Finding the Fellowship I Craved in YPAA

My name is A.J. and I am an alcoholic.

“Yes, I’m willing.  But am I consigned to a life where I shall be stupid, boring and glum, like some righteous people I see?”  When I came to AA at age 29, I had already lived my life as stupid, boring, glum, and self-righteous as an active alcoholic.  I was not a convivial drinker.  I drank alone at home in bed with a bottle of whiskey.  Jack D., Jim B., Johnnie W., and George B. (and his son) were my best friends.

“I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I?  Have you a sufficient substitute?” Yes, there is a substitute, and it is vastly more than that.  It is a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous.  There you will find release from care, boredom, and worry.  Your imagination will be fired.  Life will mean something at last.  The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.  Thus we find the fellowship, and so will you.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 152)

Not in Zürich!  Not in the “commuter-school” version of AA, where local AAs shuffled off to their home lives after meetings.  I listened to tales of fellowship from AAs who got sober in North America, or the UK, and were full of self-pity.  I remember one visitor shared how when she got sober in the States, she never ate alone for the first three years.  I cornered visitors after meeting and tried to cajole them to join me for a coffee or something to eat.

I had been born an old man, and had never experienced youth.  I came into AA at the age 29, having “wasted” my alcoholism.  I had no engrossing, funny, adventurous or melodramatic “war stories” to share.  Listening to the shares of others, it seemed that I had even failed at being an alcoholic.

While I was warned about “terminal uniqueness”, and that I should strive to “listen for the similarities, rather than the differences”, for a long time I felt out of place in my local AA.  My problems really seemed to me different than those that others shared.  My fellows were older, and shared about their stresses related to their children, partners, bosses, etc.  I came to AA not because a woman threatened to leave me or my boss or family sent me to rehab.  As a 29-year-old man I had never even been on a date, and my boss and family didn’t evince any concern about my condition.  After all, I had always been “the one you don’t have to worry about”, the “guy with his shit together.”

No, I came to AA out of desperation as I was about to kill myself.  But whenever I shared that in a meeting or with a fellow, the response was a sideways glance, at least so I thought.  “You shouldn’t say that in a meeting.”  “AA can’t help you with that; a sponsor can’t help you with that.”  “AA meetings are for the solution, not the problem.”  “You should get some help, that’s not normal.”  I soon grew resentments against my local AAs, especially those who talked about being happy, joyous, and free.

A younger AA sometimes shared about these conventions he had gone to.  He introduced me to YPAA, when I went with him and some fellows to ITALYPAA in Milano in 2018.  This was only my second AA convention and first YPAA, and my mood was such that the whole affair, including all the shout-outs, seemed too jovial for sobriety.

Three things stick out in my memory.  First, a main speaker who got sober young shared about his experiences, and I related.  Here was an AA to whom I could, for the first time, relate.  The drinking alone at home, the mad state of mind, the constant suicidal depression, the insecurity and sense of failure as a man, the youth that never was.  And here he was, smiling every now and then and saying he was at times happy.  There was a man who had something I wanted, and whose alcoholism, past, and psychological makeup seemed close enough to mine that I entertained the thought that maybe I too could get it, if I did what he did.

Secondly, I remember singing karaoke late into the night.  Cocaine Blues was a crowd-pleaser with an AA message – lay off that whiskey, and let that cocaine be!  Thirdly, despite my cynicism, it melted my cold heart to stand at the podium of a main meeting, asked to read the Traditions, and look out at a room of maybe 100 AAs shouting at me, “We love you, lots and lots and lots, and whooooolllle bunches!”

I had intended to go to IREYPAA later that year, but a snowstorm shut down Dublin airport.  In March 2019, I went to IREYPAA in Galway.  This convention opened my eyes.  I heard AA’s message from every speaker there.  I saw young men and women standing upright, with a solid faith in AA’s message of recovery as laid out in the Big Book.  Perhaps they were the same words as I had heard from my local fellows, however I only heard them when they came from different mouths.

Next up was EURYPAA 2019 in Barcelona in August, the first ever BALTYPAA in Riga over Halloween, and finally SCANCYPAA in Södertälje for New Year’s Eve.  I have many stories of singing at public fountains and in commuter trains while pretending to be a singing troupe (we even took requests), danceoke, a marathon eight-hour dance over New Year’s, morning rave meditation, bowling, tonnes of karaoke, and much more fun and fellowship.  But hearing another’s story is nothing like experiencing it for yourself.

“You must create the fellowship you crave”, my YPAA buddies kept saying to me when I would complain about my perceived lack of fellowship in my local groups.  I tried, and failed, to set up a young people’s meeting.  And every time I came back from a convention, I shared about the fun and service and message and fellowship, and made outreach announcements for upcoming conventions, yet I failed to attract my local fellows, especially the ones of similar age to me, to the next YPAA.  I took the position of Young People’s Liaison Officer for my local Intergroup, with a constituency that seemingly didn’t want representation and an IG that surely didn’t want the constituency.

On my way home from SCANCYPAA 2019, I told God, “Of course in 2020 I will receive Thy Will, but what I want for myself is to go to as many YPAA conventions in Europe as I can.”  If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  Lockdown.  IREYPAA in Donegal, cancelled.  ITALYPAA in Bologna, cancelled.  We’re all hoping that EURYPAA will still go forward, but that decision rests in the good hands of God and the EURYPAA Board.

“You must create the fellowship you crave.”  A fellow shared a link to the first ever WEBYPAA.  My local IG events co-ordinator called me up and suggested we do something online for young people.  Thus was born the first ever ZÜRYPAA.  Come join us Saturday 9 May, 1500-1700 CEST (UTC +2).

ZÜRY ZÜRY ZÜRY!

A.J. P., Zürich YPLO