Growing up, I was an angry, lonely, frightened kid. I didn’t know how to make friends, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Recess was the most painful part of my day–I’d sit on the outskirts of the playground, sensing that I wasn’t welcome to play tag or kickball. I watched the other children, taking in their every move, and wondering if I’d ever figure it out. I started drinking heavily when I was thirteen. It wasn’t to fit in–I rarely drank around other people–but more to ease the misery that was raging inside me.
It was only five years later that I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. But I wasn’t convinced that I wanted what you had. I did know that I didn’t want to drink. I had been trying so hard to stop, and it was my failed attempts that had led me to AA. But five years of alcoholic drinking hadn’t taught me how to participate in much of anything. I did show up, going to at least a meeting a day, often more; I got a sponsor (though I had no clue how to talk to her); and I didn’t drink, no matter what. I sat and watched, wanting to do AA the same way I had done recess–on the outside looking in.
Ironically, I joined a group only because I wanted to be left alone. Ann seemed to be at most of the meetings I went to, and she’d zoom right in on me. “Have you joined a group yet? You could join this one!” My sponsor had also suggested I join a group, but I quickly mastered the art of sidestepping her suggestions. Ann, however, would drill me about it. “You’ll drink again if you don’t join a group,” she’d say. I’d think, “Yeah right, I’ll show you.” But I figured she’d back off if I told her I’d joined a different group, and I picked one neither she nor my sponsor attended. “You’re a member if you say you’re a member” I’d heard, so it wasn’t like I had to tell anyone other than Ann, and maybe my sponsor. Ann seemed disappointed that she hadn’t roped me into one of her groups, but she moved on to another newcomer. Mission accomplished!
My sponsor, however, only suggested it wasn’t good enough to simply join the group–I should “get active.” She asked when the next business meeting was, and when I told her, she insisted on going with me. I was relieved when she sat quietly through the meeting. I certainly wasn’t interested in making coffee or putting away chairs.
One night I went to my new home group, only to be told there was no meeting that night. The hospital needed that room for some other function, although they had made available a room in an adjoining building. My group had decided it wasn’t worth lugging our gear over, so they had instead canceled the meeting.
I’d love to tell you that I volunteered to do the work–that I carried a coffee pot across the parking lot and went back for a box of meeting lists, pamphlets, and Big Books. But that’s not what I did. I hadn’t yet developed any sense of responsibility. I didn’t care about the other group members, or the newcomer who might walk in the door that night. I was furious that my meeting had been canceled. I screamed at the handful of members who were directing people like me to other meetings in town that evening. Then I walked home, vowing never to go to that meeting again.
After about a year of not drinking, my defiance started to soften. My anger, my stubbornness, my attitude–these were all keeping me from enjoying my sobriety, and I started to recognize that fact. I decided to try some of the things that until then I’d refused to do. I finished my Fourth Step, and shared it with my sponsor. I started going to meetings a little early and resisted the urge to bolt out the door the moment the Lord’s Prayer was finished. I thought I might try some of that “get active” stuff, so I volunteered to make coffee at a meeting I liked to attend.
You meet a lot of people when you need to be at the meeting an hour early. There’s always the second person to get there–maybe a newcomer, or an out-of-towner, or even an old-timer who knows that the coffee maker needs some company. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the middle of Alcoholics Anonymous. I discovered that there really is an easier, softer way–the way of striving to be a part of. What I’ve been willing to give to AA, most often through my home group, I’ve gotten back tenfold in peace of mind.
Not that making coffee rendered me white as snow. The first time I was elected treasurer I stole the group’s money! When the rent was due there was nothing left to pay it with. I had to tell the group what I had done, and I vowed to pay it back, which I did. They didn’t want me to be treasurer anymore (they were sober, not stupid), but found I made a good chip-person and cake baker. A few years later, in a different group, I was again asked to be treasurer, a job which I at first declined. I related the story of how I’d proven myself to be a sober thief, but they were insistent I take the job. This time I managed to perform my duties with honor and integrity.
I recently moved and now I have another new home group. I got active here immediately–I needed to. I walked into that meeting not knowing a soul and felt as if I was back at recess again. So I served as the greeter, introducing myself to these strangers I knew were just friends I hadn’t met yet, and I welcomed them to the meeting. I took care of other odds and ends, such as selling raffle tickets or signing court papers and I was just elected alternate general service representative. I go on commitments with the other group members, sharing my experience, strength, and hope as a representative of the Manchester Original Group. This fall we will celebrate the group’s fifty-fifth anniversary. I can’t believe I’m a member of a group that’s older than my mother.
I don’t corner newcomers in exactly the same way that Ann did, insisting they join a group, but I think I understand what she wanted me to know. So I ask the newcomer to help me wash the coffee pot, or put chairs away, because service was, and still is, my key to belonging.