Well, I started another fuss at a meeting…

I have no problem identifying myself as an alcoholic, an addict, a codependent or, for that matter, just about any other kind of user. I’m an equal opportunity enjoyer — or used to be My motto was “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” and I really did try to live up to it.

That being the case, I had no problem accepting an invitation to lead a closed AA meeting. I’ve attended a few (thousand) and I figure I’m qualified. The chair, who knows me pretty well, mentioned in the introduction that she wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to turn me loose in a meeting where I got to choose the topic, but she said she was having trouble finding someone so she asked me anyway. Most of the folks thought she was kidding.

So, I chose the Third Tradition as my topic. Specifically, I chose to comment (at some length) on a little ditty that is read at some meetings in my area. It goes something like, “Our Third Tradition states that the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. Therefore, we request that members confine their sharing to alcohol and their problems with alcohol.” I may have gotten a couple of words wrong, but I guarantee I’ve gotten the spirit of it right.

What does the Third Tradition actually state? Well, there are two versions. The Long Version reads,

Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. 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.

The Short Version reads,

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

(I know I got those right, because I copied them off the AA World Services Web page.)

I explained to the folks that while I absolutely agree with the privilege of a Group Conscience to ask that attendees at closed AA meetings confine their discussions to alcohol and alcoholism, I personally (and I stressed the personally part) have a problem with hiding behind the Traditions to disguise what I consider to be a mild form of bigotry.

Let’s look at the long version:

Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover.

While this does not specifically state that non-alcoholics are discouraged, it could at least be interpreted that way without pushing it too far. It would have been more specific if Bill had ended the second sentence with “from alcoholism,” wouldn’t it? But he didn’t.

William Griffith Wilson was a well-educated man and a very precise writer. The Fifth Chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous is a model of precision, and spells out the steps of a program of recovery more precisely than most psych PhDs could today (unless they cribbed from Bill, that is). If he had wanted to close the door to other addicts, he would have added those two words. The traditions were adopted by the General Conference as written. Accident? I doubt it.

The short version is even clearer:

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

It says nothing about how we should share, about what other drugs we are allowed to mention — nada. If you can find anything in that sentence that even implies any restrictions, apart from a vague “desire to stop drinking,” then your understanding of English is far more precise than mine and — ya know what? — frankly, I really, really doubt that.

So what it comes down to, in my book (and Bill’s) is trying to legitimize a prejudice by referring to a bit of writing that does not, in fact, say what the Bleeding Deacons would have liked for it to say, and ignores (among other things) the fact that one of the Founders, Dr. Bob, was addicted to opiates.

Well, by the time I got the last word of “thanks for letting me share” out of my mouth, there must have been a dozen hands in the air, a couple of them waving back and forth madly. Most of the folks seemed to agree with my opinion, but a few were vehemently opposed and went to great lengths to explain why — without addressing my point at all, that it was one thing to be prejudiced, but another to hide behind the Traditions to try to legitimize it. One old-timer, one of the first to share, actually left the meeting early when several people expressed disagreement with his points.

It was a great meeting!

Now, why did I bring this up? Because we have to be really, really careful in meetings not to chase newcomers away. If we do, eventually there will be no AA for anyone. Some areas only have AA meetings. They are the only game in town — sometimes in several towns. If someone comes down on some poor addict who is looking for help, and tells him he can’t talk about his addiction (I’ve heard it happen, cross-talk and all), where is that guy going to go? A more settled individual might stay in the meeting, understanding that the person is revealing a great deal more about him or herself than about AA — but that person isn’t desperate.

Do we have the right to rebuke people and turn them away from what could be their last shot before going out and becoming another statistic? I say we don’t.

What do you think?

One thought on “Well, I started another fuss at a meeting…

  1. “Therefore, we request that members confine their sharing to alcohol and their problems with alcohol.” is not in the Big Book. And it is just a request. If someone does not want to comply with the request but has a desire to stop drinking then they can say what they want to say.

    I agree that is the way it ought to work. However, on many occasions I have been at meetings where some jerk interrupted someone to tell them that “we keep our discussion to alcohol at this meeting,” or waited until they were finished and then said essentially the same thing. I have also seen bewildered newcomers get up and leave — pursued outside by less dogmatic members who then tried to explain that they were welcome anyway.

    That behavior says much more about the speaker than it does AA. Nonetheless, it can drive people out of meetings, and for that reason it is totally reprehensible in my not so humble opinion.

    The proper way to deal with this issue, when people make mistakes, is to wait until after the meeting, invite them for coffee, and gently explain the situation (or something similar). It is never OK to put personal prejudices or “protecting AA” ahead of newcomers. Never.

    Like

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