AA Meeting # 3: Poker Chip

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My 3rd meeting was at the Fellowship Club on 1st Avenue in Cedar Rapids. If you’ve been in town, you might remember seeing what looks like a two-story brick housing complex beside the NE DQ. I always thought, based on the number of older guys hanging around outside that it was a low-income housing project for widowed men.

Given how I felt about men, I was afraid to go to a meeting there. It was a Sunday morning and I really wanted to learn more about this AA stuff. I parked along the side street and made my way in front of the neighboring veterinary clinic and through the side yard by the car repair place to the brick clubhouse. I thought about how it had been 3 days since my last drink. I didn’t make any eye-contact with the smokers outside and tried to sneak by without having to chat.

Once through the double doors outside, I was on a landing. Smoke rolled up from the downstairs lounge and ahead of me were more steps. There was a pop machine just inside the door. I felt my pockets. No money.

I could see a coffee station on the left and tables inside the large meeting area straight ahead. I switched my notebook to the other hand and walk through the swinging door. Maybe this was a mistake. Too big. The smell of coffee propelled me forward. Old brown banquet tables formed a large square and many of the chairs were already occupied, even though I was early.

Hanging onto my seating resolution, I spotted a friendly looking blond woman not too far from the door. Quick escape spot. I’ll take it.

She introduced herself as Jan. Another woman sat on my other side. Finally, between two women! Her name was Linda. Both of them seemed entirely too happy for alcoholics. Jan asked how long I’d been in the program.

“Two days, unless you count today. I really don’t know anything, but I like it. I haven’t been drinking since the first meeting, either,” I added with pride.

“Did you get your white chip?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Oh, honey, you need one!” Jan assured me. For some reason, she seemed to be really happy that I needed a white chip. Linda promptly went to the front table and conferred with the in-charge guy who looked like a hefty baseball player, kinda slumped over the home plate in his chair. It was getting noisy as the metal chairs scraped against the wooden floor.

There was an equal number of men and women. Some looked dressed up like they were on their way to work or church, but most of them looked like they were just looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Some tennis shoes, a pair of cowboy boots, a few work boots; and the usual mix of baseball and seed caps; along with two skull scarves, some leather vests, plaid shirts and sports logos on tee shirts.

Linda interrupted my observations by standing and saying, “Yes. We have Heidi here and she has been sober for 3 days.” A lot of people started clapping. Getting serious, she looked at me. “There are a lot of excuses for drinking but no good reasons.” She held up the poker chip.”This chip is smooth on one side, which is true about life if we stay sober… and rough on the other side, which is how life will be if we decide to drink again.” She handed it to me.

She told me to put the chip in my pocket every day to remind me that I have decided to stay sober and if I decide I want to drink again just give someone from AA a call. At this point Jan handed me a quarter for use in a pay phone. “You have no good excuse not to call one of us.” Linda explained.

I looked at the poker chip and the quarter while people clapped again. Jan patted me on the back and looked really happy.

I was fighting the tears and someone started reading the part about the boy whistling in the dark again. This must be a really good part of the book. Jan shared the text with me. I wrote page 151 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book. Jan (left), Linda (right).

“Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, ‘I don’t miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time.’ As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn’t happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping off place. He will wish for the end.”

I started to cry. Last thing I want to do. I felt around in my pocket for a tissue and someone handed my a Kleenex box. I noticed there was one on each side of the room. They say you don’t cry in front of strangers unless you’re in crisis. Am I?

Several people talked about their drinking days and I noticed that people took turns. No one asked anyone any questions, or interrupted the person talking. I wonder how they get people to wait their turn?

When the meeting ended, the meeting list with w omen’s names and phone numbers was given to me. We all stood and held hands saying the Lord’s prayer. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done… and maybe this was Your will…

I felt better leaving that meeting than I’ve ever felt after a Sunday church meeting. In fact, I really began to look forward to it. I called it my AA Sunday School.