Get Thee to AA

Underage drinking with unusual consequences

My dad approached parenting in his own way. When my older brother Taylor started wearing obscene clothing during his rebellious youth, my dad responded by wearing a brown bag over his head like a chef’s hat the next time the two of them went grocery shopping. He’s a maverick in just about every way except his fashion, so it makes sense he made me attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting after I was caught drinking during high school.

In early 2007, my friends and I got together at a house without parents and went to town on a bottle of cheap whiskey called Black Velvet. Being 14 years old, as well as a fool, I couldn’t handle the liquor and started throwing up on the driveway. They didn’t know what to do with me so they called my dad and told him I had food poisoning from a burrito — a classic cover-up. My dad picked me up and soon noticed the scent of alcohol. When I awoke from my slumber, he had a repentance list ready, and at the bottom was “attend an AA meeting.”

I found a meeting at my local community center, and with a belly full of butterflies, I entered the room. I was hoping it would be a low-key experience, but that was not the case. It turned out to be a chip awards ceremony (a celebration in recognition of sobriety), and the room was packed. I tried to disappear in the back with the Oreos and coffee, but a generous woman spotted me and offered a seat that was at the very front of the room. Terrified and noticeably awkward, I listened to the stories, accomplishments and regrets from local townspeople.

An older gentleman gave his testimony and then earned his 30-year chip, but even after such a feat I got the sense that he battled with his alcoholism day by day. I then recognized a friend’s parent and together we shared a tender moment of confidentiality. Strangers exchanged their problems and successes and after an hour we all held hands and chanted, “Keep coming back; it works if you work it.”

The whole experience was an echo of that scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Luke has the vision of Vader in the swamp caves of Dagobah. There’s a thin line between control and powerlessness. My dad didn’t send me to an AA meeting because he thought I had a problem — he did it so I could see what might happen if I let alcohol control my life. Eight years later, I’m at the end of my college career, a time where alcoholism has lobbied its way into the norm, and due to my childhood AA visit I’m able to appreciate the value of choice.