The Center for Spirituality and Sustainability is home to many religious groups, but on Mondays at noon it hosts a different kind group: an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter called The Spiritual Experience.
Every week for the last 13 months, people recovering from alcoholism have met at the center to talk about their progress through AA’s 12-step program, and to discuss how different aspects of life can interact with their attempts to stay sober.
Jessie is a 46-year-old man who regularly attends The Spiritual Experience’s meetings. Jessie has been sober for nearly 14 years, and although this group has only been meeting since last July, Jessie said his very first AA meeting was inside the Fuller Dome.
According to Jessie, meetings last between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the number of people who show up on any given week.
Jessie also said while a lot of AA programs in this area focus on Christianity, this group aims to be open to all faiths, and that he himself leans more toward eastern philosophy.
“[The Fuller Dome] is a very spiritual place,” Jessie said. “The meeting itself is called The Spiritual Experience, and we focus on that aspect of things, hoping to make this spiritual program maybe a little more accessible to people of various religions or agnostics or atheists.”
The Spiritual Experience’s meetings are open to the public, and according to Jessie, the only requirement to join AA is to have a desire to stop drinking.
Jessie said he got his second bachelor’s and his masters’ degrees from SIUE, and he lived on campus as a child. He estimated he has spent nearly 40 years of his life on SIUE’s campus, and said many meeting attendees have some sort of affiliation with the university.
“Four out of five of our home group members are either currently attending or graduated [from SIUE],” Jessie said. “None of us are in the typical student undergraduate body age.”
Students, faculty, staff, administrators and members of the community are all welcome to come to the meetings, but Jessie said the group doesn’t often get many traditional college students or staff from the university, aside from those attending as a part of their coursework.
Despite this, he said the group would like to reach out to more students.
“I was in my early 30s [when I started AA], but if I could’ve got this thing when I was in my 20s, I could’ve spared myself a lot of physical damage, mental hardship and spiritual bankruptcy,” Jessie said.
The group is not affiliated with any of the religious or student groups on campus, and The Spiritual Experience is completely non-denominational, and the way some of its members talk about spirituality wouldn’t be found in most religious texts.
Bruce, a man who has been in the program for more than two decades and sponsoring others for over a decade, spoke briefly about the spirituality of all kinds of music, from gospel music to the Grateful Dead.
The group also doesn’t use spirituality as the only way to get and stay sober.
The members in attendance talked about using the resources provided through a shared community like AA and personal determination to keep their sobriety.
Toward the end of the meeting, Bruce spoke about the importance of someone in the program actually wanting to make a change to quit drinking above all.
“Without desire, you’re f—ed,” Bruce said.
Another attendee, Greg, said that he started heading toward his last relapse when he stopped regularly going to meetings, and because of that he now makes sure to visit at least one a week.
While it is certainly possible to go through the entire program alone, most of the members in attendance talked favorably about having a sponsor — someone further along in the recovery process who guides others through the steps.
Greg said that when he got back into the program, he wasn’t looking for a sponsor.
“I was dead set on not getting a sponsor this time through,” Greg said.
However, he said he had changed his mind while going through the program, and was actually looking to begin acting as a sponsor in the near future.
Anyone looking to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous can visit AA.org, or attend one of the meetings held at noon on Mondays in the Fuller Dome.
“SIUE developed this program in a corporate partnership with BJC HealthCare in 2010 to ensure their workforce would be well-trained to meet demands related to implementing electronic health records and securing patient data across the system,” said Mary Ettling, interim director of the Office of Educational Outreach.