Wherever you are in the world, there is almost always an AA meeting available. That being said, not being familiar with a particular locale, many of us have wandered around trying to find the meeting itself. Hopefully, they’ve put out a small AA sign by the door, but that is not always the case. What has saved us and often gotten us to the meeting is the ubiquitous butt can at the entrance. That butt can has served as a beacon to guide us down the steps to a meeting.
In the early days of AA those butt cans outside the meeting were unnecessary. When you entered any AA meeting you would have been greeted with clouds of cigarette smoke.
At a meeting recently a member was reminiscing about those days where the room was a cloudy haze. He observed that even though we no longer have clouds of cigarette smoke surrounding us, we still have clouds of smoke surrounding us. He went on to explain that it was in AA meetings that he felt the perceptible presence of God. For him, it was almost like a comforting ether of spirituality. He viewed the words spoken in the shares of others as messages from his Higher Power. In meetings, he often had insights that he attributed to the God of his understanding.
Aren’t we lucky in AA? We can experience those clouds of smoke without ever having to take a puff.
Personal Reflection: Do I connect with my Higher Power at meetings?
Sometimes we discover a 12 step room that could be from a movie set. All of the chairs are comfortable. The room is well lit and airy. We can see trees and sky through the picture windows. There is the wonderful strong aroma of fresh brewed high quality coffee. Some delicious treats have been laid out buffet style for all to enjoy. The space is wonderfully cool during the warm weather months and nice and toasty in the winter.
Yes, sometimes we find a room like that, but much of the time that’s not the case. Often the chairs are rickety, the lighting is poor, it’s hot in the summer and chilly in the winter and the coffee looks and tastes like mud.
But the truth is that none of that matters. We could be sitting on pogo sticks and still need to be full of gratitude. We are part of a fellowship which has changed our lives. Apart from freeing us from of our drug of choice, we have experienced a psychic change. We are no longer the same person who walked through the door of AA, NA or OA the first time. Emotional sobriety has been encountered and has begun to be absorbed. That rickety chair you’ve been sitting on is worth more than a truckload of massage chairs and recliners.
Personal Reflection: Why is my home group seat so valuable?
Life was very hard for us. We were often flooded with a myriad of feelings. Anger, fear, jealousy, resentment and pride often overwhelmed us. We frequently felt that there was no pathway of relief from all of these emotions. Everything became bottled up inside. Then, at some point in our lives we discovered a safety valve. We began to use drugs, alcohol, food and other substances to dampen those feelings. Initially we experienced some degree of relief. Over time we discovered that using a substance was not a solution and just added a new layer of problems to our lives.
In sobriety we still feel all of those feelings. Sometimes we need to go to meetings and just “dump” out all of those feelings we are going through. Often once is not enough. That is why you who hear people sharing on the same issue over and over again in meetings. Each time they share, the issue or feeling loses a little bit more of its power.
Meetings however are not just about us sharing. When we deeply listen to others share we can find a solution to something which has been bothering us. The collective wisdom of members of our fellowship is a power which can heal.
Personal Reflection: How do I handle my feelings in sobriety?
There were many who entered the program with the goal of controlling their drinking, drugging or binge eating. They had no intention of practicing any type of abstinence. After a while, they realized that “controlled” using was antithetical to the program. Accepting this fact, they embarked on their journey towards sobriety. Shortly thereafter, another question was raised in their minds. They queried, “if the only reason you entered the program was to stop your drinking and drugging, why do you continue to attend meetings year after year”? As they gained a little more sobriety they soon were able to answer their own question. Listening carefully at meetings, they realized that the majority of shares had nothing to do with alcohol, drugs or food. Rather, people spoke about many other areas. There was a lot of discussion about personal defects of character and what people were doing to correct them. People also shared about life situations where they needed advice as to how to proceed. Sometimes members just reviewed their gratitudes or accomplishments from the day. It emerged that meetings provided a daily dose of guidance on how to navigate life. They also found that after sharing, they inevitably felt better.
Personal Reflection: What have I gained from the program beyond abstinence?
Going to meetings is one of the cornerstones of the program. Sometime we walk into the room bursting with the desire to share. Perhaps something occurred at work which we found to be upsetting. By sharing, some of the sting of the incident is lessened. Speaking at a meeting also gives us an opportunity to celebrate our sober victories. Maybe we were at a party and refrained from getting into an argument with someone. There is also power in our having the courage to raise our hands and speak our truth. For all too long we lived lives of lies and deception.
