When I started working for a rehab clinic, about 5 years ago, I had no idea that addiction was such an interesting subject. Every day I learn something new. I also found that going to AA meetings was a great way to learn about alcoholism and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
But it's not easy to just show up on your own and most of my colleagues haven't actually done it. This contributor to the BMA's blog wrote: "It is the rare newcomer to an AA meeting who is not at least inwardly quaking in his boots."
But Silvana faced her fears and went to an AA meeting in Frankfurt.
Silvana Prodan is from the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. She started working with us as a volunteer, then went to Dijon University, where she translated our site into French, and now she works at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. She knows loads of foreign langauages and also has a blog where she writes honestly about the people she meets -- upsetting some of them in the process.
Silvana sent me an email that described her fears -- which I am sure are shared by many people.
This is what she wrote:
I knew that AA hold "open" meetings when anyone could come, and "closed" meetings that are only for themselves
But I was beset by anxieties:
How should I dress? Will they be scruffy or smart? Will they stare at me and judge me? Should I go in if I arrive late? Will I be allowed in if I have a hangover? (I have a hangover!) Will they expect me to talk about my problems? How will I find the location?
I eventually faced up to my fears.
When I arrived at the address I saw an open door with a small, blue "AA" sticker on it. But it was a big building with many floors. How would I find the right room? I assumed it would be in the basement but it was deserted. I then went up the stairs to the first floor where I saw an open door and heard voices. I swallowed my anxiety and went in.
The meeting room was very plain. It had big windows and was covered in posters, some of which described the 12 steps, while others had inspirational quotes such as "Think. Think. Think."
A group of people were sitting at a round table - none of whom stared at me. Various topics were discussed and only those people who wanted to discuss their problems did so. I was relieved that they didn't ask me to "share" at the beginning. Then, someone asked if there were people in the room who were there for the first time. No one turned in my direction.
My fears disappeared and, before I knew it, I was telling everyone at the table about myself, my fears about addiction and even about Castle Craig.
I started to realise that it was better to be in a roomful of people who don't judge you than in a bar, and maybe not remembering what you had said the following day. For alcoholics, AA meetings help them to regain their confidence and gives them an opportunity to make new friends.
During the meeting people didn't describe a perfect life after alcohol. Some of them were still struggling with alcohol and even the sober ones don't lead a perfect life. Everyone shared their problems and described their way of dealing with them. I got the feeling that there is a solution to every problem and that pride is perhaps the main reason for not giving it a chance.
At the end medals were awarded for those who hadn't drank, for periods of time ranging from 30 years to one day. I would have loved to ask for a 24-hours medal, as a reminder of the meeting, but my headache reminded me of the hangover.
I came to the conclusion that people attending AA meetings are just like you and me. They don't want to stand out, or to be stared at, so why would they stare at me? They dress casually, sometimes arrive late and some even come with a hangover. The only requirement is "the desire to stop drinking" and the best thing about it is that nobody judges you.
The only thing I lost was an hour of my life.