by Chris Burn
‘Keep It Simple’.
The words were written on a rather grubby looking card that was propped up on a shelf behind the speaker’s table. Similar cards bore slogans like ‘Easy Does It”, A Day at a Time’ and the enigmatic ‘How Important is It?’ The room we were in was cold and frankly, scruffy. I was not impressed. ‘What’, I asked myself again, ‘am I doing in this place?’ These are the memories of my first day in AA.
In reality, AA was the last option. The runaway train that was my drinking career had finally hit the buffers. I had been there before as a sort of ‘observer’ (as I privately told myself). I didn’t feel that I really needed it. The first meetings I had been to had been boring and uncomfortable – all those people moaning about their drinking and pretending to be happy because they had stopped, were just phonies, it seemed to me. It was only much later that I realised that, if you are in denial, any fellowship meeting is going to be uncomfortable. After all, if you have no intention of stopping yourself, why listen to a lot of people telling how they stopped?
An old chap called ‘Lawyer Bob’ put a paper cup of beige tea into my tremulous hand while a big bloke called ‘Farmer Tom’ said something loud and indecipherable while shaking my other hand. Other persons with weird names like ‘Motorbike Willie’, ‘Sober Margaret’, and the scary-sounding ‘Meat Market George’ came up and said hello. Such it seemed, was how anonymity was dealt with at AA.
They were all cheerful and appeared to know and like each other very well. That particular night, I was the newcomer and those sweet, kind people welcomed me unconditionally, as they always welcome newcomers. But on that night they didn’t make me feel comfortable at all. I really didn’t want to be there. Frankly, if I’d seen them all getting on a bus, I would have waited for the next one. Such was my state of fear and denial at the time.
I stayed until the end of my first AA meeting because, deep down, I knew that I had to – I had no other options. The following week I went back again. And again. I still don’t really know why. Sometimes I was glad to go, sometimes I pretended to be glad to go. One time I heard an old timer say ‘fake it to make it’. Perhaps I was doing that. But some kind of miracle was happening because I wasn’t drinking any more.
Twenty eight years later, the room and the cards haven’t changed at all. The welcome is just as warm and unconditional. Sober Margaret welcomes me with a kiss, Lawyer Bob and Farmer Tom are with their maker now, but there are others in their place. I know and love them all, they are my friends and my colleagues, my support and my guides and I have them to thank for my continued existence; it is their example, their love and their compassion that keep me sober. There is a power in that scruffy room – Higher Power.