I am currently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Living in Santa Monica, I believe I am blessed with one of the strongest recovering communities in the world. West Los Angeles is full of people of all ages and nationalities, from parents to their children, from homeless heroin addicts to soccer moms. It is a beautiful thing, yet traveling to Northern California has changed my perspective.PLEASE NOTE: When I speak of the differences between Alcoholics Anonymous in my small Northern Californian town and West Los Angeles, I in no way intend to play favorites. I also do not mean to encourage anyone to look at differences rather than similarities. I will, of course, also be discussing the similarities.
One difference I have noticed between groups in the two areas is the amount of willingness. In Northern California, twelve-step groups are not near as abundant as in LA. It seems that for the most part, meetings up north are very serious. Alcoholism is seen for what it truly is: a life-threatening illness that takes CONSTANT work to overcome. With the abundance of meetings in West Los Angeles, there seem to be many “potential alcoholics.” It does not bother me either way. Rather, it is just an observation I noticed. I find that for myself, I choose who I surround myself with regardless of where I am. Everyone works their program in their own way, and no matter where I am, I surround myself with people who also choose to work constantly on their sobriety.
The other difference that is apparent to me is the energy in the rooms. Again, I do not think one or the other way is better. In Southern California, many meetings are full of life, hugging, and laughter. Before and after the meeting, people stick around to chat and have a good time. In Northern California, the fellowship focuses more on sobriety than fun. Of course, there are conventions and young people committees, but fellowship after meetings is a bit more “old school.”
The point of this post is not to focus on the differences! I am astounded by the unity of Alcoholics Anonymous. No matter where I go to meetings, the same Twelve Steps are hanging on the wall next to the same Twelve Traditions. When I show up at a meeting up here and identify as an out-of-town visitor, I am welcomed by handshakes and introductions all around. After the meeting, I am bombarded by phone numbers and conversation offers. I see people do this as well in Southern California.
I do not voluntarily share at meetings when I am visiting. If called on, I never decline. My reason for this is that as a visitor, I hope to learn about the program. If asked to share, I believe it is my Higher Power’s will that I share with these strangers.
The thing that absolutely blows my mind is that I can show up at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and not know anyone, but by the time I leave, I have found a new group of true friends. “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. I show up with tattoos, piercings, and a tie-dye tank-top in a room full of men and women my parents’ age or older. I am welcomed by hugs and warm introductions.
The beginning of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about our diversity by saying, “We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.” I sit at meetings with thugs, businessmen and women, hippies, gothics, pilots, doctors, soccer moms, celebrities, professors, and an infinite number of others. When I was using, anyone older than me was seen as “the authority” and therefore shunned. Anybody that didn’t believe what I believed was worthless as well. Today, I am connected DEEPLY with people that I would have never even talked to before.
No matter where I go to meetings, I am thoroughly impressed by the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. Everywhere I go, I am welcomed and loved. Everywhere I go, I welcome and love. I see the value in identifying as an out of towner and being welcomed. When I return home with my newfound appreciation for those who reach their hands out, I will do everything I can to make them feel welcomed!