Alcohol and drugs had been a great way to avoid dealing with my emotions for a long time. After being dry for a few days I was not that good at figuring out how I felt. With what I know today, and having had similar feelings for a long time both in and out of meetings during that time in my life, I now know that I was very anxious, scared, and uncomfortable at my first meeting (and for many more meetings after that!).
There were some other things going on with me besides being nervous and scared. I was desperate to have some things be different in my life and I also felt horribly beaten. The latter was a sense of dejection that I could not take care of my own life. I finally knew that I could not control my drinking or drugging – and – that my lack of control was becoming increasingly dangerous.
My desperation and dejection left me with a pervasive, oppressive gloom that hung over me almost all of the time. My attempt to get help was to check myself into a treatment program. This was what the doctor had suggested, my first day sober, as I lay in intensive care (which is a whole other story).
As a newly admitted out patient I started going to a treatment facility during the day, five days a week. This was all new ground for me as I did not know anything about treatment or AA or the 12 steps of recovery. The staff strongly encouraged everyone to go to meetings. Since they were taking the inpatient folks to meetings every evening all I had to do was go back to the treatment facility at night and I could ride along with the other patients. It seemed it was worth a shot, especially since I had no idea what to do myself.
The first meeting I was taken to was a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I experienced no great revelations but it was Ok, besides the fact I felt like I was ready to crawl out of my skin. I was a smoker then and you could still smoke in a lot of places in 1987. I sat there, said nothing, and smoked. It was a big comfort to me that I could follow my treatment friends around when we got there and when we left. I did not have to think about anything, just follow their lead.
The next night I was taken to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting. Because I lived in a large city there were a lot of, and all kinds of, recovery meetings in the area. Who knew? Not me because I had never really heard of AA or any of these other recovery fellowships. This time I had some idea of what to expect from a recovery meeting. I listened, followed my friends around, smoked cigarettes, and did not say much.
The next night it attended my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Nothing remarkable happened. My feelings and actions were similar to the previous evening. The one difference was there were more people talking about sobriety relative to the previous two meetings. This was something that quickly became important but I will have to talk about that in another post.
In just three nights I had covered a lot of new ground. I was introduced to three recovery fellowships. By the time I got to my first AA meeting, my being scared and nervous had not subsided much but I did know that I could easily go back to more meetings. I did not feel threatened or bothered by anything that I had seen or heard. There was nothing about the meetings per se that was scaring me. I just felt that way as a part of how I reacted to most situations, especially something new. Nothing was required of me at the meetings I attended. That was good because there was a part of me that thought I should know everything. I did not want to look bad, or look like I did not know what to do. Just showing up, sitting down, and listening was fine. I could handle that Ok. I also had a sense that it would be good for me to go to meetings. Like the treatment program I was attending, people were talking about recovery and sobriety. Much of what was being thrown at me did not make much sense yet but I could perhaps learn more if I kept attending.
What happened after these first few meetings? One thing I had done well was listen. While I did not want to say much, I was adept at observing what was going on around me and paying attention to what people were saying. Between what I was told at treatment and what I heard at meetings I became convinced that it was a good idea for me to go to a meeting every day. This was not that hard to do. My drinking had helped make me into a loner so I had no social life. Since I wasn’t drinking or working I had a lot of free time.
It got easier for me to get around to different meetings fairly quickly. I was able to drive my wonderful drunkmobile – dents everywhere, junk strewn about the interior, lots of quirky mechanical problems – to meetings. Although my use and abuse of both alcohol and drugs qualified me for being a member of NA, CA, and AA I quickly decided I was not attracted to NA. I began a steady diet of a meeting a night, either AA or CA.
The most shocking thing I did in my first month of meetings was to get a sponsor. I managed to ask a guy that had five years of sobriety to sponsor me. He said he would if I would agree to go to a meeting every day for a year, to call him every day, and to commit to working the steps. I said OK and that was that.
I ended up being true to my word. I believe following through on those actions is a big part of why I am still sober 18 years later.
Part of what my agreement with my sponsor meant was that I went to a meeting every night for what seemed like forever. There are lots of things I remember about that first month or two about the meetings. I’ve gone on long enough for now though. I will save those reflections for a future post.
Wishing you all the best in sobriety,