I never liked school or submitting to any kind of group dynamic. So I avoided Alcoholics Anonymous when I gave up the hard stuff (particularly my nightly doses of vodka and pink lemonade) in ’96, and I never did AA after I gave up wine (i.e. my beloved Pinot Grigio) and the occasional beer in March 2012. If I had a Bible it was Pete Hamill‘s “A Drinking Life” — lone wolf, cold turkey, do it yourself, my action and not “God’s,” etc. Sobriety has been pretty wonderful for the last 30 months and has ushered in unexpected clarity and stability in many areas of my life, but attending a few Al-Anon meetings in Santa Monica back in ’07 and ’08 (at the behest of a girlfriend) reminded me that I wasn’t born to follow.

But last Friday I was talking to a sober filmmaker about sobriety, and I was reminded that opening up and talking about the welcome changes always ushers in good feelings. So before I knew it I was asking him about attending a meeting somewhere. He thought I might enjoy it because of the beautiful, eccentric women that attend a particular meeting at Cedars Sinai on Sunday evenings. (“If you’re looking for a love at an AA meeting, the odds are good but the goods are odd,” is how he put it.) He turned me on to a sober friend who attends the Cedars Sinai gathering. So I talked to the friend and he gave me the particulars and said he’d save me a seat. I showed up just in time at 6:59 pm. I stood in the back for the most part and sat on a garbage can for about 20 minutes. I never found the sober guy.

The meeting reminded me that nothing has changed. AA is still the same, of course, and so am I. AA was and is seemingly a very good and steady thing for the 230-odd people in the room last night but maybe not so great for me. I kept saying to myself, “Why is all this shit making me feel so strange and alone?” Everyone at the meeting seemed settled and together but — this isn’t meant as a criticism — a fair portion seemed a bit too attuned to the idea that they probably can’t handle their problem without “God” or AA to fortify them. I’m down with four of the 12 steps — make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself, make a list of all persons you’ve harmed while boozing, if possible make amends to them all, and continue to take personal inventory and admit when you’re wrong. But you can keep the God stuff. Really — it’s yours. I’m not calling myself the Sammy Stud of sobriety but God didn’t do shit when I decided to go sober. I did that. Maybe He’s providing a certain guidance or something…fine. I don’t mind someone saying or thinking that. I just feel better without the theology, thanks.

Maybe I was never a serious alcoholic to begin with but it sure messed my life up in various ways during the ’90s, and probably before to some extent. I only know that I haven’t had a single relapse since March ’12 and and that sobriety has been fairly glorious and — honestly? — easy. And yet nine out of ten AA people will say or hint, “Well, that’s really good, Jeff, but perhaps you’re in denial on some level” or “you sound like you haven’t quite surrendered altogether,” etc. Or maybe I just don’t feel that great about your program, Osgood. I often use the phrase “God willing” or “God forgive me” but He ain’t there, man…really. Keeping my ship dry and clear of barnacles is my task and no one else’s. Some of us are just made that way. I believe in peace and clear light and kindness as far as I’m able to feel or share and extend that, but if I never again open a Bible or read from a psalm it’ll be too soon. But good fortune and best wishes to all the friends of Bill. And thanks to my late father who became a devoted AA guy in ’75, and in so doing probably led me to sobriety in a roundabout way.