Night-before-last I was at a meeting, and the person who was supposed to chair failed to show up. Since he had all of the group’s paperwork with him, we didn’t have the necessary literature for the usual readings that begin the meeting. People sat there looking at each other, completely bamboozled by the fact that there was no way to complete the rituals before beginning to share. As a relative newcomer to that group, I kept my mouth shut. After about ten minutes, a guy came in with some of the necessary material, and we commenced the meeting in the usual way. It got me to thinking, though, about rituals in the rooms of recovery.
I’m the last person to knock rituals. They make us feel comfortable. They are familiar behavior that helps us settle down and get in the mood for the things that we want to accomplish. In some cases, they familiarize us with what to expect further on. This is true of readings before a meeting, taking off our shoes before entering a sacred place, and myriad similar things that we do — often without even thinking about them. (Sneeze in an otherwise quiet room and see how many people say “God bless you!” No one thinks about it going back to the days when a sneeze was believed to be the expulsion of an evil spirit, they just say it.)
But rituals, while important in making us feel at home and getting us in a good space for what follows, are not the thing itself. If someone forgets to say “God bless you” when we sneeze, we don’t really notice. If we didn’t sing the National Anthem before the game, kickoff would occur as usual and we’d still enjoy watching and cheering for our teams.
That’s equally true at meetings. The literature says that whenever two drunks or other addicts come together for the purpose of supporting each other’s sobriety, it’s a meeting. AA began in 1935, and the first literature wasn’t published until four years later. No one noticed its lack. They said a prayer and got on with business.
Reading from approved literature is a good thing for a number of reasons, but it is not what makes a meeting. Meetings are people sharing their experiences so that others can hear how they deal with their problems and perhaps get some insight into solving problems of their own. They are fellowship, and knowing that other folks are in the same boat and understand where we’re coming from. They are where we meet sponsors and others in recovery, build a support group, help others, feel safe and at home, and learn how to stay clean and sober. None of those things depend on rituals of any kind. The benefits would be there, even if the rituals weren’t.
So, readings are great. We need to be put at ease, in the mood, reminded of our roots and our purpose. But if someone forgets to read something, or bring the books, or otherwise breaks the routine, lets remember that it’s not really a problem and get on with it.
Because that’s not what meetings are about.