When Is a Meeting No Longer an A.A. Meeting?

A reader asks:  I … have a question about when would a meeting evolve to no longer be an AA meeting?

Page 563 of the Big Book answers:

Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A.
group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
My personal feelings about it are that I’m glad it’s broad, and accepting.  I don’t think that these “special” meeting threaten AA in a serious way.  I don’t think that meetings that part from the traditions last long, or thrive or survive over time.

June 14, 2015 (this day)

IMG_0984In two different and somewhat wacky situations, Carole and I have visited two old institutions this month.  These are asylums built in the 1840s and beyond, now abandoned.

In a different time I would have been locked up in one of these, if I was lucky.  Until recently there was no AA, and I doubt that any of the previous or current, for that matter, treatments would have worked for me.

AA works for me and it has been for 31 years.  I recently heard an “oldtimer” or three talk about the good old days of AA, 30 years ago or more, when they started.  AA was better than, they say, and they worry about the future of it, it’s gotten into such a state.

All this talk does, I think, it possibly discourage the newcomer who has been unlucky enough to miss the glory days.  I disagree with this.  I think AA is just as vital and flourishing and wonderful as it ever has been in my 31 years of sobriety and 36 (7?) years of attending meetings.  I would like to ask these oldtimers to talk amongst themselves, for goodness sake, and not express these things at a meeting that includes newcomers.

Anyway.  I will soon fly far away and I’m still afraid of flying.  Faithful long time readers and people who know me may remember that years ago I flew thousands of miles.  I’m afraid to fly and I’m afraid to take drugs that will change my fear into something else chemically induced.  I’m afraid I will love the drugs too much, and end up in a screened off room.  I’m afraid I’ll have to fly regularly, and need the drug regularly.  I’m afraid I’ll have to fly in some emergency without notice and not be able to secure the drug.  For these reasons and because I’m an alcoholic, I choose not to take drugs to deal with fear, today.  I may change my mind about that some day, but not today.

So instead I’d like to deal with my fear and get rid of it.  I succeed at this to some degree because of what I’ve learned in AA and in childbirth.  I’m thinking of it from the angle of sanity.  It is not sane to fear flying, because flying is safe.  Also from the angle of character defect.  This fear is an invention of my over-evolved mind.  What I focus on grows.  Or my two favorite thoughts of the moment.  One, my daughter is not in Greece!  Two, there are many many people who have real problems.

Cunning, Baffling, Powerful

Remember that we deal with alcohol–cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us.

Cunning, baffling, powerful.  Sly, deceiving, confusing, perplexing, bewildering, mighty, having great influence.  It isn’t the liquid itself that possesses these qualities, but my desire to drink it in the face of my imminent destruction.  I’m reading a biography of e. e. cummings, and in it he describes his friends who went to their alcoholic deaths as “lemmings,” members of a group who follow an unthinking course toward mass destruction.  e. e. apparently learned to successfully moderate his drinking.  Lots of others did not.

To be a little lyrical, I sometimes can picture my alcoholism as something alive and separate from me, but part of me.  A hideous parasite that will kill us both.  Sayings like “the disease that tells you you don’t have a disease” resonate with me.  “That’s your disease talking,” makes sense to me.  It’s like there’s this entity that is bent on self-destruction.  I know it exists.  Like e. e. cummings, I’ve seen the people go to their deaths, brought there by their own hands.

I think that for me, for today, the part that wants to kill me is weak and actually dormant.  I’m smarter than it.  I’m not deceived.  I’m not confused about this, at least.  The part of me that wants to live is more powerful than the force inside me that wants to die.  The liquid has no power over me while it remains in the glass.  The program has given me the power to leave it there for today.

May 31, 2015 (this day)

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We went to a meeting at this place in Canada last year.  This year, I don’t know.  Alaska?  Maybe.  Probably not.  I know I did not want to go to a French-speaking meeting in Canada, since I don’t speak French.  Happily English meetings were plentiful.  It’s a blessing I’m always aware of and grateful for, the meetings in the places I go.  I know many people in the world aren’t so lucky.

