Last night, I wrapped up a blog post and ran out the door to an AA meeting here in Mobile, Alabama. I’d found one just a few blocks away and walking distance from the beautiful place I’m renting for the week.
I’d never been to an AA meeting in another city and I rarely deviate from my standard neighborhood meeting in my hometown. So I had no idea what to expect, but that was exciting to me. I’d been advised by the innkeeper here to avoid certain parts of town for safety reasons. This meeting was smack dab in that “certain” part and started after dark at 8pm. But perhaps naively, I believe my 5’10” semi-athletic frame is a deterrent to potential muggers. I carry myself with confidence, I look people in the eye, and I am generally not afraid of anyone. Plus I figure since I was on my way to an AA meeting and working long and hard on general self improvement and reliance on my higher power, that getting raped and beaten would just be so cosmically unfair, right?
When walking to this meeting, I began to get a tiny bit panicky. The neighborhood was deteriorating, several sketchy looking cars drove by, the houses started looking less and less well-kept, and I passed more than a few empty lots with overgrown grass and trash. As I approached the house that was converted to an AA meeting space, I noticed bars on the windows of the houses on either side. I was relieved to arrive and get inside.
And here’s what I found – People who looked and sounded NOTHING like me. The room was about 50/50, blacks and whites, about 15 people total. Most appeared to be low-income and working class, which aligned with my expectations for a meeting in this neighborhood. Some had a thick, syrupy-sweet southern drawl and others a cajun-influenced dialect filled with broken slang and bits of words. Some of the men and most of the women in the group were really comfortable sharing, myself included. But some of the men seemed shy and damaged, preferring to “pass” when it was their turn to speak.
And every single bit of this was beautiful. Heartbreaking, enlightening, and beautiful.
I was overcome by two things – As different as we appeared to be, we all have the same common challenges and experiences with addiction and recovery. We’re in the same boat, just working the program and steps, one day at a time, as human beings. And it felt good to be connecting with others who understand. But the other thing that struck me was the struggle that some of these people face every day that I can only imagine. Some spoke of being grateful to have jobs as dishwashers in kitchens, and some talked about being back in touch with their children as a result of getting sober. These are things I take for granted. My challenges I would sheepishly put in the category of “white people problems.”
The experience was TRANSFORMATIONAL. When I left the meeting, I called my friend Jeff and told him about my meeting. And guess what? The dark and scary neighborhood faded into the background and a grateful and content feeling lifted me all the way back to my room. I’m so happy to be part of a program that changes lives each and every day, mine included.