Years ago, thinking I had a drinking problem, I called A.A., got the time and location of a nearby meeting, and decided to check it out. I nervously approached an open gate that led to a building’s side alley and avoided the person who was about to greet me. I walked through an open door and heard many people laughing and chatting. The air in the small crowded room was saturated with cigarette smoke. Bewildered, I did not know what to do or where to go, so I found the coffee machine. At last, something I recognized!
Before I could pour myself a cup of coffee a drunk man bumped into me as he made his way through the crowd. I thought to myself, “What in the world is going on here?” I replaced my Styrofoam cup and walked out. That was it: my first attempt to attend an A.A. meeting.
I returned to A.A. in 1991. By that time, I had hit bottom. It was A.A. or death. I was ready to call myself an alcoholic. People still smoked at those meetings. I was desperate, so I simply sat away from the smokers.
Memories of early meetings include seeing posters with slogans such as “This too shall pass”
Fond memories of my early meetings include seeing posters with A.A. slogans, such as “This too shall pass”; “One day at a time”; “Think, think, think” and “Just for today.” True words of wisdom. I remember meetings with both greeters and coffee hosts. Both important to me because I needed someone to say “hello” and make me feel welcome. Once welcomed, I had no need to run away.
I remember the row of chairs against the back wall, filled by the same people. It took me a while to figure it out. They were the old-timers. They sat in the back, watched us newer members discover the program, and provided gentle guidance by sharing their experience, strength and hope.
I’ve noticed the following changes since 1991. I don’t see A.A. slogans posted on the walls, greeters outside of meeting rooms, or coffee hosts—those who gave me a cup of coffee, a smile and a welcome. I’m also happy to report that meetings became non-smoking in my state (just my preference).
Another change is the influx of women. I attend gay A.A. meetings in my neighborhood. Over the years, more and more lesbian and straight women joined and became active members taking service positions. They added a welcome new dimension to these groups.
Once welcomed, I had no need to run away
The latest change in A.A. meetings is from my city’s Coronavirus lockdown. In response, our Central Office published a Remote Meeting Schedule listing both telephone and Zoom meetings. I have participated in multiple Zoom meetings with my home group, and I think that it’s an effective alternative. When A.A.s need to have a meeting, we will find a way, whether in person, in print from the Grapevine magazine, through correspondence, by telephone, or by Zoom.
What have not changed are the steps, the traditions, and the concepts; the desperation of those people who seek to save their lives through working this spiritual program; the gratitude I see in the faces of people who regain their lives, families, health, and careers.
I’ve changed. I’m now one of those old-timers. Now when a drunk person enters a meeting, a few of us will scoop him up and do some 12 Step work, give him a Big Book and some telephone numbers. We encourage him to go to a meeting the next day and not drink in between. Some things will never change. Thank God for that!