I always say that the best night out in Glasgow is a visit to an open AA meeting. You meet the most spellbinding and often outrageous storytellers at AA meetings, charismatic characters whose personalities have been not in the slightest diminished by stopping drinking alcohol. At an AA meeting, you hear of the highs and of the lows of Glasgow’s boulevards and its worst housing estates and you relate in some way to someone; anyone and everyone would.
I’ve been to AA meetings in several countries and can make a confident bet that Glaswegians make both the worst slavering drunks and the most engaging recovered alcoholics. And, drunk or sober, Glaswegians are the best yarn spinners.
When I lived in Glasgow, I was still drinking a lot, binging. This was in my late 20s when I had definitely not started looking at my own drinking and was still was fixated on everyone else’s. However, I was going to Al-Anon* regularly and was very much learning to deal with my own family situation and was edging towards looking straight in the eye of my full-blown emotional dysfunction and ridiculous sexual shenanigans. However, I was still drinking like a fish.
Finding Al-Anon in Glasgow
I had bought a flat in Partick, near to the bottom of Byres Road, the less salubrious side of Glasgow’s West End. My address was 72 Chancellor Street and just along to road at number 66 was St Peter’s Church where – wouldn’t you know it – there was an Al-Anon meeting in the church hall every Monday night. I’m so grateful to the universe for making ging to meetings so easy for me.
Every Monday night I heard the message to stop focusing on other people, stop blaming other people, to look after myself, keep the focus on myself and to take what you like and leave the rest. Unhealthy obsessive thinking, looking for love in all the wrong places and my inability to deal well with workplace hierarchies were all much-discussed here. First things first, easy does it, one day at a time.
All the while I was drinking copiously and flinging myself bodily from one relationship into another, often they overlapped. But I kept up the Monday meetings most weeks, unless I was away filming. Al-Anon members were welcome at Open AA meetings and were sometimes invited as speakers, so I went along to several and massively enjoyed them.
AA Meetings In Sydney
Years later, in Sydney, I went to Alcoholics Anonymous as a paid-up member (actually it’s free) and listened again to what recovering problem drinkers were saying. Again, it was so striking how people’s personalities do not change when the alcohol is removed, many are still quite wild and outrageous, and the stories those guys tell are captivating.
But on these occasions, in the rooms in Dee Why and Manly, I was listening harder to other stories. These were stories of nervous teenagers who took their first drink and suddenly felt brand new, taller and confident and able to mingle socially. Anxiety had been the gateway emotion to alcoholism for so many of the people I meet in the rooms that year, the drinking had often begun in the early teens and had worked so well that they had never stopped… until they stopped.
I loved the stories… the mother who’d start to drink then just not stop, causing mayhem at home, insisting on going out to drink more and more, falling over, making her friends furious, having the police called round. There was the man, fortyish and round-faced, engaging and appealling who visited from Victoria one day. This man stood up to tell the group that alcohol had robbed him of everything; his wife and four children, his home, legal career, his business, his cars, the clothes off his back. ‘But I still miss it,’ he said.
But these stories were not my story. The aggression and violence, the police at the door, the completely unacceptable behaviour, the neglect of work, home and children, the tears of friends and family. That was not the story of my own drinking, not really. I didn’t do those things and didn’t drink that way myself at all. The effort not to do so felt immense, superhuman, but I had managed to keep the lid on my drinking.
The energy and exertion required to not go where alcohol wanted to take me was immense and it was squeezing my brain so much that I was worried grey matter would start squirting out of my ears.
I’d Always Recommend Trying AA Meetings
Anyway, AA, I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants to visit and to learn. You can certainly find plenty of men and women who tell stories that will make your hair curl. The focus on your own kind of higher may appeal and it may not. AA may be the place for you, it may not but I cannot imagine that anyone who goes to at least six meetings with their mind wide open would not learn something about themselves. Take what you like and leave the rest.
AA is not my home, it is not the place I find my people. But I am grateful to have been welcome in AA meetings both as a guest and as a member and to know that I can pop back any time. Oh and I feel so much the same way about Glasgow, a gritty, glorious city that I feel completely at home in whenever I visit and could move back to any time.
*Al-Anon is the fellowship for family and friends of alcoholics.