My sobering experience

Most kids are afraid of monsters. Some are scared of spiders. Until a few weeks ago, I feared the inebriated teenager.

Nestled into the realm of Harvard-Westlake, we feel sheltered from the repercussions of alcohol consumption, which sometimes prompt questionable actions in party settings. There exists a separation, an estrangement from maturity or legality. But one brisk Sunday night, I transcended the divide.

“Tom, alcoholic.”

“Tom!” The room sounded back.

I sat in the midst of a new world. I had my first encounter with Alcoholics Anonymous.
I didn’t go as an alcoholic, but as a supporter of a friend, one who had been asking me to go with her for months. I couldn’t bring myself to attend. I couldn’t face my friend’s harsh reality. I was afraid. But I went, in order to stand in solidarity with my friend, and to experience her daily hurdles.

I watched the people in the room introduce themselves. One woman read aloud the 12 Steps, followed by the 12 Traditions, both underlying principles of AA. I observed the celebration of sobriety birthdays, with a ceremony to mark temperance.

But I was most captivated by the evening’s speaker, Hector, who coupled the success of his acting career with severe alcoholism. I found myself sobbing when he finished.

Alcoholics Anonymous is undoubtedly spiritual, referencing God throughout the 12 Steps, as speakers cited the discovery of religion as the key to their betterment. Yet regardless of denomination, it’s a bond that holds the group together, a heavily weighted form of peer support.
Moreover, I witnessed that there is no formula for substance dependency. I met attendees who were Ivy League graduates, entertainment executives, homeless, young, old, rich and poor.
Thankfully, most teenagers are unaccustomed to AA. But it’s the nature of our society in Los Angeles to accept alcoholism for its commonality. In truth, dependency shrouds the party culture of our school, from friends who deem a party unbearable due to a shortage of alcohol, to others who think nothing of waking up in a pool of vomit.

The ways of obstinate teenagers certainly will not change, but maybe we can reflect, or ask why this has become embraced. Getting insensibly drunk on a Saturday night to escape the stresses of your workload, in actuality, is no different than the man at that meeting who would carry a 40 ounce of beer to flee a looming deadline at work. As students, as a school, we turn our heads and simply say, “That’s just the way it is.”

I witness the changes this group has made in my friend. I watched her succumb to addiction, trapped in a sphere of lies and disillusionment. Now, there exists a newfound focus and an inner contentment as she reaches 10 months of sobriety. An enlarged list of the 12 Steps hangs on her wall, replacing a photo of Janis Joplin. She did it, and continues to do it, as did the others in that room.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” she said. “But I just take it one day at a time.”