AA Grapevine: Who’s Sitting Next to You?

By Fran D. 

I know who you are. You are “X” who attends the “ABC Meeting” at the “XYZ Club” where AAs meet in Anywhere, U.S.A.

I saw you there the other night at the eight o’clock meeting. I don’t know how long you’ve been sober, but I know you’ve been coming around for a while because you spoke to a lot of people who knew you.

I wasn’t one of them.

You don’t know who I am. I wandered into your meeting place alone the other night, a stranger in a strange town. I got a cup of coffee, paid for it, and sat down by myself.

You didn’t speak to me.

Oh, you saw me. You glanced my way, but you didn’t recognize me, so you quickly averted your eyes and sought out a familiar face.

I sat there through the meeting.

It was okay–a slightly different format but basically the same kind of meeting as I attend at home.

The topic was gratitude. You and your friends spoke about how much AA means to you. You talked about the camaraderie in your meeting place. You said how much the people there had helped you when you first came through the doors–how they extended the hand of friendship to make you feel welcome, and asked you to come back.

And I wondered where they had gone, those nice people who made your entrance so easy and so comfortable.

You talked about how the newcomer is the life’s blood of AA. I agree, but I didn’t say so. In fact, I didn’t share in your meeting. I signed my name in the book that was passed around, but the chairperson didn’t refer to it. He only called on those people in the room whom he knew.

So who am I? You don’t know, because you didn’t bother to find out. Although yours was a closed meeting, you didn’t even ask if I belonged there.

It might have been my first meeting. I could have been full of fear and distrust, knowing AA wouldn’t work any better than anything else I’d tried, and I would have left convinced that I was right.

I might have been suicidal, grasping at one last straw, hoping someone would reach out and pull me from the pit of loathing and self-pity from which, by myself, I could find no escape.

I might have been a student with a tape recorder in my pocket, assigned to write a paper on how AA works–someone who shouldn’t have been permitted to sit there at all but could have been directed to an open meeting to learn what I needed to know.

Or I could have been sent by the courts, wanting to know more, but afraid to ask.

It happens that I was none of the above.

I’m just an ordinary drunk with a few years of sober living in AA who was traveling and was in need of a meeting.

My only problem that night was that I’d been alone with my own mind too long. I just needed to touch base with my AA family.

I know from past experience that I could have walked into your meeting place smiling, stuck out my hand to the first person I saw and said, “Hi. My name is —-. I’m an alcoholic from —-.”

If I had felt like doing that, I probably would have been warmly welcomed. You would have asked me if I knew “Old So-and-so” from my state, or you might have shared a part of your drunkalog that occurred in my part of the country.

Why didn’t I? HALT. I was hungry, lonely, and tired. (The only thing missing was angry, and three out of four isn’t a good place for me to be.)

So I sat silently through your meeting, and when it was over I watched enviously as all of you gathered in small groups, talking to one another the same way we do in my home town.

You and some of your friends were planning a meeting after the meeting at a nearby coffee shop. By this time I had been silent too long to reach out to you. I stopped by the bulletin board to read the notices there, kind of hanging around without being too obvious, hoping you might ask if I wanted to join you, but you didn’t.

As I walked slowly across the parking lot to my car with the out-of-state license plates you looked my way again. Our eyes met briefly and I mustered a smile. Again, you looked away.

I buckled my seat belt, started the car, and drove to the motel where I was staying.

As I lay in my bed waiting for sleep to come I made a gratitude list. You were on it, along with your friends at the meeting place. I knew that you were there for me, and that I needed you far more than you needed me. I knew that if I had needed help, and had asked for it, you would have gladly given it. But I wondered. . .what if I hadn’t been able to ask?

I know who you are.

Do you remember me?


Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (March,1991). Reprinted with permission.

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  1. ken March 25, 2019 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    I have really enjoyed reading the article and comments.  Very thought provoking for me.  I have been sober a long time in AA and still do meetings, because AA gave me a life in the real world where people do not want to hear me talk about my alcoholism.  I have a hard time being more friendly to the newer people, because I am by nature an introvert and I think many newer folks want some time to check out AA to see if it is a good fit for them and want to be left alone.  Also, many people at the meetings are forced into AA or belong in other 12 step programs.  I can give the newer folks a few words of encouragement and then be quiet.

  2. Pat N. December 17, 2015 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Excellent reminder, Fran, and well-written. It certainly made me regret the times I haven’t made a conscious effort to reach out at a meeting. I’m trying to remember weekly to show up a few minutes early (I only go twice a week to meetings), because new, traveling,  and mandated people are apt to be early-many of us old hands saunter in exactly as the meeting starts, or later. Ours is a big room, with a long table and other seats around the periphery of the room. The shy, new, and resentful folks tend to sit as far out as possible, so they’re easy to spot. None has yet refused to shake my hand or chat. In fact, they usually look grateful.

    I absolutely believe it’s the warmth and welcome shown at the first meeting (and the laughter) that brought me back for a second one.

  3. Fred S December 16, 2015 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    This article made me think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The theory is that we must satisfy our needs on one level before we can turn our attention to the next level.  The levels are first physiological, then safety, then social, then esteem, and finally self-actualization.  So, for example, the physiological need for air will supercede anything else.  Food, water, sleep, excretion… these make up the first level.  With those satisfied, we turn our attention to satisfying our safety needs: health, possessions, employment, resources, etc.  After that comes social: friendship, family, sexual intimacy.  Next is respect for ourselves, respect for others, confidence, achievement.  And then self-actualization: morality, creativity, problem-solving, acceptance of facts.

    So I was thinking, “What would prevent an established AA member from greeting a stranger?”  Most likely, it doesn’t even occur to them to do so, because they’re focused on themselves, on satisfying their needs.  Maybe they don’t have a job and finances are tight, and they’re worrying over that.  Maybe the family has split over their drinking and that has them preoccupied.  Association with the friends at AA is, to some extent, satisfying the social need; but even there they are on the receiving end, taking care of themselves rather than looking out for others.

    Probably a nudge, a reminder, would be all that is needed to stir them to action.  And that is what you have provided with your article.  Thank you!

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

    • John S December 16, 2015 at 5:17 pm Reply

      That’s a good point Fred. I know for sure during my first few months, I wasn’t in the shape to enthusiastically greet newcomers like I can today. I was on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      Also, one thing I noticed about myself anyway. I am much more outgoing and welcoming to the newcomer after helping start a group than I was at my old home group, and I think the reason may be that I feel more vested in my group today than I did my old home group. That’s been good for me too because I am by and large an introverted person, but I love to see a newcomer to our group and I overcome my introverted nature quite easily to greet them.

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