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a record of mundane things that have stuck in my mind, and what they may mean.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

AA meeting

I was supposed to reflect on an AA meeting I attended, and then think of lessons it held for me as a teacher. It was a good learning experience:

I attended an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in __________, Illinois, in the “__________” on Saturday, October 03, 2004. Although I knew that the meeting was entitled “Serenity and Spirituality,” I wasn’t expecting the heavily religious content. The readings from the Bible, the pungent smell of soap mixed with the whiffs of coffee, and the slogans everyone was constantly repeating were all awkward at first. I’m embarrassed to admit that initially the overly cheerful and harmonious atmosphere seemed contrived. But I realized that many of the other attendees knew each other and had been through a difficult personal journey. They could relate to each other on an entirely different level, which I had only begun to understand.

I had been handed the “Serenity Bible” as I walked into the room. We read aloud, in round-robin fashion, passages from the Bible regarding the first of twelve steps, “We admit we are powerless over our affliction--that our lives have become unmanageable.” I didn’t find any passages that were contradictory to my own beliefs; in fact I realized that the first step fit in very well with my own spiritual understanding. The story of Job struck me as not only familiar, as it is one I grew up hearing, but also profoundly beautiful and important.

Then, Soraya, the group leader, called out for speakers. The first person, Joe, spoke about how Alcoholics Anonymous had helped him to do things he loved, such as spending time with his children; he talked about spending his time in worthwhile pursuits since he left prison. Another woman spoke, and cried, about drinking to deal with grief; specifically when her daughter drowned and she used the money the church collected for her to buy drinks. Another man spoke about his brother having been sentenced to life in prison for murder; he talked about how it was difficult for him to deal with this stress.

Everyone who spoke started off with the first step, about being powerless over their affliction. They ended with “I’m going to keep coming back.” Everyone else would say together, “keep coming back.” Also they would say to each other “one day at a time”. They also repeated the “Serenity Prayer” many times: “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change... Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to
know the difference.”

At the end of the meeting, everyone stood in a circle holding hands. They said the serenity prayer and several other things such as “keep coming back” and “one day at a time.” I received a token from the organizer with the message, “there are no strangers here.” Several others hugged me and my brother, who attended the meeting with me. Joe came over and spoke to us about how Alcoholics Anonymous was beneficial for everyone, for people of all faiths. He spoke to us about his recovery.

The crucial lesson I took away from the meeting was humility. I don’t think I walked in an arrogant fashion. But as I left, I was humbled by the trials of everyone at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and more importantly by their triumphant struggles to overcome those trials. As a society, we often blame people for becoming alcoholics, while at the same time glorifying alcohol. I remember at least two college instructors talking about binge drinking and hangovers as normal and expected college behaviors. I’ve learned through this meeting that although everyone needs to hold themselves personally responsible for their drinking decision, our cultural understanding of alcoholism needs to also evolve; we need to be more compassionate and understanding. We also need to safeguard against alcohol abuse at an earlier age. As a teacher, I think I need to care and be concerned about alcohol abuse in the students’ lives. I need to be aware of school councilors and programs that can council them on how to deal with their problem.

Nearly every alcoholic that spoke at the meeting talked about turning to alcohol to deal with an issue or a void in their lives. They talked about death and depression being sources of their desire to drink. As an English teacher, I think this is a subject that can be discussed in the literature classroom. Many books for young adults have themes regarding alcohol. For instance, Paul Fleischman’s novel, Whirligig, is a discussion of how a boy turns to drinking and suicide to deal with the pressures of a particularly insular, rich, suburban life-style; and more importantly, how he overcomes this problem and deals with his grief. Although I’m unsure about the extent to which this can be done, I think collaborating with health education teachers about this issue may be very helpful to students.

Every alcoholic at the meeting came from an impoverished family and neighborhood. Nearly everyone spoke of alcoholism in their family, and many people talked about crime either as offenders or as victims. I learned that alcoholism doesn’t take place in isolation. As one speaker explained, it is part of dysfunctional that is carried in families from generation to generation. I feel that as a teacher if I can help a student to feel empowered through their work and their learning, I will be helping them indirectly to seek solutions to their other problems as well. If a student feels empowered through education, they will likely transfer that courage and will to lift themselves out of their circumstances. Also, I need to be aware of services through the school that can help them with family issues that affect their wellness.


At 3:02 AM, RoT said...

Great post...

"Everyone who spoke started off with the first step, about being powerless over their affliction."

In a way, this is also the first towards embracing Islam. And compare their emotion, ie the hugging, to the emotions of passionate Muslims; The kind of emotion that'll bring a grown man to tears.

Subhannallah. Allah guides who He will.

At 8:38 AM, Saima said...

Hurry for organisations like "AA".Alcoholics are usually just labelled of as irresponsible,careless individuals,but no one bothers to reach out and ask the vital question. "Why?".

At 8:43 PM, Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto this site, but I was very pleased
I believe you are a great writer and I was very compelled by the description of AA because I attended a meeting recently and had very similar feelings about the atmosphere. Keep writing...I believe that it is more than a hobby for you...more like a calling


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