although my drinking had caused quite a rift in my 14-year marriage, that iceberg had been struck months ago, but I had been sober for 10 weeks. That ship would soon be righted as the collaborative divorce attorneys were working on my drinking’s wreckage. I was home earlier than my previous normal. Funny how not stopping in transit for a quick drink, or four, now got me home at a reasonable hour. My three children, none yet a teenager, were having a great time with the neighbor kids in our quiet court. All was well as I exited my car. 

The young man who spoke my name caught me off guard, so I replied “yes” without a thought. The kick-out order and subpoena he handed me did not warn me that I would never spend another night in that home I loved with the family I adored. In the span of 60 seconds I had become homeless with nowhere to go. Although sober for only 10 weeks, my sponsor had done me well by then. I am grateful that generous and loving soul is in my life. My first thought was not which bar, but what meeting I could find. 

The 6:00 p.m. at The Loft was only minutes away and had just started when I arrived. Shortly before it ended, I shared my experience. Too numb still to think, after the meeting I received in return the experience of several who had been through what I had. They added their hope for me that I too could survive as they had. They shared their strength with me when I had lost all of mine. 

I did not drink that night, nor have I had a drink since. But I know most certainly that it was because of that meeting and the fellowship which was so freely given to me, that I did not go out that night. Wearing the same wrinkled suit and tie from the day before, I was at my Log Cabin at 7:00 a.m. the next day neither bright eyed nor bushy-tailed, but sober and not hung over. I have since heard attendance at meetings described as the easier, softer way. This program and fellowship supported me well when I needed it the most. I follow those ways now, one day at a time.

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