There will also be times when we go to a meeting and decide to just listen. This can be a good practice as well. While active we often dominated conversations because we thought we had all of the answers. By keeping silent and listening we strengthen our humility. Chances are, we will also hear something which can help strengthen our sobriety.
Finally, sometimes we’ve raised our hands to share and didn’t get an opportunity to do so. Rather than having a resentment we accept that our Higher Power wanted this to be a listening meeting for us. And, there is always the meeting after the meeting where we can share.
Personal Reflection: Am I both a talker and a listener
When we go to a meeting, we’re encouraged to speak openly and honestly about what is happening in our lives. However, that precept comes along with a proviso. Yes we want you to feel comfortable enough to speak about whatever is on your mind. That being said, we also need for you to exercise judgement about what you talk about. That doesn’t mean anything is off the table. What it does mean is that you need to differentiate between what is appropriate for discussion at a meeting and what is appropriate for discussion with your sponsor.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding this. It’s pretty much left in a member’s hands. It would certainly be inappropriate to speak publicly about issues you are having with another member. That would be something best left to a conversation with your sponsor. Sexual issues are also best left to a discussion with your sponsor.
Many people follow the practice of bringing up issues with their sponsor first. Once they gain some clarity around it, where necessary, they continue speaking about it at their next meeting.
When we’re not sure if something is appropriate for discussion at a meeting; a good rule of thumb is to call your sponsor about it.
Personal Reflection: Do I take the mess to my sponsor or to a meeting?
Almost all newcomers heard the same thing upon entering the program. It was “suggested” to them that they make 90 meetings in 90 days. Upon hearing this, they were often taken aback. For many of them, the thought of any type of commitment was viewed as an impossibility. While active, repeating any responsibility for more than a day was a prescription for failure. Then something wonderful began to happen. The program began to take hold and days and then weeks of sobriety were acquired. Their faces began to become known at both a home group and other groups as well. Before they knew it, they had made ninety meetings in ninety days. When their name was called they proudly walked up to receive their ninety day coin. When they sat down, some old timer turned to them and said, “Congratulations. Do you know what comes after ninety days? Ninety-one”.
By this time, hopefully our newcomer has accepted the reality of the program. Addiction is not like other afflictions. Going to meetings is not like a round of antibiotics. It is not something you take for a period of time and then are declared cured from your disease. Part of our medicine regimen are meetings. We need to have a lifetime prescription of meetings. Yes, the dosage may be different based on the case. But there is no doubt that frequent dosages of meetings are essential to sobriety.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to up my prescription of meetings?
Those of us who have been around awhile still make a lot of meetings. The reasons why we go today are different from when we first came in. Back then, it was all about putting down our drug of choice. We had the support of the fellowship to help us get through a day without picking up. Gratefully, that obsessive urge to use has lifted. Even so we don’t delude ourselves. We know that the meetings help us maintain our sobriety.
These days we go to to meetings for other reasons as well. We very much enjoy the camaraderie of the membership. Where else can you go and get to share your innermost feelings without fear of being judged. We also enjoy helping newcomers and others In the program who are still struggling. We have come to understand the value of service. Perhaps the most important reason for attending meetings has to do with emotional sobriety. All of those character defects which we possessed still raise their heads in one manner or another on a daily basis. New layers of emotional sobriety get laid down every time we go to a meeting. When we don’t make meetings, those same layers get ripped up. To build or sober emotional core, we need to commit to regular attendance at meetings.
Personal Reflection: Am I making enough meetings?
We say that we practice life one day at a time. Part of the reason for this is that new issues are going to arise every single day. Yes it’s true that yesterday we worked our program diligently and that work helped keep us physically and emotionally sober. The problem is that we need to have our batteries recharged every day. The work we did yesterday helps, but within a short period of time, it’s benefits dissipate. The only way we can jump start our program is to do work on a daily basis. Probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to make as many meetings as possible each week. Every time we go to a meeting, that program voltage meter gets activated. If we are having a particularly challenging day, all of the inspiration and wisdom from those meetings can be drawn upon. However, when we have neglected going to meetings, our program battery has been drained. When that happens, we begin to make decisions that are impulsive, reckless and sometimes even dangerous. Before we know it, we are acting like a dry drunk. The path to picking up suddenly seems a lot closer than we thought. When that happens, get back to your meetings.
Personal Reflection: Am I making enough meetings?
Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?