AA Convention Part 1 – The Disabilities

Well the 2015 International AA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia is now officially over and as always I’m having plenty of spiritual thoughts and reflections looking back on it. For the next couple of days I’ll be speaking about them, with today’s topic specifically dealing with disabilities.

At a convention that had over 65,000 people, it was hard not to notice the number of individuals with various handicaps and health limitations. But to be honest, I think I’m predisposed nowadays to seeing them given how I’ve been enduring my own disabilities for the past few years. And while I must say that I continue to have faith in my Higher Power that my own health issues are only temporary and will soon pass, having them present at a convention with so many people was extremely overwhelming.

That feeling immediately began on my very first day of arrival, where I had to stand for extended periods and walk long distances through one of the largest airports in the world. By the time I checked into my hotel in downtown Atlanta, I was already shut down quite a bit mentally and emotionally because of it. Shortly thereafter, I headed over to the convention center to get my registration materials and it’s there I entered a sea of individuals that were thousands strong. As I stood there waiting in the “people with disabilities” line, I met a woman named Della who saw I was in great pain.

She had a gentle smile and a reassuring warmth to her that helped me to feel slightly less overwhelmed for a moment, of which I was very grateful for. I took a moment to observe her own disability, which was a fully missing leg. After a brief conversation with her, I learned she had almost died several decades prior due to cancer, but survived with only the loss of a leg. I have to say her positivity and hope did help me cope slightly better. But the longer I stood there, the more I grew uncomfortable with my bodily pain, of which she noticed and asked if I wanted to sit down on the bench next to her. I greatly obliged at which point she then asked the woman next to her who wasn’t disabled or dealing with any heightened health issues to allow me to sit down. Sadly, that other woman’s attitude wasn’t all that understanding, as she then left looking overly angry.

Once I finally was able to register, I truly thought I was going to cry, given how my body ached and the despair I felt inside over it. All of this led me to practice some humility during my registration process when I had the wheelchair logo added to my ID, which allowed me to use the golf cart transportation around the venues. My next stop after registration was the special assistance desk to inquire on how the disabilities transportation actually worked. It was there I met a kind girl in her 20’s who said I didn’t look very happy. I agreed with her and it’s then I actually broke down and started to cry, telling her about some of what I’ve been going through. I was grateful for her reassurance, kindness, and hug, as it, just like Della’s, helped me to feel like God was watching over me somehow.

Unfortunately, due to the distances I had to walk even with the special assistance available, the size of the crowds, meeting rooms that often reached full capacity, and the pain I consistently felt the entire time I was at the convention, I only ended up attending the Friday and Saturday night Georgia Dome meetings, which was a far cry from the amount of ones I would have attended otherwise. And by Sunday morning, the overall reality I came to understand for those with disabilities, whether temporary or permanent, is this. Having them is often a very difficult thing to deal with, especially when it comes to being amongst so many people. And while I know the conference staff did their absolute best to accommodate all those who had them, it can still be disheartening, just like it was for me. Truth be told, I actually felt lonely more than not during the majority of the weekend because of my own ailments, which ironically led me to spend greater time talking to my Higher Power than to anyone else in attendance.

But maybe that’s a good thing; maybe that’s exactly what my Higher Power wanted. Maybe I was meant to only observe the convention from a distance. Because what I realized in doing so is that even though there were thousands upon thousands cheering, clapping, and feeling such incredible joy there, there most likely were many others just like me on the opposite end of the spectrum, hurting as well. And ultimately, I believe it’s them we must always be on the lookout for in this world when we aren’t hurting ourselves, offering them those reassuring smiles, warmth, and hugs just like Della and the young woman from the special needs staff gave to me. I’m sincerely grateful to my Higher Power that they noticed my sadness and frustration, because at least for those moments, I didn’t feel so disabled and alone, but even more important, I truly felt unconditionally loved by God.

Peace, love, light, and joy,

Andrew Arthur Dawson