A year ago I joined a small group of men and women that meets in the early morning every day. The group is affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous.
I started attending not because I have a problem with alcohol. I don't. But I do have friends who are recovering alcoholics and who often speak of their AA experiences in the most intriguing ways. So I decided to see for myself what they were talking about.
Going online I discovered dozens of nearby gatherings to pick from, available around the clock: noon, dinner time, midnight, or—like the one I chose—6:30 A.M. Each meeting is held in rented or borrowed facilities (AA owns no property), is convened by volunteers (AA pays no one), and is never advertised (AA attracts, never promotes).
When I confided my intention to go to an AA meeting, a few friends had concerns. "What if you meet someone you know?" one asked. "What if you're seen coming out of the meeting? What will people think? Aren't you worried about rumors that Gordon must be drinking?"
Frankly, I decided not to worry about what some people might think. Jesus apparently didn't when he showed up at a few drinking events. Is it possible, I asked, if he'd be fascinated by AA, too? Wouldn't he be sympathetic toward any group focusing on human redemption?
The meeting I chose happened in the basement of a so-called liberal church. There was a circle of 17 steel folding chairs. On each chair was a copy of The Big Book, the "Bible" of the 12 Step movement. I was no sooner seated than the people on either side of me introduced themselves (first names only) and expressed gladness that I was there. In fact, before the hour ended, four men, one after the other, handed me cards and said, "I'm John (or Brian or Alex), and here's my cell number. Call me anytime, and I'll come and meet you if you need a friend."
Their assumption? I was going to need their help at some point.
Promptly at 6:30 the group quieted. All 17 of us sat reflectively holding our 16-ounce cups of coffee or Coca-Cola. There was no music or video or offering; just a greeting from the designated facilitator (a different man or woman every day) who welcomed us with a reminder that no one could smoke and that confidentiality was a supreme value.
"My name is Jeff, and I'm an alcoholic," he said. In turn everyone else followed with their name: "My name is Roberta, and I'm an alcoholic … my name is Todd, alcoholic." With each introduction came a response from the group, "Hi, Roberta" … "Hi Todd." I soon learned that many of these men and women had been introducing themselves similarly for months, in some cases years. But saying their names each morning seemed important so that newcomers like me weren't embarrassed.
When my turn came I froze. Should I fib? Should I try to fit in by saying, "My name is Gordon and I'm an alcoholic." But since I wasn't, I decided that would be a dumb idea.
"My name is Gordon … first time here." The group responded: "Hi, Gordon … keep on coming; keep on coming," which I soon learned was sort of an AA cliché like the "praise-the-Lord" line we say in church when nothing else comes to mind.
A silly piece of me—not made of God—wanted to add to my introduction, I write books and articles; I speak at leadership conferences. But I knew that none of this would impress anyone.
The fact is that the group only wanted to know one thing: Was my life broken, and how could they help?