When I first started attending 12-step meetings, I benefitted from every word out of every mouth. The lessons were almost endless: from the wisdom of the long-timers to the familiar pain of the fellow newcomers, I needed to hear it all. Possibly most important, however, in the earliest days of sobriety, what I needed to absorb from my daily AA meetings was the hope that resided there. In the beginning of recovery, I had precious little of that particular commodity, and so I needed to drink it in every day from my fellows in recovery.
Eventually, the seeds of hope within me began to bloom, I was taken through the 12 steps of my recovery program, and I began to have confidence in myself, my recovery, and my ability to give back what was so freely given to me. I then added another dimension to my meetings: sharing my own experience, strength and hope, and the experience deepened. I developed deeper relationships, I helped newcomers, and I strengthened my commitment to sobriety.
After a year of continuous sobriety, I began to question the need for so many meetings, which made me wonder: exactly how many meetings is enough? The answer, of course, is completely individual. I know people with 25 years of sobriety who still attend a meeting every single day, I know people with a year or two of sobriety that attend one meeting a week, if that. But through this questioning process I discovered a very important truth: meetings are an important part of recovery, no matter how much time you have, because they help remind you of the pain of early sobriety. Every time I listen to a newcomer talk about how devastated his or her life is due to active addiction, I am reminded of my own personal bottom, and how much easier it is to stay sober than it is to get sober. No matter how many years of sobriety with which I am blessed, I will always need to be reminded from whence I came.
Recently, I’ll say within the past 2 weeks, I have discovered a new function that meetings serve for me in my recovery. I’ll use a real life example that I received in the meeting I run on Mondays (which, by the way, was a pleasant surprise this week… 9 attendees, and it was Labor Day! Really decent numbers for a holiday meeting). A woman attended my meeting that I know in a somewhat peripheral manner. I have not seen her in months, and this is the first time she has actually attended “my” meeting, so it was great to re-connect with her. When she shared, she admitted that she was in emotional turmoil. While she has not relapsed, she feels emotionally bankrupt, and she is having a difficult time getting back to the peace and serenity she once had. She realizes that a key component to this anguish is her feeling of disconnect with her program of recovery. While she was once an avid meeting-goer, she has let that part of her life lapse of late, and she believes it is in that lapse that she has lost her way.
This woman has about 5 years of sobriety. Interestingly, in the past several weeks I have heard 2 other women speak of similar issues; all three of these women have been in recovery anywhere from 4 to 6 years.
What this means to me is the point of this post. A new element to my meeting experience is hearing these stories, and filing them away under the category “What To Look Out For.” I feel very fortunate, at 19 months and change, to still feel daily gratitude for my sobriety. But I would be foolish not to hear these stories and use them as cautionary tales… things that could happen to me if I take my sobriety for granted.
At my home group this morning, a gentleman with decades of sobriety finished sharing by saying, with tears in his eyes, “I woke up sober this morning, and that made me happy. And it made my wife pretty happy too.” This brought to mind last night, when my husband came home from work and said, “What should we have for dinner, frozen pizza?” To which I smiled from ear to ear, because I am currently obsessed with Kirkland frozen pizza. I replied, “You know, I think I have a low-level addiction to frozen pizza.” He stopped what he was doing, walked over to me, grabbed my shoulders, and said, “We can have frozen pizza every night for the rest of our lives, and I would be happy.” That kind of love and support… well, it’s a miracle, and one I hope I never take for granted.