"What if “meeting makers” don’t make it?
AA Grapevine November 2016.
What if “meeting makers” don’t make it? An AA with over 30 years sober suggests that when meetings are substituted for working the Steps and seeking spiritual awakening, sobriety can be endangered.
Atlanta was my first International AA Conference; we celebrated AA’s 80thbirthday. At the same time, my family and I celebrated my 75th natal birthday and my 31st year of the gift of sobriety.
I have a growing concern about AA membership’s focus on meetings – as if meetings are the “program of recovery.” The GSO organized and sponsored International Conference put this concern on steroids. Over three days there were more than 220 topic meetings; only 30% were directly or indirectly about the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Steps, spiritual awakening, or living “Our Way of Life” (Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve).
Let me step back for a moment. I have been on a spiritual quest all of my conscious life: studied to be a priest in a monastery for seven years; pursued psychology for four and therapy for more; experimented with most of the self-help panaceas of the 1970s and 80s.
I did not change. I could not see that I did not see. I was a seeker but not a finder.
In 1984, I was willing to attend a treatment program to support my wife’s recovery from her alcohol problem. After several weeks they asked me to not drink during the treatment time. I was willing to stop to support her. The next day was my first day without alcohol. After several weeks, they also asked me to write out my history of my experiences with drinking. Within 60 minutes of writing, I discovered a 30 year pattern that described my first drink at age 12. It went like this: I drank all there was, got knee buckling drunk, blacked out, passed out, and woke up in the morning covered with my own vomit. The biggest surprise was not that I had a drinking problem. What really startled me was that I had never seen any of the very visible evidence. The treatment team suggested I go to an AA meeting. I was willing to do that. I attended my first meeting in April, introducing myself as “Herb, exploring being an alcoholic!”
After several meetings I admitted I was an alcoholic and the oldtimers suggested I get a sponsor, which I did. He suggested I call him every day, go to a meeting every day and be of service at those meetings. I was willing to do these things and did so for the next four years. I stayed sober, but I did not change. I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I continued to be a seeker but not a finder.
During these four years of being a “good” AA, my pre-sobriety behavior continued and I was restless, irritable, and discontent. I was having trouble at work, at home and most everywhere. The “bedevilments” were rampant. I was a man without integrity and clueless about internal guiding principles.
In 1988 in an AA meeting, I heard a man share about having an experience of being changed through a precise application of the Twelve Steps from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I asked for his help. Over the next year he guided me through that process. By the completion of the Ninth Step I was aware
I had been radically changed. I had had an authentic spiritual awakening: a dramatic change in the way I felt, thought, and behaved; and it was done to me not by me. I lived with a sense of serenity, peace and contentment. I knew that experience for the very first time. I had become a finder! My career problems were resolved; my marriage became healed; and I found a personal relationship with the “Mystery” that I never knew was possible.
I have continued to be a seeker. Over the next 15 years I went through the complete Step process four times with four different Step Guides. Each time I was led by the Spirit to a deeper experience and a more profound awakening – more light, more change, more finding, more usefulness!
Based on my history and my experience I began to realize the power of the 12 Step program. At the same time, I also began to become conscious that, although an integral part of recovery, meetings are not the program. The Steps on the wall are not the program. The meeting mantras: “Put the plug in the jug and go to meetings” and “Meeting makers make it” may in fact be death sentences!
The Twelve Steps in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, applied to our personal lives, are the only “program of recovery!”
Over the last 27 years I have facilitated numerous in-depth workshops on the Steps, the Traditions, and the Concepts. The program of recovery is contained in the Big Book – a “text” book with a “precise” set of suggestions for working each Step. The sole purpose of Step work is to find Power through the experience of a Spiritual Awakening.
The Big Book boldly states in Step Ten that we will be placed in a position of neutrality with respect to alcohol – we have “recovered” – perhaps referring to the 1st half of Step One. Step Ten promises that “We have entered the world of the Spirit.” It also declares “we are not cured” – perhaps referring to the 2nd half of Step One. We have a daily reprieve from the original bondage of alcohol as long as we have a daily practice of staying awake by practicing Steps Ten, Eleven and Twelve. We find freedom from the “bondage of self”.
It is very clear, meetings are not the program! Meetings are not included in the Big Book as any part of the suggested spiritual awakening process.
Is it the correct question for a person’s sponsor or the members of the home group to ask about a person’s recent relapse: “How many meetings were you going to?” Perhaps it is more important to discover if the person used the Big Book as a textbook, the Steps as a process, spiritual awakening as the promised product, and Steps 10, 11, & 12 as a daily practice of a way of life.
The middle way is usually the healthy solution. My experience reveals that both meetings and Steps are vitally important. Meetings fostered the necessary spirit of fellowship; Steps provided the required
Perhaps the 2020 AA International Conference will be a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the publication of the AA textbook “Alcoholics Anonymous”. The Conference Committee could select the topics for meetings based on the “precise” process of the Steps and underscore the promise of a spiritual awakening suggested in Step Twelve. Perhaps the focus could be on the actual 1st Legacy “program of recovery”.
Is not this focus the primary administrative responsibility of the AA GSO Leadership and the primary custodial responsibility of the AA Board of Trustees?
Consider this theme for 2020: “A Vision for You – Renewal of AA’s First Legacy for Freedom.”
Let’s all pray, hope and work for a Big Book and Twelve Steps renaissance!
Thanks to AA for a life that flourishes!"
Herb K., Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.