Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

In California, to complete your AB-541 or AB-1353 class you’ll have to do either 6, or 19 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, respectively. This is just another entry into the long list of things they don’t tell you.

When I was seeking out an alcohol class the person mentioned being required to do 10 AA meetings. Naturally I called 3 other classes and asked if they required AA meetings. I just didn’t want to do them if I didn’t have to. The last person told me it was a state requirement. Never in the process had I been told about this by the court, or my lawyer. It was not a pleasant blindslide.

The AA website is terrible for giving details about where and when meetings are. I found some with conflicting start times, but you should be able to find a resource in your area to help you find some. AA is a popular organization, there’s meetings all over, and should be available in a variety of settings. If you’re in a populated area there should be a meeting any time from the early morning to late night, any day of the week. Those who commit to the program do a 30 and 30 - 30 meetings in 30 days, so there should be something to fit into your schedule.

AA is a loose organization - so meetings are very different. It may take you a while to find a meeting that works with your schedule, meets near you, and that you enjoy. The last part is the most crucial. Fortunately, I found a kind and understanding meeting near me first time. I tried another one (I tried to buck the system by going to a meditation AA meeting hoping that I could just zone for an hour and have it count. No, it’s an hour of meditation,
then the hour long meeting). But take how they treat you and others into consideration - you should not be forced to speak, or share. I know I certainly didn’t want to. You should not be made to feel bad for still drinking - AA is open to anyone who wants to learn about stopping as well as those who have stopped. Even those with multiple year chips will tell you how they hate what they call “AA Nazis”.

Like DMV classes you can only go to one AA meeting a week and have it count. You are, of course, welcome to go to more, but they will only be for your own enrichment.

AA, like the DMV classes, is daunting when you first attend, and then not a big deal once you get into the groove of things. There’s the reading of certain passages from the AA handbook, then usually somebody sharing their experience or a speaker. Part of this is counterproductive. After I got my DUI I, like anyone else, started to wonder if I had a problem, if I drank too much, if I was an alcoholic. After I heard the stories from these people, I felt that I was a moderate drinker who just made a bad decision. The stories that you hear are awful. They’ll stick with you. What they like to say is that even if it doesn’t make you quit drinking, it will affect your drinking. Pretty true.

Once the meeting is over you’ll give your card to either the secretary of the meeting or the speaker depending how they do it. They call it the “nudge from the judge” and should not give you any grief over it. Even if you make it clear that you’re only there because you have to be and do not plan on attending past your requirements. AA only asks of you that you attend the meeting and listen to what they have to say, that you make your own judgements, and consider all of the options, and look to them as a resource if you want to make a change in your life.

I, of course, didn’t want to be there any of the times that I was there. But, like most of the things that you go through in this, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve been through. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was shocking, sometimes it was engaging. I never felt judged. Sometimes I was really inspired by some of the stories that people told. The shadow of your DUI is an awful place to be in, and it’s really helpful to see that some people have been through the process many times, but they’ve been able to bounce back and put their lives together. It’s important to see that you
can bounce back.

As for it being part of the legal process, I don’t particularly like it (AA being an organization that seeks to be away from the government), but I understand it. A lot of the things that you go through in this process are there for people who have bigger problems than driving home from a night out to get a chance to find that there are recovery programs, that they can take hold of these problems and to start dealing with them. It allows you to put yourself in perspective and really gauge where you want to be in life. It is a chance to reflect and look forward. I saw that I did not have a problem, but probably should cut back, and did just that.

Some have a problem with AA’s slight religious bent. I’m not religious but did not have a problem with it, as others do (they get upset at any mention of God). The “God as you see him” is pretty non specific, non intrusive, and vague enough for everybody. Some claim that AA weens you off of an addiction to alcohol and replaces it with an addiction to religion/God. I can see that argument in theory, but in the program, and in my friends who have gone through it to quit drinking I do not see it being the case.

If you do not want to go through the program there are acceptable alternatives such as Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, etc. They’re not as available as Alcoholics Anonymous, and probably not as flexible. AA allowed me to go on my schedule and were close by (which was a great help as I was on my hard suspension and on my bike). Go with what works for you. For most people it’ll be the minimum amount of AAs, and then be done.

Like everything in this process, I do not advise waiting around. Get them over with. If you miss enough consecutive weeks in AA your DMV program can say that you’re not participating and send your case back to court. This is a bad thing. Do not let it happen. Get them over with. Yes, this does mean that in the beginning you’ll be in “classes” for 3 hours a week, and it’s a pain, but 3 hours a week is nothing when you get down to it. Yes, you have a busy life and a full schedule. Get it over with. Stay up later, get up earlier, whatever. Get it over with and move on with your life.

Don’t make things harder for yourself. Also, you might end up enjoy going to.

Heck, you might even learn something.