Have AA Meetings will Travel....

This piece was originally published on The Fix on 12/23/2015:

When I got sober, over a decade ago, one of the consistent things I would hear at meetings was, “and you can go anywhere, AA is everywhere”.  I didn’t really understand what that meant in early sobriety, especially since I got sober in San Diego, a touristy vacation spot for the masses.  We had people coming to our Fellowship on vacation and telling us where they were visiting from; New York, Chicago, Boston, Minnesota, Texas, etc, and since I was loving my new sober life in my yogini inspired beach town, I really didn’t have much reason to leave.

However, after being sober for a while, you get to experience a different kind of life, a sober life and with that comes freedom to go and do more – specifically TRAVEL.  In my first few months of sobriety the only place I traveled to was “back home” and for me that was suburban Philadelphia.   At six months sober, I was able to experience an AA meeting in my home town, and besides being nervous about who I’d see there, it became my refuge.  I felt welcome at the local clubhouse and yes, I saw some folks that I knew, but that was to be expected.  I mean, where else would these people end up?  If not in AA, then jails, death or institutions, right?  This fellowship welcomed me like my home group in San Diego did and to me that was such a blessing.  I didn’t know these people, but they were my tribe – they got me.  Since I would visit “home” a couple times a year this Fellowship soon became my second home and I got to know people and names and faces and I could run to these meetings and share what was happening with me and women gave me their phone numbers and I was able to forge new sober friendships and feel safe and accepted.

At nine months sober, I had my first real sober travel experience to Chicago.  It was for my brother’s wedding and I had really been stressing about this as it would be the first time I’d be at an event with my whole family sober.  Mind you they wouldn’t be sober, but I needed to be.  I was very uncomfortable during my visit there as I was seeing old friends, meeting new family members and being around alcohol.  I needed to make sure I found a meeting every day to go to. When I found out where the Hotel was in downtown Chicago, I soon went online to seek out a meeting.  Luckily, I found the local Mustard Seed fellowship and that became a haven for me.   They too were welcoming, inviting and helpful and I needed that security to safeguard my sobriety during that time.  I was so grateful for those meetings that weekend. 

Since my first year of sobriety, I’ve been able to go to many AA meetings in other places - Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, New York, San Francisco, New Jersey, Baltimore, Vegas, Arizona, New Orleans and Costa Rica, and that’s just to name a few places.  All had AA meetings for me to attend and all were exactly what I needed at that moment.  When I went to that meeting in Costa Rica, there was only one person there, but it didn’t matter.  He was an American who had retired in Costa Rica and had over 20 years clean and sober.  We had a mini meeting with just the three of us (my husband was with me) and he directed us to other local AA meetings where we could go and meet others.  He and I have kept in touch and he sends me a monthly newsletter that he sends out to local Costa Ricans.   

A few months ago we traveled all through California; from San Fran, down to Carmel and through Big Sur, down to Cambria and Santa Barbara and then back into the Fellowship where I got sober in Encinitas, California - and we hit meetings along the way and got to meet others that share our common bond.  In Santa Barbara, we attended a meeting that was in a converted old barn that sat on a 10 acre meditation retreat site. The speaker at that meeting had an impactful story and one that really touched me.  I was able to talk to him afterwards and offer him encouragement as he was nearing up on his one year anniversary.  His story touched me and that was one of the highlights for me during our vacation - attending other AA meetings, it makes my trip feel complete and whole and I get to feel connected with others.

During my time in sobriety, I’ve been able to travel more than I ever did before I got sober.  The freedom I have today is like no other and one of the best things about that freedom is that anywhere I travel to in the US, Europe, Mexico, Canada  -  anywhere   - I can always find an AA meeting and I can feel safe, secure, welcome and comfortable in my own skin.  In addition to finding AA meetings online, www.aa.org, there are dozens of apps that you can download to your smartphone that have local meetings, daily meditations, prayers and other local resources that are easy and quick to access. 