We celebrated May anniversaries at my group last night and I got an XXXI coin.  It’s truly amazing to me, like an unfathomable amount of money or something.  I remember a long time a ago when a sponsor of mine celebrated 16 years and that seemed like an incredibly long amount of time to have in the program, not drinking.

I don’t have much to write about, but I do want to say that I still participate in Alcoholics Anonymous for many reasons, but I guess the biggest reason is that some bit of sanity has returned to me, and I realize that without it I couldn’t stop drinking, and that drinking was killing me and giving me an awful life in the mean time.

Any Number of A.A.’s can Say to the Drifter (Step Two continued)

Any number of A.A.’s can say to the drifter, “Yes, we were diverted from our childhood faith, too.  The overconfidence of youth was too much for us.  Of course, we were glad that good home and religious training had given us certain values.  We were still sure that we ought to be fairly honest, tolerant, and just, that we ought to be ambitious and hardworking.  We became convinced that such simple rules of fair play and decency would be enough.

“As material success founded upon no more than these ordinary attributes began to come to us, we felt we were winning at the game of life.  This was exhilarating, and it made us happy.  Why should we be bothered with theological abstraction and religious duties, or with the state of our souls here or hereafter?  The here and now was good enough for us.  The will to win would carry us through.  But then alcohol began to have its way with us.  Finally, when all our score cards read ‘zero,’ and we saw that one more strike would put us out of the game forever, we had to look for our lost faith.  It was in A.A. that we rediscovered it.  And so can you.”

Again, I’ve included this mostly for completeness.  I find it interesting that the passage goes from “alcohol began to have its way with us” to “one more strike would put us out of the game forever. ”  For me, the time between those two was very short.  The time when, for example, my good enough behavior and intelligence got me good grades in high school to the time when alcohol made me fail and drop college classes was very short.  I’m grateful.  So that’s the way I came back to believe, by being driven to my knees by the obsession to drink.

May 17, 2015 (this day)

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Something old!  That’s me!!  On May 1 I marked 31 years sober in AA.

There are people, I know them, who want to go out most nights to meetings the way they wanted to go out to the bar.  There are people who need the endless repetition of the 12 steps and first 164 pages over and over and over again lest they lapse into alcoholic thinking.  I’m glad they are there and I suspect they form the backbone of AA.

That’s not me.  I drank at home and I prefer to be sober at home.  I get bored with the same material interpreted in the same way over and over and over again.  I need intellectual stimulation to keep my interested and yes, entertained.

I find all that in AA.  I always have, and I have hope and faith that I always will.

Courage to Change the Things I Can (from the Serenity Prayer)

Immediately when I contemplate this I know that I can only change myself, primarily, my mind.  There are worldly things I can and should work to change as much as I can, but change in the object is not assured.  I can only try.

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The changes I attempt to bring about in myself are mostly things that bother me.  OK, they are always things that bother me.  My character defects bother me, and so I seek to change them.  I’ve heard it said a lot lately in the rooms that I can’t think my way into right action, I have to act my way into right thinking.  I learned this, didn’t I, when I had to stop drinking first in order to achieve sobriety?   My drunken self was never ever ready to live life sober.  I had to act sober by not drinking in order to learn how to do it and to get comfortable at it and to get good at it.

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So it goes with the things I try to change now.  I’m trying to be a thinner person by counting calories and so eating like a thinner person eats.  My chubby self is never ready to eat like a thin person.  I’ve learned over the years to stop when something triggers anger in me, not to react but to let it sit for a while and see how I feel about it when the anger chemicals aren’t flowing.  I’m trying to do that with the things I fear.  I’m trying to calm my body and my mind and feed the rational, sane side that knows for a fact this thing is not dangerous, or that nothing bad is happening right here, right now.

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I’m finding it harder to change as I get older, and I think that’s because the changes are not so drastic now, plus I have to accept the changes of aging, and those can be difficult to adjust to.  As always I’m extremely grateful for the template Alcoholics Anonymous has provided as directions for how to do these things, and the successful it has given me in doing it.  Can the pickle ever turn back to the cucumber?  I don’t know, but today I don’t seek or even accept alcohol, and that is a drastic and successful change if ever there was one.

