Despite the most widely-known way of maintaining sobriety being ardent AA attendance, I’m surprised by how few of the sober people I talk to have actually had success with Alcoholics Anonymous. Most have tried it, but almost none have felt the need to stick with it. This could be for any number of reasons, including me just talking to the wrong people, but certainly my own experiences with AA weren’t anything hugely groundbreaking or inspiring; the whole “higher power” thing felt a bit preachy, and the general approach of sitting around with old men drinking coffee and talking about “feelings” (pffft) felt like it needed a bit of updating – if not only to appeal more to the younger booze-hounds. After all – the earlier people recognise a problem and get help, the less further down that path of destruction they will have traveled. In other words: The less fucked your Ford Fiesta is, the easier it will be to unfuck it. Especially if it’s a cylinder head gasket issue mate. Okay.
This blog isn’t about AA-bashing by the way. As with most of my blogs, it’s just a reflection of my own experiences. And let me tell you something! In the short time I attended AA meetings, I heard some pretty fucking cool stories. Allow me to impart…
My first experience of an AA meeting was a bit of a baptism of fire. I was making a habit of getting absolutely battered before each and every gig I played with my smelly band Petrol Bastard, and I became aware of a lovely friendly lass named Rose whose band was also playing the same Huddersfield / Leeds / Manchester gig circuit, and who openly talked on social media about her struggles with booze. We’d played some gigs together so I kind of knew her, and so I dropped her a message and said “Hey, I need help stopping this madness. Any ideas?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “Meet me in Manchester at 6pm. We’ll go for a coffee, and then I’ll take you to an AA meeting.”
Well, the meeting was right in the centre of Manchester in a small room underneath Manchester Cathedral, and let me tell you: it was a pretty fucking eye-opening experience. The room was tiny and a bit foisty, which reminded me of when I used to go to Salvation Army Sunday School in Heckmondwike as a kid, and the small space quickly became crammed full of Manchester’s finest drunks. The door was slammed shut, and one clear and unmistakable smell was left hanging in the air around us: booze.
Despite feeling initially apprehensive and uncomfortable – especially due to this huge drunk guy behind me who was heckling the poor chap running the meeting – I soon settled in and felt the warm glow that comes with hearing other people’s stories of alcohol struggles, and realising that you’re not alone in the shitstorm.
One particular lad had an amazing story, which has always stuck with me as a reminder of how much harder some people have it. This guy really had been dealt a shit hand in life, but fair play to him: he was there – sat in amongst all the other fuckups – trying to pull his life in a better direction.
This guy, lets call him Gary – a mid/late 20’s chav with an earing and a tracksuit – had been brought up on a Manchester council estate by his dad – a jobless waster of a father. Gary bravely described in detail, and with a trembling voice, how his dad had forced him to drink a mug of brandy on the night before his GCSE exams started – rendering him too battered to focus by the time he sat his first day of exams, and essentially ruining any chance Gary had of getting a good start in life. He walked away from school with no qualifications to show, and quickly got dragged into the world of petty crime and daily escapism – booze, heroin, coke, and whatever else he could lay his hands on.
Gary became well known to the local constabulary, and one evening was spotted by a copper in a parked squad car as he roared past in a stolen motor. Rather than giving chase, the officer radioed it in and they went to Gary’s house the next morning in the hope of catching him off guard. No one answered the door, so the police went around to the back of the house and started looking in through the windows for signs of the chavvy scamp.
What they actually found wasn’t Gary – he was still out somewhere getting fucked up with his mates. Instead they looked through the window to see Gary’s dad laying sparko on the kitchen floor, purple faced and non-respondent despite the police officers yelling and banging on the window. Worried for the old guy’s health the coppers requested an ambulance and broke down the back door, discovering that the sweaty codger was choking on his own tongue. Turns out he was a serious alcoholic, and had blacked out in the middle of a morning stupor. The guy was minutes from choking to death when they found him – but survived to drink another day thanks to the boys in blue.
From that point onward there was a shift in the way that Gary’s dad looked at his son. No longer did he simply support and encourage his waster son’s degenerate lifestyle. He now CHAMPIONED it. He was PROUD.
