When travelling I adore new experiences, so when my dear friend invited me to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I leapt at the chance. I mean, how often do you get a chance to attend an AA meeting in Los Angeles in the winter sunshine, without actually having the need to do the homework to qualify? Curious, off I set with my sunscreen to the beach, the perfect place for any meetings.
About fifteen to twenty of us met about midday on a Sunday. To start, the lead of the chapter welcomes new members and reads out an introductory statement, re-iterating why we’re all here, that it’s non-for-profit, non-religious, apolitical, and we’re only here to help support members in their battle against addiction. Like reading a code of conduct - don’t be a penis, basically.
Three chosen people read out some select passages from the twelve-step book (or may have been from the As Bill Sees It book by the founder, Bill Wilson), stories of struggle against addiction, methods to fight it, and the impact that it has to oneself and families. Then the meat and potatoes of it: each person sitting in a circle relays anything on their mind. What’s stark and immediately interesting, is the hope within each story of sobriety: sometimes people have been on the wagon only a few weeks, sometime years, but each in turn is thankful for the life granted to them after giving up the booze. Each member has a story of what life now affords them.
TEach person only has five minutes to talk (not timed, so people often run over) and each one starts meekly, until confidence builds, and then their feelings bubble forth. Everyone is engaged. Each person introduces themselves, announces their an alcoholic, everyone greets them in reply, and then the stories begin. One that struck me in particular was a lady, let’s call her Michelle, that said, ‘I would hate it that I would wake up, I just wanted to die. Because each day I woke up I knew that I was going to drink again, and I didn’t want to. And I would hate myself for it.’ This tiny fragment is fascinating for me. I had always imagined that addicts of anything, smoking, chocolate et cetera always wanted to partake in their drug, that they were excited by it, looked forward to it. And here was a Michelle saying that she didn’t want to do it from the moment she woke up, but knew she would. They would steal and find a way of getting alcohol, and before they knew it by 10am they were sitting in a car park with several packs of beer, cracking open their first one. Frightening.
Michelle went on to be extremely thankful for the program, for having her sponsor to continually bounce off, and for saving enough money to fund new tyres on her car which she’d delayed for too long. As I said, it was uplifting, positive meeting. Each one scared of falling back into a pit of despair but managing through friendship, a sponsor, a God . . . having something to live for. Finding a purpose once again, perhaps. It was striking, sitting around in that circle of trust, that no one looked like an alcoholic, and perhaps no one really does. These were normal people you'd pass every day without ever thinking they struggled with an addiction, and I suppose you never really know what trials others are going through in their lives. A re-iteration once again to be kind to each other.
To find out more about the program, check out their American website https://www.aa.org/ or find your local chapter (there are many across the world). Take care of yourselves out there.
Like a sunrise, a new year brings renewed hope. In my case a new country to live in for the first part of the year, the United States of Ummerica. I’ll be bouncing around for a few months in California, Vancouver, Chicago and then finally New York, with side-trips to Washington DC and Philadelphia too. A busy two months, yet just four days in, I’m already experiencing a slice of Americana: I’ve watched my first ever Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune shows (they were on and I was in the room, that counts!); a package was delivered by a friendly UPS guy just like in the movies, never mind that he got the incorrect address; I accidentally turned on the garbage disposal in the sink and almost wet my pants at the noise; I’ve exercised down on the sandy beach and admired players shoot hoops like in White Men Can’t Jump; and I’ve watched a poor bastard too impoverished to afford his groceries of soda and milk, give up the soda at the check-out, then forlornly surrender the milk when he didn’t even have the requisite dollars even for that. The American Dream indeed.
Moving country does mess with the sleep cycles a little, and despite my insomnia abating in the last few months, it has reoccurred in Los Angeles two days in a row. I had recently been channelling my inner ‘anti-Rocky’ – instead of getting up from the canvas, I’ve been steadfastly embracing the horizontal, ignoring the belligerent brain demanding to discuss topics of no import. Knowing that 2.30am was not an ideal time to discuss anything, I was thankful my mind eventually acquiesced to my pleas after a few hours. It was with some surprise that my head cockily woke me up at 12.30am the next night for another chat. Dear Mind, that’s not quite what I intended . . .
In trying to be more active to help the insomnia, I’ve joined the gym out here and tried to get some more exercise. Visiting the outskirts of Los Angeles with friends, we scrambled down a meandering pathway to a very British beach - not a grain of sand in sight - near the Trump National Golf Course, and watched the massive Pacific melt away in a glorious afternoon sun. It’s a terrific place to view the world. I couldn’t help but think of home though: ten thousand miles away lay Australia, a nation fighting its own battles in some horrendous bushfires. I’ll be hoping for the best for my friends and their families over the coming weeks and months, that the smoke which dogs the skies will lift. Incredibly, this smoke has even reached New Zealand, fifteen hundred miles away. Out of the darkness, there will be light. Or at least we hope so, and that’s probably the key word: hope. Hope for a country, it’s people, for all people.
In a beautiful gesture that showed me the way forward during my time in America, I recall the bar set by my friend in Los Angeles back in that supermarket. She didn’t think or mull at seeing a guy in penury unable to afford his groceries, but immediately paid for the milk. There is hope still. It might not be the American Dream, but from little acts of kindness maybe we can all sleep better.
Note: There is a lot of information at the moment around the bushfires in Australia, but since pictures tell a thousand words, please have a look at the BBC link here. If you’re interested in donating funds to help those in need, HarpersBazaar have handily created the below links:
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