Early on a cold Sunday evening, cars file into the long parking lot at 2850 Wrondel Way and stop before No. J—the last business office in this well-worn one-story office building. A small group gathers on the sidewalk around the entrance, which is marked with a blue AA inside a circle, smoking cigarettes before the start of the 7 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
A small, dimly lit and cluttered foyer leads to the meeting hall, which is a square room, painted in a faded coffee brown with nine tables arranged in a circle and couches lining the walls. A small chandelier hangs from the center of the room. It doesn’t light, though it’s wrapped in Christmas lights. The smell of coffee is heavy in the air. The room is full, and people occupy every table and sit on the surrounding couches when the secretary rings a large bell to signify the beginning of the meeting.
A standard dialog is used whenever anyone speaks at an AA meeting, that person begins by stating their first name and that they are an alcoholic, then everyone present greets them by name.
Example: “My name is John, and I’m an alcoholic.” “Hello, John!”
The secretary stands after ringing the bell and introduces him or herself, and the room choruses a greeting. The secretary begins the meeting by welcoming everyone to the Cornerstone “no bullshit” meeting of AA, then reads a prepared introduction. This ritualistic speech explains what AA is about; stating first that there are no dues or fees to be a member, there is no affiliation with any other groups and that AA will not be included in any outside controversies. The purpose of the meeting is strictly to help people overcome their addiction to alcohol.
The speaker continues explaining how AA works, the focus of this speech is about a person’s capacity to be honest and is punctuated with the reasons that this program does not work for everyone. A moment of silence is held for “the alcoholic that still suffers,” then the secretary calls on different attendees to read the “Twelve Steps,” the “Twelve Traditions,” and the “Twelve Promises.”
One unique aspect to 12-step programs is their inclusiveness, the use of the word “we” identifies everyone present as a part of the goals that AA sets in defense of the struggles against alcohol. The goal is not perfection, but is based on the principle of growth as a person. God is included in this idea of growth, but the identity of that God is based on each person’s personal choice.
The secretary invites an opening speaker to share about their life and struggles then asks that person to choose a topic for everyone to speak on. After discussing their life, the opening speaker chooses the first step of AA as a topic, which is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” People then volunteer to speak on this topic with an astonishing barefaced truth about their lives. Honesty appears to be each person’s supplication for strength to overcome their troubles, and some are nearly reduced to tears while they speak.
The torched is passed to most of the people through the room as they confide to strangers about their life, until 8:30 p.m. arrives and the meeting is closed with everyone joining hands and reciting the Lords Prayer and then chanting a brief slogan, “Keep coming back, it works.”