We are planning a trip next year to Italy and the thought of not being able to drink wine during this trip has entered my mind a few times, but I’m comforted by the fact that I’ll be able to find a meeting in Rome, Florence or Venice – and that my biggest challenge will be the language barrier.  But I’m pretty sure I’ll understand the message.  And that alone is a gift.

I have gone through rough times and challenges in sobriety and sometimes I wasn’t close to home to manage these obstacles and the fact that I always had a place to go to has made my recovery so much better.  I’m better for the enrichment of going to other meetings and hearing others share their experience, strength and hope.  It’s been able to get me out of my comfort zone and force me to talk to others.  Let’s face it as alcoholics we like to isolate and burrow and getting out to a meeting where I would know no one pushed me in ways I hadn’t even thought of.  It made me feel more secure in who I am.  These fellowships welcomed me as if I’m a newcomer, and I am, to them.  They make me feel like I’m okay, no matter what, and they make me want to keep coming back. 

Bob Weir, Bill Joel, what does it matter. They are all good!

So in the spirit of re-posting a blog that I previously shared this year, I thought I'd share my Bob Weir story on the heels of seeing Billy Joel last evening in NYC at Madison Square Garden. This was my 4th time seeing Mr BJ and he doesn't disappoint.  He put on a great show playing all of his hits from early years to more recent - he's a great showman and entertainer and it really was a New York state of mind kinda evening.  I was also very grateful that I was able to be sober and participate with my work colleagues and not feel awkward for not having a drink in my hand - I've come a long way from my early sober days of going to concerts where I was never comfortable in my own skin.  Its nice to have a few sober years under my belt and know where I am the next morning when I wake up!

So, here is my Bob Weir experience highlighting what my life used to be like.............

