Though I didn't realize it at the time, I was definitely one of the lucky ones. On June 2nd 2008, at the age of 22, I walked into my very first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The room was lit by three candles and everyone was seated in chairs along the walls of the small room. As I walked in, still shaking from my hangover, I told myself this place was clearly not for me, but I promised I would go to this meeting and I was going to keep my word...if only because my dad was watching the only exit. For the next hour I sat in the darkest corner I could find judging everyone around me, desperately trying to find the differences and prove I was not like them.
Everyone in the room was older than me by at least 20 years and their stories were so much worse than mine. Sure I drank a lot, but times had changed since my parents' generation. Kids today drank harder. Plus, I hadn't lost that much. Sure, I had just been kicked out of university, my parents were threatening to kick me out of the house, I had burned through all of my money, and I was waking up every morning so hung over I could barely lift my head off the bathroom floor to vomit in the toilet, and most of my friends had stopped calling, but I wasn't that bad. I made it through the meeting without being noticed, but then, just as I was ready to make my escape they asked if there was anyone in the room new to AA? I found myself standing and telling the room that I was new. "My name is Kirsten and I am an alcoholic." As I sat down and everyone around me applauded I felt like I wanted to scream. What had I just done?! As I was sitting down I noticed someone I hadn't seen when I entered. There, in the opposite corner was a girl I had gone to high school with! The minute the meeting finished she ran over to me, gave me a huge hug and told me we were going for coffee. And so began this insane, crazy journey of sobriety.
Like I said, I was definitely one of the lucky ones. The girl from my high school had never been to that meeting before, but because of her I agreed to try another meeting. Thank God I did, for it was at that second meeting that everything seemed to fall into place. I met my sponsor, found a home group, was given a service position, got hooked in with the young people's community, and began accepting that maybe I was like them. Through this community I got involved with a local young people's committee called NoSYPPA that organized dances, dodgeball tournaments and a pretty epic boat cruise. To my surprise I was loving every minute of it!
It was not until my second year of sobriety that I began to learn about this thing called ICYPAA. A couple of friends had just come back from the 51st ICYPAA in Atlanta, and they could not stop raving about what an amazing experience they had! It did not take much convincing to get me to sign up for the following year, especially once I heard it was going to be in New York City! I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into.
One year later I was hopping on a red eye to New York with a whole crew from Vancouver and I had never been more excited. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, I knew this was going to be beyond anything I had ever imagined. Over the course of the next four days my life was forever changed. I developed relationships with people from all over the world, heard some amazing speakers, and had what can only be described as a spiritual experience dancing in a drum circle in the middle of Times Square from 4 until 7 in the morning with around 50 other sober alcoholics. I finally understood the true meaning of the "language of the heart" and the "fellowship of the spirit," and I began to grasp the enormity and miracle that is the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. In short, I fell head over heels in love with AA.
As soon as we arrived home I knew we needed to bring ICYPAA to Vancouver! Shortly after the conference VANYPAA held elections and work on the bid began. For the next nine months our committee worked as a team to piece together what we thought was sure to be a stellar bid. But over the next few months the excitement I felt following the conference began to fade, I had my heart broken, and I watched as several people close to me passed away. Basically, life happened. And then I did exactly what you told me not to do; I began to pull away from the program and my fellow alcoholics. I was not talking to my sponsor or sponsoring anyone, I was not calling my support group, the number of meetings I attended began to dwindle and quickly that joy and peace I had experienced disappeared. But today I know God was not going to let me give up that easily, because despite my best attempts something you told me stuck with me. You told me to just keep coming back, so I did just that. I made a sincere effort to never miss my home group (even though my hockey team was on a storybook playoff run), but even more so, I made sure to continue to honour my commitment to VANYPAA. I knew that when I had felt best was when I was being of service and so I said yes to any and every opportunity to be of service that I could. I gave myself a purpose in this program and slowly I began to crawl back out of that black hole.
Days before the 53rd ICYPAA began in San Francisco we received word that one portion of our bid did not meet the requirements and therefore we could not be considered as a potential host committee for the 54th ICYPAA. Needless to say we were devastated, but it was then that the most incredible thing happened. Rather than pointing fingers and blaming each other, the committee rallied together. The outpouring of support among the committee members was awe-inspiring. I had never been more proud to be a member of VANYPAA. That year we presented our token bid as a strong, unified committee and we had a blast doing it! That was the program of Alcoholics Anonymous working in our lives. That was the fellowship at its best. That was exactly what I needed. I was once more in love with this program.
In the following years VANYPAA and ICYPAA have become integral parts of my sobriety. The process of bidding for ICYPAA and being a member of VANYPAA has taught me so much about myself and the world around me, it has kept me in the middle of the program when I did not want to be there, and given me a support network larger than I could have ever dreamed possible. The impact ICYPAA has had on me goes far beyond my so-called "AA life." I have been able travel all over North America visiting friends I met at the conference, and my experiences on YPAA committees led me to my current career path. But, the greatest gifts I received were the incredible relationships I have formed with people all over the world. Relationships that, today, I could not imagine life without. I am so incredibly grateful for this conference and all it has given me.
In Love & Service,
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