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I refer many clients to AA meetings. What happens there?

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Because I have referred hundreds of clients to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since 1991, I meant long ago to attend an AA meeting to see what my clients have to put up with, how much help AA might actually be, and what non-Christians, agnostics and atheists deal with surrounding the constant references to god at meetings and in AA’s Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and concluding meetings with hand-holding and with the Serenity Prayer and clearly Christian Lord’s Prayer.

I delayed attending for over two decades — therefore knowing why some of my clients delay, because it is not automatically inspiring for a non-alcoholic — and finally attended last week. Here is what I took from the experience, together with additional thoughts:

  • I often refer my DWI clients to do some documented AA meetings to possibly assist with case negotiations and any possible sentencing. I give them a sign-in sheet/court card for an AA meeting leader to sign or initial.
  • I attended an open AA meeting, which anyone may attend, even if not eligible for AA membership by being an alcoholic or wanting to stop drinking. Apparently, non-AA members are expected to observe rather than talk at meetings.
  • I am not an alcoholic, but see the wisdom in continuing my decade without a drop of alcohol (having consumed moderately in college and pretty much not more than a few annual drinks after law school started), at minimum because alcohol adds unnecessary calories and does not help the liver. After the meeting, I told a member why I attended, and that I ceased drinking alcohol ten years ago on my own. She said AA is essential for her to maintain sobriety.
  • A running theme at this AA meeting was that without AA, some believe they would be dead, and that alcohol makes drinkers avoid facing their problems.
  • I can see how my non-alcoholic clients can feel dragged down hearing alcoholics’ struggles. Then again, hearing of alcoholics’ struggles might lead people to be all the more responsible with their own alcohol use.
  • A member told me that this particular meeting was not the best example of a good meeting. He said he comes to this meeting to complete his court card and gets more benefit from his evening meeting and working with his AA sponsor. However, my not being an alcoholic nor in need of AA, I am not going to see his evening meeting that presumably is only for members, nor will I have an AA sponsor.
  • The AA meeting ended with the Serenity and Lord’s Prayers, holding hands. It works to end the meeting on time, but can alienate non-Christians. Smart Recovery (for live and phone meetings) and the smattering of agnostic AA groups are an alternative to the god- and Christian-saturated references at typical AA meetings. Traditional AA proponents will likely focus on the importance of giving into the higher power for recovery, but that higher power does not need to be theistic, let alone Christian.

After this meeting, I went to the bank. I usually get along very well with everyone at my bank, and this day was no different. However, this being my first destination after the AA meeting, I was reminded of the importance of treating everyone with compassion, starting with the bank teller. We never know what are their daily struggles, whether alcoholism, a death or serious illness in the family, the breakup of a relationship, financial struggles, and the list goes on.

RELATED LINK: Programs for my clients charged with DWI and drug offenses.