I stopped hanging out with my main group of friends because the guitarist of the rock band I carried equipment for was extremely condescending towards me and always wanted me to contribute money towards him buying drugs. These were toxic friends, and they saw nothing wrong with putting me down either. They also drank and smoked cigarettes and used drugs, when I was trying to quit all of these things. So I stopped hanging out with them. But almost all my friends were in this rock band and the people who worked for it.
Suddenly I had nobody to hang out with. But it got worse.
After leaving this group, I got drunk at another friend’s house, and by the end of the night my insatiable thirst for beer resulted in me grabbing the last beer his grandfather ever brewed, while he wasn’t looking, and drinking it. My friend found out and punched me in the face and I was banned from his house. It was at this point I realized that I needed to go to AA. I needed to become a better person and surround myself with people who could bring out the best in me.
I had gone before when I was younger, but it was because I had to for probation, and I would just wait for the meetings to be over so that I could get my sheet signed. This time I wanted to do it right.
I was prejudiced against members of the military when I began AA, but the nicest person I met there was a Gulf War veteran with PTSD named Jeremy. He was very empathetic with everyone at the tables. I thought, “Wow, this guy actually cares when bad things happen to people he doesn’t know!” At AA I have started to care more about the joys and problems of both my new AA friends and even strangers, and to feel their emotions with them. I am also learning that a 22-year-old like myself can be friends with much older people. There are people of all ages at AA groups.
In one meeting, I was sitting with some guys my age and one older guy. I found myself opening up about how my dad had a seizure from getting a cerebral edema after hitting his head too many times when he was drunk. I told them, “It was not long after he got the surgery to drain it before he started drinking again and I never want to be that stupid.”
They agreed that it was pretty stupid and reassured me that I didn’t have to be like that. After the meeting a young man named Colin said, “We’re all about the same age. If you ever need anyone to hang out with, you can chill with us.” He gave me his number and the older guy told me about the three-quarters house they lived at (a place with strict rules where recovering drug addicts live) and said I should check it out. These people that I had just met suggested I come live with them! I am fortunate enough that I am sober to the point where I don’t need to live in a place like that, but it was touching to be invited.
The club where I go to most of my meetings is located in a strip mall; ironically it is right next to a liquor store. Inside there are tables topped with hard white plastic surrounded by folding chairs. In the back there is free coffee and tea set out along with tall stacks of Styrofoam cups. On the walls there are there picture frames on the wall with the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions in them and sayings such as, “Let Go and Let God”, “Willingness is the Key”, and “One Day at a Time”. There is also a print of the classic AA painting of two members of AA talking to an alcoholic on a wall. To me this highlights the key success behind the organization – understanding people helping each other to become better.
The atmosphere at the club was so friendly and supportive. The 12th step is to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety, so a major goal of members of AA is to help you. There is something called “The Fellowship” at AA, which means a friendly and supportive community of people with the common goal of staying sober. It is very easy to make new friends at AA because when you first get there a card is handed around and everyone puts their name and number on it so you can call people if you need help or even a friend. I realized that people often lose friends when they stop drinking and doing drugs, because they can’t afford to be around people doing things like that, or because their friends were shallow and won’t want to spend time with them unless they’re getting high or drunk. Members of AA are very willing to spend time with you outside of the club because they understand that newly sober people need sober friends.
Before and after meetings everyone hangs out in the court to talk or smoke cigarettes. I don’t smoke anymore but this is where I really got to know a lot of people. One of my best friends at AA is John, a tall skinny 27 -year-old with brown hair and ears that stick out really far.
I think one reason why it was easier to make friends in AA is that the 4th step in AA is taking moral inventory, assessing when you were good or evil. During meetings people often confess to doing bad things in the past, and judging others is called “taking someone else’s inventory” and is considered useless and self-defeating. Anyone can be themselves in AA and will be shown compassion, in fact honesty is strongly encouraged as opposed to hiding faults like one would need to elsewhere.
I don’t have a car because for several years I had terrible priorities. At AA people often have lost the privilege to drive because of DUIs, so people often give each other rides. I have made many friends by being driven home by people. One of them, Joe, became my sponsor. Joe drives John and me home after the 10:00 P.M. meetings sometimes, which are my favorite meetings because that’s the one most of my friends go to. Joe is really funny and cool and I count on him for advice on important issues.
I got a job because of AA and I also made two new friends, my bosses Bill and Charlie. I mentioned that I didn’t have a job at one point when we were standing around in the court where people smoke. A 50-year-old named Charlie told me that he was a roofer. He offered to train me to be a roofer and the first day he came and picked me up he talked for a while and I learned a lot about him. He used to be a millionaire because he ran a huge roofing company. Then he lost everything because of the 2008 Wall Street crash and the Great Recession. It turns out the road I live on is named after his family! While I was working with him I met one of his business partners who also goes to AA, a 69-year-old named Bill. Bill and I have become very good friends and he says that one of his favorite times of day is when he is driving around with me to go to various jobs and pick things up from Home Depot. We talk a lot and can relate to each other very well even though there is a 47-year age gap.
I am extremely glad that I started going to AA on regular basis. I have made about ten new friends in just four months and I am making more all the time. Every day I can go hang out with people, there are several meetings a day so that I never have to be alone. In these past four months I’ve gotten a job and a girlfriend, two things I haven’t had in a long time. Ditching my toxic friends and lifestyle and deciding to make new friends and a healthier lifestyle by going to Alcoholics Anonymous was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.*
-Submitted by Michael Ericson
*NB. All names have been changed in this story.