            Keep on Trucking.  I had been following the Grateful Dead, as much I could afford to, since 1986.  I wasn’t a true Dead Head since I bathed on a daily basis and didn’t live in a VW bus selling veggie burrito’s to support my marijuana and LSD habit.  I did, however, like to go to their concerts along the East Coast; New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C and anywhere else they played.  It was always a weekend event consisting of tailgating, drinking, tripping on LSD and listening to timeless and amazing music.  Me and my partner in crime had a huge crush on the bass player, Bob Weir.  Bobby would take the microphone to sing and we would scream up to him that we wanted to bear his children.  We had class.
            After Jerry (Garcia) died in 1995, I replaced my Dead shows with concerts of Bob Weir’s band, Ratdog, later called The Other Ones and the Dead.  Howard, an aging, balding and overweight hippie was friends with a former co-worker of mine.  We now had an inside track to the inner circle of Ratdog.  We were going to be able to meet the band before the show.  I could hardly contain my excitement.  I was going to meet my crush Bobby and this was sure to be the highlight of my entire existence (up until this point in my life)
            As we waited patiently outside the decaying concert hall, I felt a little stupid.  There were eight or nine of us waiting for Bobby to show up, and we looked like Pavlov’s dogs awaiting the bell that brought our reward.  Twenty-five minutes later an ominous black Range Rover pulled up to the rear stage door and four people got out.  There was Bobby.  I was nervous as hell and couldn’t stop staring at him.  He looked spaced out, but I wasn’t surprised to see that.  Here was a man who was a member of one of the most influential bands of all time and who participated in Ken Kesey’s infamous acid test.  He was God to a lot of people.  He quickly took Jerry’s place after his passing, and now he was standing dead center in front of me. 
            Meandering out of the car, Bobby looked worn and sleepy, with unruly hair, he wore a stretched out faded blue t-shirt and baggy jeans.  He resembled what an aging rock star should look like – an icon who had spent the past thirty years drinking, drugging and living life in a hurried world pleasing the masses. Bobby inched his way over to us, and Howard introduced us to Bobby.  I gingerly shook Bobby’s hand as I made eye contact with him and told him how great it was to meet him.  He didn’t hold eye contact with me at all and was looking over my shoulder.  I was disappointed.  Didn’t he know I was one of his biggest fans?  Didn’t he want to get to know me better? Ha!  Bobby soon became more attractive to me as a rock star singing on stage than he was as a real person.  He wasn’t present in the moment and seemed more like a mirage of who I thought he should be.  However, he’d obviously met hundreds of thousands of groupies in his time and this tiny connection with me was nothing.  Selfish, as I was, I thought I would at least get a smile out of him. 
            We were supplied with All Access VIP passes, and were able to follow the crew onto the stage and be part of the real inner circle.  I noticed a man carrying instruments and cables across the stage.  During the concert, I was granted access to the roped off soundboard area and could listen to the band directly through the headphones.  I was also granted access to the green room, which had a full bar and a buffet.  After the rollicking concert, I went back to the green room and hung out with the band and the crew.  Drinking a beer and making small talk with the band members, I weaved my way over to Bobby to listen to his conversation and see if he had any words of wisdom to extend to me. 
            I didn’t get a glance my way, so I bee-lined back to the bar and grabbed another beer.  I was feeling antsy and decided to take a seat on the plush green velvet couch.  I plopped down on the couch with a sigh, and within minutes Bobby came over and sat next to me.  Gulp.  I was sitting on a couch next to Bob Weir.  What did I do to get so lucky? A waft of smoke was coming from my left side, as a joint was being passed around the room. 
            Finally!  I was wondering when the drugs would come out.  When the joint passed over to Bobby, I was nervous and had made a conscious decision not to drink too much or smoke a lot of pot that evening.  Bobby took a toke and then haphazardly passed it over to me. 
            Are you fucking kidding me?  Bobby Weir is passing a joint to me?  I was mildly shaking when I grabbed the joint and took a long hard puff on it.  I was sharing Bobby’s saliva.  I was as high as one could be.  Soon after, the inner circle party was transported to Bobby’s suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Center City.  The festivities continued on in a palatial suite with other roadies and groupies.  The group was smoking pot and bottles of champagne, beer and wine littered the dark mahogany coffee table, strewn everywhere; some half full, others empty.  I drank it all in and was soon drinking what was available to me – anything I wanted.  Let the games begin
            Bobby was conversing with a band member in the next room where four hookers were also in attendance, making small talk, or whatever you’d like to call it, with the other band members.  I was dumbfounded that call girls were in attendance, but being na├»ve is a prime characteristic of mine.  It was quite the party and I soon befriend one of the roadies and let’s just say, along with that I was given two tickets and VIP passes to the concert in Atlantic City the next night.  I jetted back home in a taxi the following morning and was dizzy with my prior night’s experience.  I went to Atlantic City that night and took a friend of my brother’s, who is a huge Dead Head and indebted to me still.  Through the years when I attended Ratdog concerts, either in Pennsylvaniaor San Diego, I would seek our my roadie friend and he would remember me.  He normally gave me VIP passes and show tickets for other concerts.  It was nice to make friends with boys in the band. 

Loving the Unlovable.

This is an old post of mine, but one that for today really resonates with me. Hope you like it as well.

One of the first things I heard when I joined AA was “we will love you until you can learn to love yourself” I didn’t understood what that meant at first, but after getting some sober time it made sense to me. I came into AA broken, a shell of a person.  I was morally, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt (another saying we hear in AA).  It took a while for me to start feeling likable, and to start loving myself again.  It took even longer for me to be able to offer that love to someone else as I didn’t feel worthy of love when I was newly sober.  One of the greatest things about becoming sober has been the ability to love.  To fully love, unconditionally and openly.  Anytime someone new comes into an AA meeting I get a feeling of overwhelming love for them because I know the fear and hopelessness they feel.  We have all felt it.  It doesn’t matter if I’m going to befriend this person or even get to know them, what matters is that I have compassion for them and they are a walking mirror of courage.  No matter if they are from a park bench or Park Avenue, I understand how they feel.   To love someone unconditionally wasn’t something that happened to me overnight.  It took time, it took patience and it took understanding.  I’m grateful that I can love others in the rooms, as they all teach me something.  Sometimes its love and tolerance, sometimes its gratitude - especially if that person keeps relapsing.  The relapser teaches me willingness and to never give up.  They remind me that I never want to feel the way they are feeling at that moment.  It’s a little bit selfish for me to say that, but it’s the truth.  Their relapse is keeping it green for me and its making me remember.  They are keeping me sober and I’m grateful to them.  I can even love that pain in the ass person that shares far longer than he should spewing complete crap and slogans out the ying yang – yup; I gotta love that guy too.  Love and Tolerance is our code.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  isn’t that what everyone wants in the end, to feel loved? I have learned since I came into AA, over a decade ago, that God puts certain people in my life as my teachers and my biggest examples of who I want to be, and who I don’t want to be.   

