I scheduled my AA meeting for Tuesday September the 18th at 10 p.m. at the Sobe Room in Miami Beach (1718 Bay Rd. Miami Beach, Fl. 33139). When I arrived I noticed that the parking was far away from the actual meeting point. The meeting point was a church type structure with no sing or any other identification. The door was open so I just went in; I waited about 5 minutes for the meeting to start. The meeting took place in a large room, and the chairs were organized in a semicircle and at the front there was a kind of podium. In the Sobe Room all meetings are open, so I didn’t have to set an appointment.
In the meeting were about 50 people, I guess because it was in south beach the majority were young people under 40. There were mostly white males, followed by white females some Latin and some African Americans. There were about 15 people who were there for the first time. I didn’t have to say why I was there but I did have to say my name when everyone else did.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. Although AA was founded on Christian principles and by white men, the organization has evolved to be multicultural. AA doesn’t keep a list of members’ names, but estimates that it has 2 million members who come from all backgrounds. The philosophy behind Alcoholics Anonymous is that alcoholism is a disease. Even if someone stops drinking, they are not “cured.” The individual is a recovering alcoholic.
The organization follows a 12-step structure designed to help the recovering alcoholic have a healthy mind and spirit. By following the 12 steps in sequence, the recovering alcoholic can improve their thought processes and work on healing their emotions.
3. Therapeutic content
Even though AA is an independent organization and is not based on psychological or therapeutic research or interventions, they have adopted some techniques of different theoretical models to help the group members deal with their illness.
AA uses techniques from diverse psychological theoretical models such as existentialism, gestalt, and narrative therapy.
The existentialism theory invites clients to explore their being and ask themselves philosophical questions such as what is the meaning of live, how do actions define individuals and to continually revise their set of values. AA uses this approach in its program when they talk about the greater power, the purpose of their lives, etc.
Gestalt theory sees each client as a unique individual and states that any change made by the client has to be his or her own decision, gestalt therapy is also very confrontational, and in both characteristics are included in the AA program. AA states that the client will get better if and only they really want it and commit to it.
Also AA uses an approach similar to the narrative therapy by treating the addiction as an illness and as a problem independent of the client, it externalizes it to try to confront it.
4. Impressions and significance:
When I arrived to the meeting the first thing that called my attention was the fact that we had to park really far away from the actual site (about two blocks) I later found out that it was purposely made this way so the members wouldn’t feel self conscious about having their cars outside of something that could be affiliated with alcoholism.
I entered the location, it wasn’t an actual church, but it had a church like structure. The doors were opened and most people seemed to know each other, before the meeting started some people said hi to me but no one asked any questions.
The meeting began with a shot prayer called the serenity prayer, which had me thinking about some contradictions found in the AA philosophy since they claim not to have any religious affiliation but it certainly felt a little inclined towards the Christian side. After the prayer everyone introduced themselves (most people said their names and I’m an alcoholic, but some didn’t) I said my name but gave no further information. Then someone proceed to talk a little about the AA program and the 12-step structure.
After the greeting process a guy (27) stood up and went to the podium. He started by repeating his name and saying he was an alcoholic. He said that since this time he saw a lot of new faces he wanted to share his story again.
The man shared a very powerful story about his involvement with alcohol, he stated he started drinking around the age of 14, he said that at the moment he thought he was just having fun and doing the same that everyone else did, but that now that he thinks about it he realizes he was using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the confusion he was facing about his sexuality.
He stated that he came out of the closet at the age of 16, that it was a very difficult time and that he was dating older men who encouraged him to drink. He continued talking about what coming out had done to the relationship with his family members; he described the time as very painful and he cried while telling the story (some of the people in the meeting cried as well).
He said that his mother was very supportive since the beginning, that his younger brother had a hard time understanding; he said that he was a jog in school, so no one expected him to come out since he wasn’t “the gay type”. But that the real issue was with his father, as soon as he gave him the news the father became very angry and he kicked him out of the house. He said that he sort of expected the reaction but thought that he would eventually get over it, but that that hadn’t happened yet, and that it’s been 10 years and 7 months since the last time he spoke with his father.
He said that he joined AA when he was 23, he decide to attend a meeting because he and his partner were having terrible fights while he was under the influence of alcohol and he even tried to hit him once. At that point the partner threatened with leaving him if he didn’t get treatment. He stated that it was the best decision he made in his live. He has now been sober for 3 years and 4 months.
Before going to the meeting I had many opinions about what I would find there, I was sure that most people would be people of low socioeconomic status probably many homeless and very angry people. I was afraid of being forced to speak and that they wouldn’t understand the reason that I was participating in the meeting. I expected to see a lot of people praying, singing, and hugging at the end. But the truth is that the reality was very different to what I had in my imagination, I think my perception was heavily influenced by movies I’ve see about it. One thing that caught my attention was the first to realize that most people in the group were people with jobs and life situations fairly normal. But mostly I was surprised that people were a bit cold and distant. I was hoping that dodos were united and friendly to each other but not the case.
For me the story of gay guy was very powerful and I felt good to see people around me responding positively and nodding. One thing I did not like was the strong Christian influence of the program; I feel that excludes many people who do not feel identified with this dogma.
I think AA is a very powerful tool and can help many clients, but I also think is not for everyone. I would recommend it to clients with maladaptive behaviors that do not have the skills to deal with day-to-day problems. I think that a person has to be religious to some point to really identify with the program. I would not recommend this program to teenagers because I think that there are other programs more suitable for this population.