The Worst AA Meeting in the World

By Daniel Isanov 05/05/17

If you’re not at least a little pissed off to be in AA, then you are missing the point.

man with ponytail sitting at roundtable discussion
There is nothing that you can’t admit at my meeting.

I go to one of the worst AA meetings in the world. The bullshit level is way high. There are quite a few people — who share often — who are taking drugs or drinking and lying about it. There is no real organization. There are no real elder statesmen, and newcomers are often not taken care of. And sometimes it doesn’t even start on time. Oh, and no one reads the literature at the beginning of the meeting. Or probably, come to think of it, anytime.

And it’s one of the best meetings in the world.

A few years ago, my life fell apart. Not much changed materially, but I knew I was circling the drain. A book that I had hoped would change my life did not. My wife, who I met in AA, started drinking again, and it didn’t take her long to become abusive in a half dozen ways. No, sorry, two dozen ways. I was tied to the marriage because of my daughter: I couldn’t leave her alone with her half the time. Therapy didn’t do a lot of good. I knew what the problem was. I just didn’t have a solution.

So I did what I’ve done before: I went to meetings. As much as possible.

I can’t explain what meetings do for me because, frankly, I don’t understand it myself. There’s something about sitting in a chair listening to my people talk and not leaving when someone says something that pisses me off. There's something about that economy that pacifies me. Almost every explanation that anyone has ever offered me for the effectiveness of AA meetings in my life and the lives of millions of others sounds — to me — like absolute crap. I just don’t believe it, and I don’t think you should either. It’s always to the left or the right of the truth, above or below, but it is never actually the truth itself. The truth is an experience — it’s not made of words. The truth, if you really want to know, is never made of words.

And so I sat in The Nooner. That’s what I call my home group. Other people call it the Jerry Springer Show or the twelve o’whatever or that tremendously fucked up meeting at the club. Sometimes they call it, accurately, the worst meeting they’ve ever attended.

Sometimes I think meetings are like an inoculation. A friend of mine makes a pretty good case for that: he says that the bullshit you hear during the meeting is exactly like the bullshit that you hear inside your own head. Once you get that, it starts to help you rather than hurt you.

I think it’s bigger than that, too. Sometimes I think the whole thing is over at the moment you walk into the room: the willingness to admit that you don’t have a solution to your profound problem — the most important and vexing problem in your life — and that you’re going to do something about it that you don’t understand or approve of. That, in itself, turns out to be the solution to the problem. Just walking in the damn door.

But here’s the thing about my meeting: at some point, a community of us grew up who rallied (and sometimes railed) against the chaos. We would go out to lunch afterward, maybe, and talk about how much we hated the meeting. We would stand around in the parking lot afterward, smoking cigarettes some of us, and make fun of the stupid shit everyone else said. And us, too.

And I began to suspect — maybe I was not the first — that the awfulness of the meeting was a big part of the point. That the awfulness and the wonderfulness were not separate.

I’ve always been suspicious of AA that works well. Just like I’ve always been suspicious of well-mannered newcomers. I figure if you’re not at least a little pissed off to be in AA, then you are missing the point: 

you can’t drink anymore, you idiot.

Another thing about my home group: it’s a target rich environment. So many newcomers. So many court card people. How many meetings in this country can you walk into where you are assured that you’ll be the first person that a newcomer meets? How many meetings can you attend where there’s not one person who is brand new, but four or five? Or more?

There is nothing that you can’t admit at my meeting. Yeah, certainly, there is a lot of bullshit, but there is also truth. When someone lies at my meeting — which, let’s face it, is just about every other share — you can hear it in their cadence, you can see it in their eyes. I don’t mind the lies so much anymore because the other half the meeting, the parts that come before and after the lies? I know what that is, too.

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