The Lowdown On AA

Pay attention, this could pertain to you

Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is defined as a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope to help yourself and others stop drinking. The founders are two men, Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith, who started AA because they needed help with their own drinking problems. We know these two guys as Bill and Dr. Bob. That’s where the common expression “Friends of Bill” originates from. If someone asks you if you’re a friend of Bill, and you don’t know any Bill, they might be making a negative comment about your drinking habits.

It is free to join AA and people do so for a variety of reasons. Some people stumble in because they have been ordered by the courts, others because of domestic disputes fueled by alcohol, and then some people, like myself, come to AA because they don’t have anywhere else to go for help with their drinking problem. In AA we like to say, “It’s the last house on the block.”

When I was 27 years old I came back to AA for the second time. My drinking was out of control again and I had nowhere else to go. My drinking had taken me to places I never wanted to go. I had been on a binge for several days when I hit what we in AA call “a bottom.” This time around, I was more willing to take an honest look at what AA is, and what AA is not.

 First let’s look at what AA is not.

AA is not a cult. A lot of times people have a hard time opening their mind to AA because of the prayer issue. Some say we have cultish features, or that we brainwash people. It’s a common misconception, but no one is ever forced or manipulated to attend or stay in AA. People are free to come and go as they please.

AA will not help you control your drinking. I hear people say this all the time, “I came to AA because I thought you guys would teach me how to drink responsibly.” That is not what we do in AA, it is a program of total abstinence from alcohol. The cool thing is I don’t even think about drinking anymore.

AA is not a bunch of grumpy old men, smoking cigarettes in a church basement. I got sober when I was 27, I’ve heard of people getting sober as young as 16. We have fun, we do things, we have lives. Alcoholics Anonymous allows us to have the lives we have always dreamed of.

When I first arrived in AA I thought my life was over. Many of our members would jokingly say, “There I was, sentenced to a life in AA,” which just means we thought life would be dull without being able to drink anymore. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My life in AA is a thousand times better than it ever was when I was drinking. The party had long ended when I wanted to stop drinking, but I just couldn’t stop on my own.

So then what is AA?

There are three different aspects that define the program of Alcoholics Anonymous: unity, service, and recovery. These aspects are outlined on the triangle logo of AA, and each aspect is of equal importance.

The program of AA is largely based around meetings, and there are a bunch of meetings all over the place. This is the unity or fellowship aspect of the program. In Rosarito, there are meetings in English every day. In Ensenada, there are English  meetings every day but Thursday. Unity is important because we need people in our lives who understand what we have been through so we feel comfortable being honest with them.

What is said in these meetings is confidential, so I can’t reveal any specifics, but there is nothing to hide. We talk about their life experiences. What has worked for us to stay sober. What hasn’t worked for us, and why we didn’t stay sober. Sometimes people whine about their day, their spouses, their significant others. We have a saying, “Take what you like, and leave the rest.” This slogan is important to me because I sit in a lot of meetings, and listen to a lot of people share their experiences. Sometimes I don’t agree with what they say, but the point is that I’m willing to sit there and listen.

The service aspect is about helping other people without expecting anything in return. It’s an altruistic idea, the goal being that by helping someone else we get to stay sober. Whenever a member is struggling, frequently we suggest that they go out and help another person in whatever way they can. Sometimes it’s another member of AA, sometimes it’s not. Service work is also available within AA, making coffee, greeting people, chairing meetings, and various other duties necessary to make a meeting happen.

Recovery refers to the 12 steps. This is the heart of where we find relief. After years of drinking, generally we come to find that there are underlying issues that need to be taken care of in order to stay sober. That is where the 12 steps come in. It’s a continual process of self examination, and by applying the steps to our lives we get to know what the underlying issues are and how they can be resolved.

In AA we refrain from diagnosing anyone else as alcoholic, we stick to our own experience, and that way no one is forced into thinking that they are alcoholic. I have plenty of friends who tried AA and decided that it wasn’t for them. No harm, no foul.

All a person has to do to join AA is show up at a meeting. Even if you don’t have a drinking problem you are welcome to attend some meetings. In AA, there are open and closed meetings, if you do not have a drinking problem you would want to attend an open meeting, as closed meetings are only for those who have a desire to stop drinking.