I’m not so imbued with the wisdom of the rooms that I can get up and walk out of meetings that don’t interest me (like at least one guy I know), but with 25+ years in one program or another I do think I’m qualified to have an opinion about old-timers. My observations over the years of people whose sobriety I admired has led me to believe that the proper function of us old farts is to sit back, gently guide when asked, sponsor folks, and leave the work to the newcomers.
Now, before you get the idea that I’m lazy, let me explain. There are three things that make up the pyramid of recovery, and in order for recovery to be solid, we need them all: Unity, Service and Recovery. Unity is the fellowship of the rooms, and the faith that we can depend on our fellow recovering alcoholics and other addicts to be there for us. Service is the nuts and bolts stuff that keeps a group running, from greeting folks at the door to helping with chores like making coffee to chairing meetings and holding various offices in our groups and the wider body of our recovery fellowships. And recovery — of course — is working on and enjoying the changes that come to us from our programs.
For the system to work, we need to have a sort of passing of the torch from more “senior” members to beginners. They need to be brought into the fellowship as contributing members, first doing the simple things and moving on to speaking, chairing meetings and so forth. After they have completed their step work, they need to move into positions of responsibility like group secretary, Intergroup representatives, and onward and upward. If sponsors aren’t facilitating this and encouraging their sponsees to progress in service according to their interests and abilities, they simply aren’t doing their jobs.
But addicts are, by definition, control freaks. We wanted to get our lives in our active addictions a certain way, and try to keep them from changing: a good supply of whatever, peace and quiet to do our thing, and no jackpots or hassles. Of course that never worked, but that’s what we all searched for.
It’s all too easy to bring that attitude into the rooms, and some folks never seem to quite get over it. These are the people who, in double-digit recovery, are still doing the work and not passing it on to the newcomers. Now I know from my own experience that’s often more easily said than accomplished, but I also know that too many old-timers treat groups as their private fiefdoms, and make sure things are done their way instead of letting the group grow along with the younger members. I know of one group where this is the case, and has been for years. The people who are associated with it love it, because the leaders and the followers are comfortable in their roles, but there is little turnover and no real challenge at those meetings. I guess that’s okay, and also for the other groups where I’ve seen this syndrome, but I don’t think it’s good for the fellowships as a whole. How in the world are newer members going to carry the message, if they’re never had to carry the load.
You don’t build sobriety with muscles that way.