Sharing at an AA meeting
What am I trying to do when I share my experience, strength and hope at an AA meeting? I mean really? Well it’s not rocket science. Tradition Five states that “each group has but one primary purpose, to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” Simple then, carry the “message.” We are even told what that message is, by Bill himself: “Sobriety – freedom from alcohol – through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of an AA Group.”
When I share at an AA meeting, I am sharing for the newcomer, or for the alcoholic who is still suffering (not always a newcomer!). I am not sharing for my own selfish ends or to ‘dump my crap.’ I am sharing in the hope that someone will hear that I once felt like them and drank like them but have now found a way of life infinitely more satisfying. I am not there to share my life story or to tell numerous drinking stories. The important thing for the still suffering alcoholic to identify with is how I drank and why I drank. The newcomer may be wondering why they cannot stop drinking or they may just be wondering why the world and its people are so in league against them, or more likely: both. My first job when I share is to deal with both these questions.
I address this by explaining why I am an alcoholic of the type describe in the Big Book. The hope is that by hearing the reasons why I am a hopeless alcoholic, they will identify my experiences with their own and see that they too have placed themselves “beyond human aid.” This is crucial and in three parts:
I found life difficult to deal with; I just did, I found people didn’t want to do what I wanted them to do, that my friends sometimes seemed to be against me, I couldn’t stand people telling me what to do; I was “an extreme example of self-will run riot.” Life seemed harsh, even if to the world I presented an image of calm control or enjoyment.
So not surprisingly, I quickly discovered that when I “took a few drinks” I just felt a whole load better. The rough edges came off; I felt easier with the world, things and people just didn’t matter so much. The problem? Well, I seemed to drink different from my friends; time after time, I seemed to take the drinking lark too far. I would drink and drink and drink, I couldn’t stop and didn’t want to stop. Consequences began piling up and eventually, often years later, I would decide enough was enough and would try and control my drinking. The result? I could not. Once I started, I could not stop.
The alternative? Stop drinking all together. This I would try. Maybe fear would sober me for a while, some terrible consequence if I were found drinking again. Strangely enough though, I always would find myself with a drink in my hand. And again, and again, and again.
So the concept is dead simple; it’s Step One: Once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop; and then, even after fresh resolve, even after those puke-ridden mornings, I would be unable to remember how bad it all was to stop me doing it all again. I was without mental defence against the first drink. I had placed myself “beyond human aid” Worse than all this though: living sober seemed impossible because life felt so hard! My life was “unmanageable” because I was trying to propel myself forward on self-will.
When I share this, my hope is that the still suffering alcoholic will: a) relate his or her own drinking with my alcoholic experience and b) identify with the defiant, wilful behaviour that led to my inability to live life comfortably sober. This is the identification that can lead an alcoholic to Step One. Drinking stories and life experiences that a newcomer might identify with can be useful but more often these experiences are discussed at coffee or before the meeting, such as in the Big Book where it describes: “he capitulated entirely when, later, in an upper room of this house, he heard the story of some man whose experience closely tallied with his own.” Specific life experiences shared in a meeting can often put new people off due to there not “tallying closely” with their own.
Once I have explained the full reality of the truly hopeless nature of alcoholism as described in the basic text, and assuming (I always assume!) that someone has listened to what I have said and identified with me; I can them give them the good news. There is a solution.
What is that solution and how do I go about getting on the road to recovery? Hopefully that is what the newcomer will be bursting at the seams to find out. So the next part of my share simply outlines the bare bones of the “program of action.” The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as laid out in the Big Book.
First off, I had to “quit playing God,” I needed to find a way of life different from the one I had before, I also needed to be willing to try and live a life based on spiritual principles. The choice may seem harsh: a life of alcoholic insanity and death or a life based on spiritual principles! So I asked a man to be my sponsor, a man who had taken the twelve steps and had a sponsor himself. This man would show me precisely how he had recovered; he would take me through the twelve steps. I often make a point in my share of explaining briefly the nature of sponsorship. My sponsor was the first man I willingly deferred to, I became humble before this man. If I wanted a new life I was going to have discard the old one and my relationship with my sponsor was the first tangible evidence of my resolve to do just that. Somehow I could sense it was important.
My sponsor got me to buy a copy of the basic text, the Big Book, and got me reading it every day. He also gave me some actions to take each day, spiritual actions that, because I was willing to go to any lengths to recover from my alcoholism, I did without question. I often share that I had resigned from the Debating Society.
I always share about the release I felt by giving myself completely to the AA program, by my total capitulation and surrender. By taking the actions my sponsor suggested, immersing myself in the business of recovery, getting really involved in my chosen Homegroup; I could see very quickly I was onto something! The compulsion to drink left me almost immediately and without much delay my sponsor began taking me through the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I share that, to my amazement, a whole new world began to come into view! As we went through the steps, my perception of the world and its people changed. The drink problem was removed quickly and effectively. Much more than that though, as “the result” of taking the twelve steps, I have had a spiritual awakening that has drastically changed my relationship with the world. I have been given access to a Higher Power that not only provides me with an effective defence against taking the first drink but has enabled me to live happily, sober in this world. Life is no longer a chore. I often share that not drinking is a doddle because the problem has been “removed” by my higher power, I am neither “cocky nor afraid” it simply doesn’t exist for me!
Now I take responsibility for carrying this message of recovery to the new man as it was passed to me when I was new. That is the cornerstone upon which our fellowship is built.
Time allowing, I will often share that the hardest thing now, seven years on, is just to keep doing what I did way back during my first week of sobriety: stay humble, follow suggestions and keep taking those same spiritual actions that got me sober in the first place!
These are the facts of my recovery and they are the facts I want the still suffering alcoholic to hear:
I drank uncontrollably and couldn’t live life sober. I had placed myself beyond human aid. I gave in entirely and asked a man to be my sponsor, to show me how he had recovered. He took me through the twelve steps which gave me access to a Higher Power that has enabled me to live life comfortably sober. Now I take responsibility for carrying the message to the stiff suffering alcoholic.