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Home > 2014 > January Online Only > My Small Group, Anonymous

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; ...

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Posted: January 21, 2014

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Displaying 1–5 of 9 comments

JoDee Kogut

January 25, 2014  11:50am

Wonderful and spot on. I spent a few months in Alanon many years ago. It really has helped to shape the way I view the workings of the church. UNconditional love, acceptance and commitment. The church is not always good at this. But that is who Jesus IS and we are suppose to be like Him. Thank you Gordon.

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Marshall Shelley

January 23, 2014  10:16am

I've been so grateful for friends from the AA community that are active in our church. The Sunday Bible class I teach is a whole lot more honest and forthcoming now than ever before, and the transparency of those in recovery is modeling for the rest of us how to speak about the previously "unspeakable" aspects of our lives. But two things are simultaneously true: Life is hard. (And sometimes hard to talk about with others.) God is good.

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Rick Dalbey

January 22, 2014  2:07pm

I am not against AA and appreciate these insights. What I am for is pursuing the real presence of the Holy Spirit, taking advantage of the miraculous healing that is offered in the real person of God. As AW Tozer put it, "“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”

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Robin Swieringa

January 21, 2014  10:20pm

By the way, in the earliest years of AA, when the founders were going into hospitals and talking with drunks, they insisted that those still suffering from alcoholism confess their sins to the Christian God. Only when they began to codify the steps and the program for alcoholics did it become God as we understood him.

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Robin Swieringa

January 21, 2014  10:16pm

21 years ago, I was fortunate to recognize that the 12 Steps could also be called Jesus's Rule of Life when I needed to start using them. I stopped going to church for 2 years, because I had finally found in AA what I had hoped to find--but never had--in the Sunday School classes at a truly wonderful church: people speaking honestly about how their life was going and their relationship with God and what He seemed to be doing in their lives. Ultimately, I realized that I was missing unabashed worship of Jesus in the company of other Christians, and so I returned to church. We evangelicals have tended to neglect discipleship, so we don't often come face to face with our ongoing failures and outright refusals to match our words of love for Jesus with doing what he said to do, so we don't see the need for a new way of living. Doing the 12 Steps and meeting with other Christians who've been humbled by their sin and the Steps is the best Christian discipleship program I know of.

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