On September 16th, I began the drive from Madison to Newberg, Oregon. Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Home. I was moving home for the first time in my adult life.
In over four years in Madison, there were times at which it felt like home. Many times, in fact. When I’d return to Madison after a trip, I’d think Home as the plane hit the tarmac. When I made the familiar drive from the airport to my house - which, In Madison, took me directly through downtown - nearly every place I’d pass (ok, they were mostly bars) held a memory. I unconsciously found myself feeling at home.
And then, it wasn’t home. Too many close people left. They left, and all that was left were my favorite car shop, AA, and the bars I don’t visit anymore.
The car shop, I hope, can be replaced. The bars don’t need to be. But I’ll be honest: After two weeks in a new state, I’m wondering about AA. I’m wondering if I took our meetings in Madison too much for granted.
Don’t get me wrong: It isn’t that hard to find a meeting here. There aren’t nearly as many as there were in Madison, but I can sit in a familiar chair and follow a mostly-familiar format without too much effort. I hadn’t realized, however, the extent to which I’d curated my AA experience in Madison. I attended meetings, women’s meetings when I could, attended by people I admired or at least with whom I could relate. When a meeting wasn’t working for me, I tried a different one. When I didn’t get what I needed, I’d shrug it off: There’s always another meeting. I had the luxury of being picky, and I took full advantage of it.
When I find myself sitting in a meeting and thinking This isn’t right for me, the wisdom of Madison AA is loud in my ears. That’s the disease talking. The disease wants you to feel “Other.” The disease thrives off isolation. Look for the similarities. A meeting is a meeting.
And it’s important to me to have role models. I want to see women with more time than me. It’s important that people know my story, including the part where it really isn’t much of a story. It’s important for me to know that the women around me have not only struggled with alcohol, but with body, relationships, self-worth. I want to be able to talk about it. At my last AA meeting in Madison, I shared my story at a women’s speaker meeting. I saw myself in every woman in the room. It wasn’t intimacy, not exactly, but it was understanding. Appreciation. I get you.
In a place like Newberg, where in many ways I feel at home, I unexpectedly feel like a fish out of water when it comes to AA. No, it won’t get me drunk, and no, I won’t stop going to meetings. I won’t stop searching for better fits, and I’ll never forget that a meeting is a meeting. Three and a half years of Madison AA taught me that.
On the bright side - truly, it’s so uncomfortable to criticize AA that my brain is racing towards the bright side - I know now how others have felt. People in smaller towns than mine have settled for fewer and farther-between meetings just to get a foothold on their own recovery. That isn’t to downplay my struggle - I don’t believe in doing that - but rather, to honor theirs. Recovery isn’t for people who need it, or even for people who want it. It’s for people who get it, and find the courage (or is it fear?) to hang on tight.