I was a young man sitting in the back of a church basement. There were people in the room who were smiling and happy. There were signs on the wall with little catchy slogans. One of which said, “Think, Think, Think” and opposite of this sign was another that read, “Don’t Think, Don’t Drink, Go To Meetings.” A few people walked over to say hello and introduce themselves. They told me their name and asked mine. I was reserved though. I was unsure why I was here. My suspicions led me to believe this was more like a cult and less than a self-help model.
The terms Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) were not new to me. At least not anymore. Previously, my best summation of the terms was that alcoholics drink and the word, “Anonymous,” meant that no one told anyone about it. At best, I figured this is where people went to learn how to drink — and, I suppose that I envisioned a sad room where old men with beards sat at round tables on hard, uncomfortable chairs. I pictured overflowing ashtrays in the center of the tables, filthy, with piles of mashed cigarette butts and curls of cigarette smoke lifting to the ceilings of dimly lit rooms. I pictured this would be a place that was sick with the smell of whiskey and drunks. I also figured this is where alcoholics were limited to, like a punishment; therefore, they were condemned here to drag out the rest of their pathetic lives, sitting at these round tables with empty shot glasses in front of them that contained the remnants of their drinks summed up like a tiny pool of lonely depression at the bottom of the glass.
In fact, I swore Alcoholics Anonymous was a place where drunks went to drink. And since they were incapable of drinking anyplace else, this is where they drank and drowned themselves, one shot at a time.
I learned that I was mistaken about this. I learned that there was more to the plan than a tired little room, sectioned away from the world and drunk. I was not sold on the idea of personal transformation and yet, when I was faced with my first meeting, I quickly learned that A.A. was more than what I assumed. I was in treatment facilities and sent to in-house meetings, which was the same thing only there was no one from the outside world allowed to come in. However, as far as I was concerned, treatment facilities were a business. This meant money. This meant that at the top of the heap, there was someone counting their millions and at the bottom, there was someone like me, paying to find a cure to an inner voice that would not sit still.
There was all this talk about how to live and how to handle “Life on life’s terms.” There were steps and principles, which we were told to practice in all of our affairs. There was a language to which I started to understand and become indoctrinated with. The talk was good but yet, there was something unrealistic about this language that didn’t make sense to me.
The thought of not having a drink ever again, not one, and not once was intimidating. None of this made sense to me. The idea that I could be happy without ever experiencing a high or experimenting with a new substance made no sense, nor did I believe something like this was true or even possible. Besides, who could live this way? This is why I did not believe in the program. I did not believe in sobriety or their catchy little slogans.
At the close of these meetings, people circled around the room and held hands. They said the Serenity Prayer followed by a chant, “It works if you work it. You’re worth it. “
I thought to myself, “It works if you work it, my ass!”
None of this seemed real.
My first meeting that was not in a treatment facility was somewhere in upstate New York. There was a big crowd of all different types of people. They all spoke similarly and used the same terminologies to express their gratitude. At one point, a speaker told his story. At another point, a man stood up and said “We have no dues or fees but we do pass the basket.”
“Ah-ha!” I thought to myself.
“I see it now.”
“It’s a scam!”
I thought about all of the high-paid evangelists on television. This was how they made their money. A.A. was nothing more than another scam and somewhere was a house with a man counting his money and getting rich because of drunks like me.
Again, I was wrong . . .
I began to learn more about the program. I learned more about the slogans and why people spoke the same way. I learned about the benefit of a support crowd and how the ideas of many can change the ideas of one person in particular; namely, me, for example.
My concept of life was much different. I swore that drinking was as American as apple pie. And perhaps it is because drinking beer has been a longtime culture and tradition. This goes back for generations. We come from this. We come from excess.
Is something wrong?
Is something bothering you?
Okay. So, let’s sit down and have a drink. We’ll talk about it.
Say, did I just hear you earned a promotion?
Let’s go out and celebrate!
I’ll meet you at P.J.’s on 54th Street after work.
Or wait, how about this:
I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Your brother was a good man. Let’s raise our glasses and have a toast.
To Jacob! Gone, but not forgotten. Cheers!
In order for me to change my culture and traditions, I had to believe that other cultures and lifestyles were not only real but possible. Otherwise, so long as there was a connection to my old customs, I would always respond according to my old ways of living.
If I was wearing a red shirt and people repeatedly came up to me and said, “Hey, I like your black shirt,” I would never believe them. I know that my shirt is red. But more and more, people would compliment my shirt and refer to it as a “Black” shirt. Eventually, I would start to question my version of red. In a sense, this is what happened to me.
I began to look at myself differently; hence, this is why the language people used was the same, to steer us in the direction of change. I began to question my ideas and challenge my assumptions. The reason why they claim that “Meeting makers make it” is simple. The more you live in the solution, the less one lives in the problem. And, the more you indoctrinate yourself with the language of change, the easier it is to change your belief system.
I am not sure when the grand change took place. I am not sure if there was a huge, spiritual awakening. More than anything, what happened was that a miracle came along. I call this the miracle of the crowd. I found out that when I was around sober-like people, I began to think like a sober-like person. However, when I drifted or ran off and allowed myself to sink into old habits or old routines, I forgot about the lessons I learned and started to believe that happiness was an impossibility. Put simply, this is how we fall back into old habits. The spirit and strength of the crowd has an amazing ability to influence our belief system. Believe that you can change and any change is possible.
For the record, this trip started more than 30 years ago and somehow, I’m still here and yes, I still believe in my ways of living.
I post this story to provide a quick little road map to group success. I post this here to not only expose a truth about myself, which in the stigmas of the world (especially in the business world) is decidedly a no-no. However, the reason I explain this is because first, I want to remind us that we are all human. Secondly, we now find ourselves at an impasse. We are trying to find new ways to build return-to-work programs. We are trying to help rebuild our economy after the pandemic shook us to our knees.
We have to create the change or, as I like to say we have to “Be the Better and Embrace the Culture.”
I am not suggesting that everyone go out and join an A.A. meeting. However, I am offering a quick theory to successfully regroup and create a new belief system.
The strength of the crowd is empowering. Therefore, if we build the models and allow support teams to help encourage uncomfortable workers and friends, perhaps this might build a new movement that teaches us to rebuild ourselves in the workplace. Understand?
Back when I was at my worst, I swore that there was no hope. An old man used to tell me “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”
One day, I was enraged by this.
We were all alone. I screamed back, “And when the hell is this miracle supposed to happen?”
“I’ve been coming to these goddamned meetings all the time!
The old man was whitehaired and very kind. He would always smile and offer a little helpful notion or some quick little slogan that taught people how to be better.
“How long do you have now?” asked the old man. His smile disappeared to a more genuinely concerned facial expression. He showed a gentle side of emotion to me and his blue eyes were almost like crystals; as if his eyes were welling with tears.
“I almost have 90 days,” I said to him
“There was a time that you couldn’t go 90 minutes,” he said.
“That sounds like a miracle to me.”
The old man was right.
I broke down with tears because for the first time, I realized and understood; it was my belief system that held me back. I had to learn how to believe again.
If we want to create our return to normal, we have to encourage the belief system. We have to believe this is possible and address the way we see things. We have to believe that if we do choose to “Be the Better and Embrace the Culture,” that this will work far beyond our dreams.
We have to build our rebuild but more than anything, we have to believe this is possible.
Otherwise, what’s the point?