He spoke quietly. He was deeply honest, talking about issues from his life and how it seemed his alcoholism had taken them and used them as fuel for especially dark and self destructive things. It was getting harder for him to believe it was worth staying sober if this emotional hell were to continue for too much longer.
In this meeting we sit in a circle, so I could see not only him, but many of the people listening to him as well.
As he opened up I watched the faces around him painted with sincere compassion, deep empathy and a real sadness for what he had been through before and what he was facing today.
No kind of writing, no television show, no play or scene in a movie will ever adequately capture what really happens in those moments in an AA meeting, when an alcoholic shares the dark truth of their struggle with people who have lived and felt it themselves. There is an attentive stillness in the listeners, and I believe that it is in those moments that Something enters the room. Healing happens, or at the very least, great pain is lessened for a time, and made more bearable so that someone can carry on. I would even say that in those moments it is possible to feel God in the room, palpable and powerful.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not own this experience -- the power of sharing honestly with people who understand and do not judge is an ancient healing tool, probably in many ways almost as old as humanity itself.But for it to work, people must speak their truth, and others must listen.
That's what AA owns. Through a spiritual process -- the 12 Steps -- and the example of others who have walked the path ahead, it takes alcoholics, who's "moral compass" has been ruthlessly subverted by fear and ego and alcoholism until lying is as easy as breathing, and shows us that the truth will actually heal us. AA meetings show us how to find our truth and speak it.
I know how New Agey faux Native American that sounds -- but it is literally true.
And it teaches us how to listen -- not just listen, but hear. The very people who's self obsession was so intense that we were deaf to others, in conversations merely waiting for our turn to talk again, completely absent from an honest exchange, can now sit, still and attentive, as someone in pain brings it to a meeting to share and take the power out of it -- and perhaps leave not only a little lighter, but with practical solutions and real tools to help them cope.
Not every meeting is quite so intense. Sometimes in an AA meeting I'm just sitting there, and it's seems pretty mundane, and I think to myself that I'm actually just sitting there waiting for the next person I'm supposed to help to come through the door.
But other times I am privileged to be a part of something else, something bigger than myself, and I am witness to real recovery and subtle miracles and I look at the people listening and I feel how we are all connected, and I think that there is hope for us all, no matter what we face there is hope and healing for us all -- but only if we keep coming back.