“My son!” he’d proudly recount at the local pub. “If I hadn’t helped him to fail his exams then he wouldn’t be stealing cars, and if he wasn’t stealing cars then the pigs would have never found me and saved my life. Here’s to my son! Keep stealing cars our Gary!”
And with a father like that, who needs enemies, right?
Gary was proud to be able to sit there, on that cold rainy night in Manchester, and tell the whole room that his dad was a fucking idiot who he no longer spoke to. Here was Gary, 6 months sober and making a new life for himself, and truly taking a huge scary step away from the life that he knew. What a dude, and what an inspiration.
Getting the train home after that first meeting I had mixed feelings. I loved hearing the stories, but I wasn’t sold on the idea that AA would be my saviour. The good news, though, was that thanks to Rose I now knew how these meetings worked. With my first meeting under my belt I was happy to look up meetings closer to home, and promptly decided to get along to the next Huddersfield AA sesh – this time in the loft area of a church annex building just a 2 minute drive from my house. Two days later I rocked up for the first time, said a few awkward hellos, and took my seat in the big circle.
The Huddersfield meeting felt much less vitriolic than my experience in Manchester. There were probably only 20 people – around half of the Manchester numbers – and no one turned up drunk. Also the general age of attendees seemed a bit higher. These are all factors possibly borne of it being a meeting on the outskirts of a small town, rather than in the middle of a bustling city.
I probably attended ten Huddersfield AA meetings in total, each one leaving me feeling like a bit of an outsider. There was one really nice guy who had made an effort to talk to me each week, but aside from that it felt like a well-established club which I was struggling to be accepted into. Everyone knew each other, and they all seemed a little bit too comfortable with the God stuff. I dreaded the bit where we all had to hold hands and chant the serenity prayer, although I can’t deny that it carries a good message:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Basically, don’t sweat the stuff you can’t do anything about. Here’s my own version:
Dickhead! There’s no point looking at Ferraris if you don’t have any fucking money. Just get Dodgy Barry to fix the gearbox on your shitty Fiesta and stop being a little bitch.
I like to think that my version carries a truth that will connect with the younger generation. I’ll be remembered as a poet; a true visionary that saved the lives of millions with his crap Fiesta analogies.
Anyway. As with the Manchester meeting, it was the stories told at the Huddersfield meetings which kept me coming back. I felt like a bit of a fraud, like Jack in Fight Club going to cancer support group meetings despite not actually being afflicted. I was attending the meetings, but only because they were amusing me. It wasn’t long before I stopped showing up, and returned to my weekends of Lambrini Carnage (great name for a band?).
One of the regulars at the Huddersfield meetings was a really quiet, sweetly spoken old man whose working life had been spent as a school teacher. My memory is sketchy, but from what I remember of his story, it had really touched and saddened me. The poor guy had got to a point in his alcoholism where he was carrying bottles of vodka in his car boot, and hiding them at home from his wife. He couldn’t cope without a drink. It wasn’t long before his wife left him through his drinking problems, and then he lost his teaching job after his secret vodka stash was found hidden in his classroom. He’d been drinking during classes, popping into his storeroom every few minutes for another swig. This was the last straw for his son and daughter who then chose to disown him, and at the point that he was recounting this tale to the group – a good 2 years into sobriety – he’d still not been able to win them back around. This poor guy had lost EVERYTHING to drink.
And yet, after hearing this heart-wrenching story, I still dived merrily back off the wagon… head first into another round of booze, paranoia, and bad decisions…
Everyone has a different reason for drinking, and a different way of stopping. I can’t help but applaud those that work within the confines of an AA structured recovery programme. AA is a great thing, and has helped hundreds of thousands of people get to grips with a habit that was tearing them apart.
But for me, as I’ve said countless times in this blog, there was a clear tipping point. Once the scales tipped from FUN to HORRIBLE I knew I had to quit, and no amount of meetings in church basements is going to help that decision. I’m done – it’s that simple.
To coin a final Fiesta analogy: If the wheels off your XR2 have been nicked then there’s probably not much point upgrading the brakes, dickhead. It’s already not going anywhere.
My drinking wheels have gone, and so I don’t really need the extra safety of new brake pads. Something like that. I’ve not really thought this through.
If you’re struggling to stop drinking, and nothing is working, then get to an AA meeting. You never know – it might be just what you need…
…and if not – you’ll probably get to hear some fucking cool stories.
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