My First AA Meeting… Scared to Death



The sounds of laughter trickled down the hall and up the stairs, carried on the currents of coffee and lingering stale cigarette smoke. I stood at the top railing, peering down. There was no one was in sight, but I could hear them. I looked back behind me, through the double doors of the church. My parent’s minivan still there, parked. They would wait until I was done. There was no escape.


I Knew I Needed to Change Something…

As I descended down the stairs, a part of me wondered if maybe it was all just a misunderstanding. Perhaps I was lobbing sticks of dynamite at this little drink issue instead of using a fly swatter. I also knew the part of my brain, that got me into my mess, was also trying to weasel its way out. It was always looking for an angle. As my sweaty hands gripped the railing, I knew I needed to be at the meeting. I knew that I needed to change something. Deep down I was sure, that unless I tried something drastic, I would be back at the bottle. I was scared as hell.


I walked towards the room. There were two people greeting. They told me their names, and shook my trembling hand. They smiled. I didn’t want to smile. I hadn’t smiled in a very long time. There were posters on the walls. Strange slogans. A desk at the front with books and banners on it. And chairs. Lots of chairs. Trays of store-bought cookies and discarded swizzle sticks lay on the small stand near me. Did I have to pay for the treats here? I didn’t bring money. I wasn’t allowed to have anything more than change on me—my parent’s new rule for me. The coffee probably tasted like crap anyway.


I slumped into the seat at the back (“Relapse Row” as I later found out, the cute-but-cutting term for that part of the room). I sat and stared at my knees. Sweating, shaking, breathing shallow. My heart was pounding. My head was foggy. I couldn’t sit still. Maybe I would have a cookie. No. Yes. No. I got up. I sat back down. What time was it? When did this bloody thing start?


With the Ringing of the Bell…

A person at the front rang a bell. The room became quiet. My mind did not remain quiet. The bell person said some things. Then a woman came up and said some more things. A quick prayer was said. I pulled at my arm hair. Then someone said they were handing out chips. What was a chip? Who cares? Then they asked if anyone was new. I was new. I didn’t want to go all the way up there. What would they think of me? Oh yes Paul, an alcoholic at a meeting of AA? I am sure they would think you were dandy. I raised my hand and shuffled up. Some people applauded. Why were they so happy about that?


Then a man spoke. The only part I heard, was when he said he had, at one point, planned to jump in front of a train. That’s what I wanted to do, so he got my attention. I didn’t hear the rest. During the break, a young guy sidled up to me. He told me that he had three months sober. I didn’t believe him. He talked about the meeting and I had no interest. I just wanted to jump out of my skin and not feel like I was crazy. I wanted the pain inside to go away. What could I do when every cell in my body felt like imploding and exploding at the same time? What was a damn chip going to do to help me?


The Smallest Shadow of Connection…

As the meeting came to a close, and we all held hands to say a prayer, I felt the energy shift in the room. As reluctant as I was to be among these strangers, I felt the smallest shadow of camaraderie pass over my heart. Of connection. I wasn’t quite ready to embrace any one or any program, but I did feel the pull to embrace the willingness to be a part of something greater than myself. In that moment, I was no longer trembling. I was calm. It was a quick, sneak peek at serenity. I had taken a crack at that seemingly impenetrable sense of longing.


The prayer ended. We released our grips and people started to chat and laugh and congregate. The spell had been broken, and once again I felt alone in a sea of people. The smoke from the lightning strike dissipated. I took a deep breath and made my way out the door. I wouldn’t stay sober that week, but I instinctively knew that there was something in store for me. Something good. I knew there were people out there who knew joy from beyond the bottle and that I would be one of them one day. Until then, I had to find my own way. I would have to dig myself into a deeper hole until I bore through to the light.


I walked out the double doors and into my parent’s minivan They didn’t say anything. Neither did I. I closed the car door and we drove away. I held on to my chip like my life depended on it. There would be many more meetings…








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Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.