off the clock iStock_men+umbrellas

It started out innocently enough.  I just wanted to check out the acoustics in a workshop room I’ll be renting in August. The venue manager said there was a PUBLIC event Sunday. I could just slip in the back.  So at 7pm I parked at Fort Mason; a converted military base, creatively re-imagined as a thriving arts and conference center—on the San Francisco waterfront. I took a seat. The room filled up with about 100 people.

Suddenly I realized I was at an AA Meeting.

Whoa. Alcoholics Anonymous!  Right time. Wrong place.  What to do? Maybe if I keep my head down, no one will approach.  It’s only an hour meeting. Yes, head down and no one will know that I've never been a drinker. No judgment. I'm fine with other people drinking. I have no opinion on the subject. Never think of drinking. I live in the epicenter of the Wine Country--and forget to order wine.

The head-down ruse didn't work. AA people are UBER-friendly about introducing themselves--and they could smell a newbie a mile away. People rushed up to me, full of genuine concern for our shared drinking problem. They wanted to know, "Where do you usually go to meetings? How long have you been sober?” When I said it was my first time at ANY Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the word spread like wildfire. Many more came to shake my hand, welcome me to the fold, and help me "open up about my drinking."

Oh I was in deep now.  I tried to steer conversation to anything BUT drinking. Then I realized it made me sound like an alcoholic avoiding her problem.

It was a friggin' Saturday Night Live skit.

Ever Wonder What Goes On at an AA meeting? It was a love fest. That’s what.

People love these meetings. They consider AA a lifeline—brilliant in its powerful simplicity. They relish that there is only one Star Trekkian Prime Directive: A sincere commitment to quit drinking—no matter how many times you fall off the wagon—and give it up to God.  Several reveled in calling themselves anarchists, though I suspect many just liked thinking of themselves as free spirits…anti-authority…good time Charlies.

Many Things Surprised Me

  • People looked…well…so regular. There were a gaggle of hot 20-something girls in cool boots.  There were cheeky, playful men of all ages jostling around with each other—respectful of the lifeline AA has extended.
  • So many people reported sobriety for 5 years…10 years…20 years.
  • And for you single ladies:  ¾ of the room were men. Forget Match.com, the gym or your mother’s fix-up.  Open your mind. I’m jes sayin’.
The audience stood up to share with ALL THE LIGHTS OFF. It was restful…soothing. The calming darkness lifted the shy to speak up.  And just like every Made-for-TV Hallmark special you’ve seen, they really do stand and declare, "Hi I'm Bob. I'm an alcoholic.”

I feared they’d call on me and I'd have to say, "Hi I'm Marianne. I drink water with lemon."

When the hour was up I ran out. One last well-wisher tried to wave me back in with, "Are you sure you don’t want me to introduce you to others?” I came to check acoustics and got more than I bargained for.  A sure bet sniffing around San Francisco off-the-clock.

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