There was a recent attempt to change a group by-law in one of the fellowships that I attend. Although it would have affected only that group, it was a pretty big deal. So far as anyone could tell (including the national office) it had never been done before, although it didn’t seem to violate any of the national by-laws or the traditions. I had my reservations, but I sat in on the meetings and gave input in an attempt to keep things from becoming too radical.
Want to get a lot of folks to a 12-step business meeting? Try changing a by-law that would curtail a current custom. There were at least four times as many members there as I had ever seen at a business meeting — maybe five times. The discussion was amicable, however, and the proposal was defeated by about a five to one margin. Addicts. Do. Not. Like. Change. However, we do love our rituals.
And why would we like change? We spent incredible amounts of time avoiding it! We like to get things just right and have them welded, as a friend used to say while tuning his 12-string. I’m not suggesting that the folks who voted the measure down had poor sobriety; far from it. I’m merely stating a fact: using alcohol or any other drug or behavior to feel better is, when you get down to it, an attempt to exercise control over our lives. And sometimes it works — for a while — but it never lasts!
And that, I believe, is the crux of the issue for addicts in recovery. We don’t like changes in the fellowships because what we already have works. Yes, times change, but we change the programs and rituals that are literally our lifelines with great trepidation. AA’s don’t like to hear talk about drugs much (although that’s slowly changing) because their singleness of purpose has worked for millions of recovering alcoholics over three-quarters of a century. That’s a good deal longer than most current members have been alive, and maybe it is time to relax a little. Maybe in time AA will ease up on addicts who don’t identify as alcoholics. In the meantime, there are around 150 other 12-step fellowships out there to help keep us sober, and we can still attend AA. All we have to do is be courteous and follow their customs. That’s called “good manners,” folks.
But I digress a bit. I voted against the changes mentioned above for two reasons: (1) I didn’t think they were appropriate, for reasons we don’t need to discuss; and (2) because I believe in inertia. That tendency for stuff to remain at rest and move only proportional to the force applied keeps the universe from chaos. (What if a breeze could move a two-ton boulder as easily as a child can blow away a feather? Inertia keeps boulders where they belong, for the most part, and that’s a good thing.)
And inertia in the rooms — the inability of a small group to change the rules for everyone else, along with the tendency for things to remain as they are — is the reason I can walk into a meeting in Moscow, 5,000 miles from my home in South Florida, and feel right at home. I don’t speak Russian, but the steps are the steps. How It Works is How It Works, and recovering addicts are what they are: just like me.
That’s a powerful reason to consider change very, very carefully, and most of the time to just forget messing with the rules (while keeping Rule 62 firmly in mind). The fellowships have made it this far, and we can probably let the little changes come on their own. They will, if no one has welded them.