It is all too easy to forget that sense of terror and loneliness that pervaded my life as I finally made my way into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was a broken down shell of a man, puking blood, shaking violently, frightened of everyone and sure the world was out to get me. Walking into that meeting for the first time was a frightening experience but I felt defeated at such depth that I was willing to go. I remember being shown where to sit, friendly people, soft words spoken to me, and having the overwhelming sensation that the game was finally up. The people in that room were friendly and courteous and I felt, if nothing else, safe.
I remember more clearly the second meeting I went to, the same friendly, positive atmosphere before the meeting and then, when the secretary called the meeting to order, the change in the room. The same friendly, jovial people were now seated quietly, in silence. The secretary opened the meeting, he impressed me. He was smart, respectful, in control and yet quick to smile. This was a man I could only hope to be. He then invited people to share their experience. I heard every word that was said that night. People were serious, earnest yet saw humour in their past and laughed easily. I was so jittery that night I felt the legs of my chair would tip me over, every movement I made felt like a foghorn going off. Yet I remember no other distractions that night. I heard the clear message that for me there was hope, there was a solution, and these AAs had it!
So there I was, a budding Big Book Step Nazi, the road ahead peachy and indeed it was just that. With the guiding and loving hand of my Sponsor and the 12 Steps, the Big Book came alive before my eyes; I was actually living the story in that book! Just like it said in the Basic Text I made a whole host of new friends, my Home Group (the best in the world) had helped save my life and now I was darn well going to make sure I helped make it even better. How? Easy; I followed the example of my sponsor and the other old-timers in the group. Why? Because I wanted to be part of the solution and I wanted to impress my sponsor! The AA group I had walked into, jittery and terrified, had been a power greater than me and I had sensed that on my first night. It was run on principles. Although I was important as a newcomer, the group itself took precedence because without the group there would be no newcomers and scores would die.
So what made the group a power greater than me? Well like nearly everything in my recovery it is to do with the actions I take. In the same way that I respect my sponsor to such a degree that I behave differently (and probably often embarrassingly so) around him, so I also respect my home group to the extent that I behave respectfully when I am there. I try to remember that although I am now a free man and find very little to intimidate or threaten me, as a newcomer I found any aggressive behaviour deeply troubling. The fact I was treated so well at the first meetings of my home group went a long way to easing my fears. So I try not to swear at my home group, I try to remember to, “talk low” and “act courteously”. In fact I try to behave as those that I met five years ago behaved. I try to behave like a gentleman. I am not there to chat up women. When women come to my home group, they should be afforded the same chance of recovery as I was and should not be worried about fending off advances from sulky singletons.
I take responsibility for my home group, when I first came around the meeting started promptly and everyone was seated and I heard the message. I believe the same should be the case today. I take my seat at 7:25pm because I know that is what the secretary would like everyone to do in order for them to be able to ascertain whether more seats are needed and to ensure the meeting starts on time. I never bring sweets to the meeting that will make noise; I am amazed at how often I see people unwrapping sweets when they have been specifically asked by countless GSRs that it would be preferable if they did not. I would not dream of bringing a can of soft drink to the meeting to drink once the meeting has started. I take my tea cup back to the tea and coffee hatch before the meeting begins. I go to the loo before the meeting starts. Once the secretary has opened the meeting, I try to make no noise whatsoever unless I am actually sharing. Why do I do all this?
The first and most simple reason is that for a jittery newcomer these distractions are possible death warrants. The newcomer needs to hear the message or we might as well go home. Secondly, I respect my home group so much that I willingly submit to what its officers ask of me. It is a power greater than me.
Before I came to AA I believed I must be the Master of my own Destiny. It was a principle thing. If you tell me what to do, I’d tell you to keep it. It was exactly this that found me puking blood and wishing for the end. I have now left all that behind. Although I am still naturally aggressive and headstrong, by taking the 12 Steps and practising (however failingly) the spiritual principles found within them I have learned too that it is easier and more beneficial to me to accept direction, whether from my sponsor, group officers, boss, girlfriend or Dad. As a result, and the miracle of it all, is that I have found just enough humility to be able to live comfortably in this world. And one of the easiest ways to keep an eye on my humility is how willing I am to put my home group above my own self interest, to try to help my home group continue to be what it was when I first found it.