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Alcoholics Anonymous, Coffee, and Recovery

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I went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1993, and one of the first things I remember is that they had coffee for just a quarter a cup. The price around here hasn’t gone up, either. And no one gave me a hard time if I didn’t have a quarter to contribute; it was (and is) on the honor system.

I didn’t know then that I’d eventually be contributing to a website about coffee, but here we are. I haven’t launched websites about cigarettes yet, though, although I do contribute to a website about cigars, too. 

I don’t plan to start a site about donuts, and my friend Adam has the recovery blogging under control right here.

And I’m glad that I have a chance to share my experiences related to coffee in recovery here.

Nobody Drinks Coffee Like the Folks in Alcoholics Anonymous

A friend of mine likes to tell the story about how he called a cranky old woman he knew in Alcoholics Anonymous and told her he wanted to drink.

She replied, “No, you don’t. If you really wanted to drink, you wouldn’t have called me. Come on over, and I’ll put a pot of coffee on.”

They drank coffee and talked all night.

And he didn’t drink.

Another friend of mine is a popular speaker. He told me a story about how he was out on a date with a woman from the program one night, and when he dropped her off at her house, she invited him in for a cup of coffee.

It was 10pm.

And he said, “Believe it or not, most people don’t drink coffee at 10pm. That’s something recovering alcoholics do.”

You Can’t Really Invite Someone You’re in Recovery with “Out for a Drink”

The recommendation is that you don’t date newcomers and that you give yourself a year to get yourself a little together before you start dating.

But many people in recovery do start dating, and it’s common for them to date other people in recovery.

I can’t tell you how many romances I’ve heard about that started off with the question, “You want to get a cup of coffee with me?”

It’s such a common way of asking someone out in AA that it’s almost code for, “May I start courting you?”

Coffee dates are great, by the way. Dinner is too intimate for a first date, and lunch seems too businesslike. Also, coffee’s more affordable for everyone.

You can save meals and movies for later.

Most Recovery Groups Don’t Serve Premium Coffee

A friend of mine told me a story about how she brought in some Starbucks to brew for the 9am meeting at my home group.

One of the old-timers didn’t like it and chewed her out for not brewing the Sam’s Choice coffee that the group usually made.

I’ve also been to Group Conscience meetings where the brand of coffee that the group was drinking became a big topic of contention. I’d made a motion that we switch from Sam’s Choice to Folgers, which is what the group on the other side of town drinks.

One of the other trusted servants went to the dollar store next door to the group while we still discussing it and walked back in with six cans of coffee – Maxwell House.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if Maxwell House is better than Sam’s Choice.

Regardless of the brand of coffee served at the meeting, many old-timers insist that there’s something almost magical about the coffee in AA.

Coffee in Recovery Is a Time-Honored Tradition

If you’ve hung around the rooms for a while, you know that the brochures are conference-approved literature.

One of those brochures is called “The A.A. Group – Where It All Begins”.

That brochure includes the following section:

Coffee, Tea and Fellowship

Many A.A. members report that their circle of A.A. friends has widened greatly as the result of coffee and conversation before and after meetings. Most groups depend upon their members to prepare for each meeting, serve the refreshments, and clean up afterward. You often hear A.A. members say that they first “felt like members” when they began making coffee, helping with the chairs, or cleaning the coffee pot. Some newcomers find that such activity relieves their shyness and makes it easier to meet and talk to other members.

This tells me several things, but the most important one is this:

It’s not the coffee specifically that’s magical. It’s the result of the conversation and fellowship associated with the coffee.

Also, it’s the service work involved with making the coffee, cleaning the pot, and setting out refreshments.

People beginning recovery often deal with feeling like outcasts, so if making, serving, and cleaning up after coffee can make someone feel like they belong, that’s a good thing.

Coffee is so important that in the section on how to start a new AA group, it’s one of the first things on the list of things you need:

Important to establishing an A.A. group is the need for one as expressed by at least two or three alcoholics; the cooperation of other A.A. members; a meeting place; a coffee pot; A.A. literature and meeting lists; and other supplies.

The Pros and Cons of Coffee for People in Alcoholics Anonymous

Coffee has numerous benefits for everyone, not just people in Alcoholics Anonymous. For one thing, it’s a mood-enhancer with no psychoactive properties. In other words, coffee makes most people feel better.

Coffee is also a convenient tactile substitute for having a drink in your hand. People who quit smoking might chew on licorice to give them something to do with their hands and mouths. Holding a cup of coffee can replace the holding of a beer bottle or cocktail glass.

People in recovery should know that, in spite of its reputation, coffee isn’t necessarily a magical elixir. Drinking too much coffee can cause anxiety, which is already common enough among people in recovery. 

Drinking coffee late in the day can interfere with your ability to sleep, too. Sleep deprivation isn’t good for anyone. But if you’re already dealing with some of the common conditions among people in recovery, sleep deprivation will likely exacerbate those conditions.

I don’t think coffee’s going anywhere, at least not in the recovery community. Coffee and the Steps seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly.

After all, they were drinking coffee in AA meetings even before they were reading the Big Book.

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Randy Ray

Randy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant living in Denton, Texas. He has no professional experience with recovery programs, and his professional experience related to coffee is limited to his four-year stint working at the Bonham Dairy Queen. And, honestly, even the Dairy Queen in 1986 charged more than 25 cents for a cup of coffee – it was 35 cents then, but it’s gone up since. Besides engaging with the recovery community, Randy likes to play guitar, watch movies, and read novels.

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