Last year we moved to Florida, and for me it was my 4th move in sobriety.  I’ve moved around a lot, but moving in sobriety is like starting over, it’s like being a newcomer again.  This move to Florida was no different and I had to put myself out there and tell the Fellowship what was going on with me and open up again to someone.  I was able to get a new sponsor pretty early on and she was exactly what I needed.  God put her in my life for a reason and I felt like I knew her for years as I could tell her anything and everything and not feel judged.  She got me.

A couple months after I started working with my sponsor, she told me that we needed to come to an Agape Retreat. I had no idea what she was talking about and she told me that it’s kind of a subset of AA and it’s held at O’Leno State Park (near Gainesville) and that we had to go.   Since I’m not one to shy away from any weekend getaway, I was on board.   I had been to a few AA retreats back in California, (where I got sober), and I was more than happy to check it out.  I had never heard of Agape and had no idea what to expect.  What I found when we arrived at our first Agape retreat in January were camp cabins with no heat and bunk beds.  Mind you it’s Florida, but it was down to the mid 30s at night.  Not exactly the Hilton, but it wasn’t about the accommodations as I soon learned, it was about Agape and the posse.  We ended up staying in a cabin with heat and I was about to experience what true unconditional love was.  Without sharing too much about the Agape experience, I will just sum it up in a few sentences so you can understand it further.  It’s usually 50 people or so, all in recovery; or trying to be, as some may only have a few hours sober, or a few days clean.  Most come within a 200 mile radius of Gainesville and some of the posse has been coming to Agape for 20 years, like my sponsor, and some are newbies, like myself.   Unbeknownst to me, I quickly realized that everyone is there to get closer to God and to have an amazing spiritual experience with the group, as well as with themselves.  The level of raw, honest and “from the gut I need to dump this shit” sharing that occurs at these meetings are intense and there is usually a box of Kleenex making the rounds.  Most people in recovery aren’t in recovery for just alcohol; there is usually a drug of choice involved, as well as other outside issues that seep into our DNA.  These may include early childhood traumas, eating disorders, abusive relationships, sexual abuse and PTSD issues.  It’s not a whoopee party of joy, or ceramic ashtray making - what comes out of these Agape retreats is healing.  Extensive healing where you shed a layer of your damaged self and feel a little bit better for it.  No one in AA, or Agape, claim to be therapists of any type, but being with a crew of people that have experienced some of the same issues and all want to jump on the Ark to find a better way to live and feel OK seems to be more therapeutic than any medicine or treatment program that is out there.  Of course, this is all in my opinion and from my own experience.     

When you go online and look up the definition of Agape, this is one of the definitions you will find: 
“Agape is love, which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this: “God is love.” God does not merely love; He is love itself. Everything God does flows from His love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is His nature to love us, and He must be true to His nature and character.” 

Being unlovable and unlovely is what drove me to drink and drug.  I never felt like I was enough.  So when I go to Agape and hear the unlovable are lovable and that Agape love is forgiving and unconditional – why wouldn’t I want to be with a posse that embraces that.  Mind you, I get a decent amount of that love and acceptance from AA, but it’s different at Agape.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been – but basically, whatever the question, love is the answer.

My husband and I just came back from our second Agape weekend and look forward to attending the next one.  I’ve had people ask me, “What is Agape?” and like my sponsor told me, I just tell them, “It’s where the unlovable can feel loved and where the broken can be put back together, one piece at a time”.