4 Important Reasons to "Keep Coming Back" to AA, Even When We Don't Need To

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4 Important Reasons to "Keep Coming Back" to AA, Even When We Don't Need To

By Sam Dylan Finch 11/09/18

Don’t underestimate just how powerful your presence at a 12-step meeting can be for another person’s recovery.

Image: 
Group of people in circle, one person has arms up with joy, others clap, 12-step meeting or AA
So when I’m especially happy on any given day? I make an extra effort to show up to meetings. PC: © Vadimgozhda | Dreamstime.com

More than I care to admit, my usual 12-step meeting times will pop up on my calendar and I’ll think to myself, “Can I get away with skipping this one?”

A lot of folks in the rooms will tell you that you shouldn’t skip meetings because relapse happens when we get lax in recovery. You get out of recovery what you invest into it, and the practice of consistently showing up makes your program stronger.

I don’t disagree with that. But even so, when I’m having a good day, going to a meeting sounds like a drag — and one meeting, I figure, is not going to make or break my sobriety.

Besides, I’ve earned a break, haven’t I?

There are four simple words that snap me back into reality, though: It’s not about you.

Put another way, we show up to these meetings because we’re building a community of support. But when we feel the temptation to not show up, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture.

So why go to that meeting, even when your recovery doesn’t depend on it? It’s pretty simple: recovery is about so much more than not picking up a drink. The next time you’re thinking about missing out on a meeting, consider these four reasons why showing up still matters.

1. Someone might need your presence or your story.

You might be the one familiar face in the room that reminds someone that they’re in the right place. Something that you share might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. You never know what your presence is bringing to the table — and how valuable it might be to someone else.

When I finally went back to AA after two years of relapses and denial, I can’t express just how comforting it was to see people I could remember. They were still there (and amazingly, still sober) and genuinely happy to see me again.

Their presence was a reminder that AA wasn’t just a gathering place for sad drunks — it was a community. It was a place where warmth, compassion, and laughter could always be found. At times, it was really the only place where I could laugh.

Many of us arrive at our first meetings unsure of what we’ll find and afraid to speak up. And often times it was hearing “our story” — seeing ourselves and our struggles in someone else’s share — that gave us the strength to keep coming back and truly commit to our recovery.

Despite numerous therapists, social workers, and loved ones urging me to get help, the only thing that pulled me from my deep state of denial was listening to other alcoholics. As one old-timer explained to me, “This fellowship is the only mirror in which I can see myself clearly.”

To this day, I can remember those people’s stories, even if they never noticed me hiding in the back of the room. They may have spoken casually without any thought of reaching anyone, but their words had an unforgettable impact on me.

Tonight, someone might show up to the rooms, not sure if they belong or if they want to stay. Your smile, your energy, or your words could be the anchor that grounds them. Don’t underestimate just how powerful your presence can be for another person’s recovery.

2. 12-step meetings can only thrive if everyone commits to showing up.

Think about it: if we only showed up when we were feeling terrible, what would meetings look like, exactly? They’d be pretty dismal places. There’d be experiences to share — but where would the strength and hope come from?

On chip nights, when I saw members getting their chips for five, ten, even twenty years, I used to wonder why they bothered to show up. “Do they really think they’re going to slip up at this point?” It’s true, they might, but when I listened to the responsibility statement, I realized that it wasn’t just for them. They showed up for the fellowship, and for the alcoholic who still suffers. Their presence was an act of gratitude.

Members who show up consistently, even and especially when they don’t “need” to, are the heart and soul of 12-step meetings. The program only truly works when people are willing to build a lasting community together.

AA isn’t just the couch you crash on when you’re down on your luck; these rooms represent a safe haven that should always be there, and will be — as long as we keep coming back.

3. Sobriety is an ongoing practice — not a destination.

I’ve often joked that alcoholism is a form of amnesia, but there’s some truth to that, too. Without a consistent practice — in which we repeatedly confront, accept, and reflect on our condition, while building up the coping skills needed to manage our lives — it’s all too easy to return to our old ways.

I don’t know about you, but my old ways weren’t exactly charming.

I could be resentful, self-centered, and impulsive. Like many alcoholics, I’ve fooled myself into thinking I had more power over situations than I actually did. I’ve been the bull in the china shop, barreling my way through life. I much prefer the acceptance, grace, and warmth that I work hard to embody today.

Left to my own devices, though? I fall out of the routine that helps me sustain my recovery and keeps me accountable. The resentments start to pile up. My stubbornness comes to the surface. My sense of gratitude diminishes.

Sobriety is not a point at which you arrive. Personal growth is a direction we move in — not a finish line we cross. Think of a fellowship, then, as your compass, helping to direct that growth.

Sobriety is a practice, and when we regularly attend meetings, we flex the muscles needed to strengthen and maintain our coping skills. The more we flex those muscles, the more intuitive those skills become. And as the Ninth Step Promises state, we “intuitively know how to deal with situations that used to baffle us.”

Developing that intuition means reinforcing it, and meetings are a consistent and reliable way of doing this, with a community that supports you unconditionally through that process.

4. Joy is an incredible contribution.

I’m an optimist and an extrovert by nature. When I first started attending meetings, I very seriously wondered if my personality would be “too much” for a space like AA. Was I too happy? Would my upbeat nature be grating in such an emotionally-vulnerable space?

But each time I shared my experiences, there was a chorus of gratitude that followed — the energy that I brought to the rooms was appreciated and seen. That’s when I finally understood something: authentic joy is an amazing gift to bring to my community.

So when I’m especially happy on any given day? I make an extra effort to show up to meetings. I let my smile signal to others that there is joy in sobriety. I let my laugh remind newcomers that there are better days ahead.

And I let my excitement and enthusiasm lift up those around me, especially those who might be wondering if there is a place for them in AA. When I show up authentically, it allows others to do the same. It makes those rooms a more welcoming place.

I may not feel motivated on a given day to show up to a meeting. But when I can’t show up for myself, I do it for my community.

And inevitably, when I do, my joy only seems to multiply. It seems that — at least in 12-step programs — what you give to others always comes back to you in spades.

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Sam Dylan Finch is an editor, writer, and media strategist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the creator of Let's Queer Things Up!, a mental health blog for the LGBTQ+ community. He is also "Cat Dad" to his two mischievous cats, Pancake and Cannoli. When he isn't playing Nintendo, he's creating a spreadsheet for the Gay Agenda — because, as someone with both OCD and ADHD, he knows how to create one hell of a spreadsheet. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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