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.