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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

“Seat savers stay sober” & other misc. meeting jargon

You arrive 15 minutes early to Serenity Manor attempting to find a seat on one of the cold metal folding chairs, but you notice that all the chairs are reserved with business cards. Sigh…’s just standard AA meeting protocol, along with the warm greeting you received from the young blond vixen, tattooed and pierced, mascara streaked under her eyes from her all-nighter. Her sponsor has politely commanded she show up for her commitment and accept a newcomer chip: the ultimate shaming fate of anyone who shows up to an AA meeting with self-will still firmly intact. Humble much?

The meeting begins and the 60 minutes proceed with the opening “Chapter 5: How it Works.” So for the normie layman, how does it work? Well, in short, you shut up, you listen, and you pray to absorb something that penetrates deep into your psyche causing a stiff jolt, propelling you into action.

Ouch, the growing pains of sobriety commence.

“It’s a program of action,” those were the words cemented into my subconscious when I first entered the rooms of AA. During the medley of shares, one may hear clichés like, “Surrender to win” or “It’s not for those who need it, it’s for those who work it.” In my first year of sobriety, I did what any desperate newcomer (defeated and out of options) does–I latched onto those clichés like a life preserver. They were my mantras; the vibrational verbatim that I desperately needed to hear over and over again, until my brain reorganized those haphazardly wired neurons. Instead of my usual nightly cocktail of Ambien, Xanax, and Nyquil to fall asleep, my sponsor demanded I recite the Serenity Prayer. But how does one find serenity in a maddened mind?

“Do it anyway,” were my fairy sponsor’s words.

And so you work the 12 Steps, under sponsor direction, and relinquish any tiny bit of control you “think” you have over your semblance of a life: the life that is now in shambles due to reckless intoxicated antics. But don’t worry, it gets better….sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes one freakin’ millisecond at a time. After all, one can’t expect to rebuild Rome in a day, and even advanced technology couldn’t reassemble an addict’s life (legal fumbles and all) that quickly. No worries, the nudge from the judge was a gift, remember? It earned you a seat next to the 56-year old twice-divorced attorney who still lives with his mother. He’ll sign your court card, buy you coffee, and then ask you to tuck him in at night.

Well, nothing changes if nothing changes…. Sigh.

Sign on the Wall Reads:

“Please clean up the wreckage of your existence because you are a menace to society”

The meeting closes with the Lord’s Prayer and the circle joins hands. It’s finally over: one hour of heart-felt tears, jovial laughs, and disturbing innuendos from middle-aged prowlers (13-steppers–the technical term). Somehow you leave the meeting feeling hopeful, remorseful, and purposeful all at the same time. A juxtaposition that may just buy you another day clean and sober. Any lengths, indeed.

But wait, the meeting isn’t over. Don’t forget the after (meeting) party in the parking lot. It’s the routine recap of who was there, what they were wearing, and post-game relapse stats– who’s gonna’ make it and who isn’t. Chips, slips, and sexy hips (the blond greeter’s). C’mon, rigorous honesty, right? Put a room full of addicts/alcoholics together, take away their booze and drugs, and what’s left? Well, that’s a different fellowship. We won’t go there.

And now, parking-lot commentary and meeting highlights:

“Shelia’s a strong contender but her willingness isn’t there. She’s totally not ready”                 (Huh, ready for what? The coming of the AA messiah?)

“I can’t believe that speaker is 30 years sober! Is he PG? He was wearing a suit. You think he’ll give me a couch commitment?”                                                                                                         (Says the perpetually homeless 20-year old, just released from detox)

“That meeting was 4th dimension sh#@!”                                                                                               (Says the newcomer who hasn’t opened the Big Book)

“Dude, can I get a ride back to my sober living? F#[email protected], I forgot to check in with my PO this week! Never mind, I’m on informal. Close call!                                                                                      (Says most people who have peed in a cup in front of strangers)

But you’ve now come a long way since the days when we were mandated to love you until you could love yourself and that means you’re now fully living pg. 417, right? After all, the virtue of acceptance has been shoved down your throat while you were completing your 90 in 90. And all meeting critique aside, judgement is a spiritual principle violation; an AA good samaritan penalty, and if you have committed such an atrocity, please go back to Step 6–your character defects require further scrutiny.

All meeting mockery aside, AA is a magical vortex where even the most damaged soul finds redemption– I did. So before you go making AA-allegations, keep one thing in mind: “Objects in front of you are never as they appear.” “She’s never going to get sober,” were the words spoken about me at a meeting over three years ago. I noticed the feigned smiles, reeking of disgust, kept calm, and carried on. 3 years + many, many clean and sober moments later, I went back to that same meeting determined to disprove the naysayers. The funny thing is that I felt more gratitude than glory and that’s when you know all the jargon has worked: you can sit in your chair, laugh, cry, and walk away knowing that everything changes….sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly….but it will always materialize, if you work for it. 

Anjali Talcherkar, MA, is a writer, an individual in recovery, and an avid yogini. She received her master’s degree in Psychology and Addiction Studies from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is currently completing a PhD in Mind-Body Medicine and Integrative Mental Health from Saybrook University. Talcherkar’s forthcoming book is a personal memoir and Eastern interpretation of addiction and the 12 Steps. 

Website: [email protected]