Alcoholics and a Coffee Pot

If you ever have the good fortune, as I have, to spend time at AA meetings, you will quickly learn that most of the pretense gets checked at the door. Sitting in the room on those grey metal folding chairs listening as each person speaks out their name and their struggle (without hesitation or excuse) levels a powerful jolt. In the circle sits high-octane surgeons, influential politicians, retirees on social security, wide-eyed college students, tenured professors, homeless men, stay-at-home moms, clergy. Desperation serves as the great equalizer.

In AA, you reckon with stark choices: lie and toss a match on your combustible life or tell it straight and move toward wholeness. There’s no secret sauce to AA’s impact, just a good dose of reality and a room of people courageous enough to face it head on. I once asked someone to explain to me the essentials for an AA meeting. “Just grab a couple alcoholics and your own coffee pot.”

I am not an alcoholic, but I love these spaces. Most of us spend so much of our energy trying to convince others of our power, success, skill or wit, it’s a beautiful and freeing thing to be in a room where the shared truth is how everyone believes that left to ourselves, the one thing we can count on is a fantastic train-wreck.

This conviction sits at the heart of Christian faith: we need help. Amazing then, isn’t it, how much effort we exert polishing our pristine image, how much anxiety we carry as we attempt to tamp down our distress or cover for the fact that we’re a bumbling mess. As St. Anne (Lamott) says, “My only hope and salvation is that I’m not left to my own devices, and to my own best thinking, and our collective best thinking…Botox is our best thinking, along with drones.” But we are not alone. God is with us, and help is near. We only need to be honest enough to admit we need it.

10 Replies to “Alcoholics and a Coffee Pot”

  1. I am have sat in these rooms. They are freeing and so much more honest and non-judgmental than my friends at church and I love my friends at church but we are afraid to be sinners in front of one another and still sit in the pews next to each other. Secrets. There are very few secrets in an AA meeting and yet we love one another and we love God. I know my friends in these meetings much more intimately than people and some family members than I have known for a lifetime.

  2. Sad that AA was started by Christian men who didn’t feel safe enough to share their pain at church, so they started an anonymous organization. The secret sauce is true community – listening to one another, unconditional support, compassion, empathy.. yep, sounds like how Jesus intended his Church to be.

  3. One of the most healing times in my life was when I was part of Al Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups. Thank you for reminding us about how vital being honest with ourselves and each other is. Thank you for the reminder that God is nearby despite our being a mess.

      1. I think I do have an essay about this. When I told my spiritual director I was an ACOA a light came on. My dad had quit drinking before I was born and volunteered as a board member of the Capital City Rescue Mission. He had to be on prescription drugs for bad knees. That summer I was given amazing insights that lead me directly to meeting and marrying Bruce. I had to learn some things about myself before I was ready for him.

  4. A common saying in AA is that “God brought me to AA, and AA brought me back to God.” In fact, it’s clearly stated early in the book that the purpose of the book is to help alcoholics find a higher power that can solve their problems. It’s a program built on Christianity, and in fact the Traditions of AA are perhaps even more consistent with Christian principles than what you might find in many churches. Bill Wilson’s writings were divinely inspired, in my opinion.

  5. I feel exactly the same way, Winn. I had to got to an open AA meeting as part of a class I took in seminary and I was blown away. It felt more like church than most churches – complete honesty, and complete hospitality.

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