April 28, 2015 (this day)

She’s there and she’s fine.  I’m here and I’m fine.  This amazing life is brought to me by Alcoholics Anonymous!

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The anticipation was murder, and the first day was pretty bad as well.  I’ve been engaging in nonstop activities of many sorts like meetings, work, shopping, a play, a concert.  I’m still terribly, terribly worried and frightened also, but I’m able to tolerate it and enjoy my days and nights.  I don’t have much time for the regular stuff, like writing here.  But that’s OK.  I’m making it.  And I’m practicing for the next time.  Because my darling daughter informed me that “next” she wants to go to Argentina.

Sometimes AA comes harder (Step Two continued)

Sometimes A.A. comes harder to those who have lost or rejected faith than to those who never had any faith at all, for they think they have tried faith and found it wanting. They have tried the way of faith and the way of no faith. Since both ways have proved bitterly disappointing, they have concluded there is no place whatever for them to go. The roadblocks of indifference, fancied self-sufficiency, prejudice, and defiance often prove more solid and formidable for these people than any erected by the unconvinced agnostic or even the militant atheist. Religion says the existence of God can be proved; the agnostic says it can’t be proved; and the atheist claims proof of the nonexistence of God. Obviously, the dilemma of the wanderer from faith is that of profound confusion. He thinks himself lost to the comfort of any conviction at all. He cannot attain in even a small degree the assurance of the believer, the agnostic, or the atheist. He is the bewildered one.
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I don’t have a lot to say about this section or the one that follows, but I want to include them for completeness and because it’s good for me to study the whole text.  I was brought up in what I think was a typical fashion regarding religion in my time and place.  I had a childish “faith” because, as I child, I believed what I was told as much as I could.  I found it wanting and turned away from it and arrived at AA, at the age of 16, firmly against “God” and religion and not participating in those aspects of AA.  Not praying, for example, though I stood and held hands.    Many of the people I hear talk at meetings say they arrived not knowing much of anything.  Regardless, the important message is that AA has space for everyone, and people of every attitude have successfully recovered.

April 15, 2015 (this day)

I’m having a tough time (as I’ve written and written and written and written).  I’m terrified that something awful will happen to my daughter on her week in Greece, and right now I can’t imagine coping while she’s gone.  She lives, I have to point out, more than five hundred miles away from me here in the US so I can’t exactly respond to an emergency when she’s “home.”  She is, I will also add, 29 years old, and so far a much better put together human being than I ever was.  She is (a daughter is) what at one time I wanted more out of life than anything else.  She is more amazing and remarkable than any daughter I could have dreamed up, if I could have described my ideal.

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And so.  I’ve planned activities for myself after work when she’s gone.  I’ve planned to buy a new computer then (and new Sims!!!) a new toy to distract me.  I plan to make lots of meetings.  I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of trying to go to all of the meetings in my area’s meeting list, which won’t ever happen because it covers a very wide geographical distance but I think it will be interesting to try.  Well, there’s the distance and the fact of that pesky day job.

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I love my job and I am aware that it is an incredible blessing to love your job, a blessing which most people probably never experience.  I need to rededicate myself to it because these should be some of my prime working years, and because my work partner will retire probably ten years before I do.  I’m also incredibly blessed by being able to work in social services and have a wonderful life because I don’t have to support myself.

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I’m nearing (God willing-Carole hates that, of course God wills it!) thirty-one years sober on May 1st.  Should I present at meetings as the basket case I currently am, or is that a bad reflection of long-term sobriety?  I don’t know, but I think I should present that way.  My problems are luxury problems for sure, luxuries made possible by AA because I was dying without it and certainly could not have brought forth and nurtured new life to the point where it could take itself to Greece unaccompanied …  I am a mess, but I’m not self-destructing and actually I am looking for ways, in the midst of this, to CONstruct a better and less anxious me.  From someone who was killing myself with alcohol I have evolved into someone who knows with restored sanity that drinking would bring tragedy on all my situations.

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This is what (almost) 31 looks like and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.