By Karen Littleton
In 1994, my friend Joanna was eager for me to meet her friend Andrea.* Joanna thought we shared the same sense of humor and similar political views, and she somehow knew we’d become fast friends.
We met at a local coffee house, where I ordered a glass of wine and offered to treat her to one. “No, thanks,” she said, “I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
I’d met a few Alcoholics Anonymous members in my day, but Andrea was my first real AA friend. She was relaxed, confident and very interested in the lives of others. While a lot of people use a bit of alcohol as a social lubricant, Andrea was animated, sociable and lots of fun without booze.
In addition to being the life of the party, her intelligence, kindness and considerate nature always impressed me. She never judged or criticized and she always listened patiently to me, as if everything I said was interesting, which I can promise it was not.
About eight years into our friendship, I began to wonder what kept Andrea so steady, so evolved and filled with the sort of glow that comes with people of great spiritual enlightenment. She wasn’t particularly religious, but she had something in her nature I found quite appealing.
One day I asked her how it was she always maintained that steady glow. I came to find out what she had was serenity, and I definitely wanted some of that.
After I kept questioning her, she finally said, “I work a rigorous AA program and use the 12 steps as my moral compass.” I found myself almost wishing I was an alcoholic so I could join AA and get what she had.
She told me that some AA meetings were open, meaning that non-alcoholics could visit them without breaking any rules. I asked if I could attend an open meeting with her, and she said yes.
When I attended that first meeting, I marveled at the members’ ability to share with such brutal honesty. Former drunks were telling on themselves about what total losers they were when they were drinking. Some spoke of the hope, strength and recovery they got from attending AA meetings. Some were funny, some were heartbreakingly sad.
The variety of attendees astonished me. Sitting next to an unshaved man who looked homeless was an elegantly coiffed lady in diamonds, next to her a craggy cowboy, next to him a older guy in an Armani suit, next to him a young girl with tattoos and a million piercings.
During the meeting, my eyes wandered to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous printed on a large banner on the wall. They read:
1.) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2.) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3.) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4.) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5.) Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6.) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7.) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8.) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9.) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10.) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11.) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12.) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The steps seemed pretty darn sensible to me, but I found myself wondering how a lot of these people could find the fortitude to actually work the steps. After all, most of these people already were defective, I judged, so how could they possibly get their acts together well enough to apply these principles to their messed-up lives?
Then I looked over at my best friend Andrea and I knew the steps worked, because she was living proof of it. I felt a little embarrassed at my tendency to be so judgmental of others.
It was through Andrea I found Al-Anon, another 12-step program that was founded by Lois W., the wife of one of AA’s founders, Bill W.
Originally, I joined Al-Anon under the guise of “wanting to support my alcoholic best friend,” but after four years of membership I now can admit that my real reason for joining was a selfish desire to gain the kind of serenity Andrea had.
I eventually found serenity, but like a household or a pet it needs frequent attention to thrive. When I go to meetings, read the literature, talk to my peers in the program and work the steps, I maintain my serenity. When I don’t it starts to falter.
Andrea recently celebrated her 21st year of sobriety. She continues to work the 12 steps and attend AA meetings with the same fervor she did 21 years ago, when her life depended on it.
In AA and Al-Anon, they say to follow the three A’s: affection (thoughtfulness), attention (listening) and appreciation (gratitude). These three qualities were what attracted me to my friend Andrea when we met, what turned us into best friends, and what led me to my own quest for serenity.
If you or someone you care about has an interest in attending an AA or Al-Anon meeting, please call (210) 344-8981. Meetings are free and occur throughout the day and evening, seven days a week.
*not her real name
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