Every now and then I’ll run into one of two situations at a 12-Step meeting:
- Someone will read a statement about “our primary purpose” requesting that sharing be confined to such-and-such a topic; or
- Someone will comment “We don’t talk about that, this is ____ Anonymous”.
Generally speaking. I don’t have an issue with the first, although I think it ignores reality to a remarkable degree. But if the issue is carried over to the second it’s another matter. If a group has a problem with talk about other issues, the proper way to handle it is for someone to take the so-called offender aside after the meeting, and gently explain the rule and why it exists (if they can). That should be a policy arrived at by the group conscience, not an individual or the service office. As AA puts it, “Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.” [Emphasis mine.]
“We don’t talk about that,” is an entirely different matter. It shows that the individual who knows the way things ought to be has not only bad manners, but also neither listened to the preamble nor read their basic text with much comprehension. It’s also not in the spirit of responsibility that is a fundamental part of 12-Step philosophy. Let’s take those points one at a time.
- Every fellowship of which I’m either a member or aware has in its preamble a statement modeled on that of AA: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop….”. It doesn’t say anything about not talking about things that make other members uncomfortable (although it is important for those sharing to take care that they avoid saying things that might trigger a listener’s own issues). In fact, it doesn’t say “not” anything! “The only requirement” means just that. It doesn’t mean “the only qualification.” If doing one thing causes me to want to involve other addictions, then that’s important to my sobriety, and I will talk about it if I need to. If gambling makes me want a drink, or drinking makes me want to act out sexually, I will talk about it if I need to. BUT, if I go to a (whatever) meeting and want to identify as simply an addict…well, that’s a little different. It’s polite to identify as an alcoholic (or one with “the desire) at an AA meeting, an addict at NA, an overeater at OA, etc. We can be militant when we need to be, and polite the rest of the time. The concept of Tolerance works both ways.
- There are folks in every fellowship who are uncomfortable with talk about other addiction issues. That may be due to elitism (I don’t want to associate with those people), which was the case in the early days of AA. Back then it was necessary because no one would have come to meetings if those “degenerate” addicts were in attendance. These days we know that an addict is an addict is an addict. If you’re in the gutter, it doesn’t matter what got you there; what matters is getting out.
- Some of the resistance may be due to denial. I may have stopped gambling, but for personal reasons don’t want to hear about someone’s sex addiction or problems with tranquilizers. It may strike a little too close to home. That’s my problem, and I’m wrong if I try to make it a reason to change the meeting.
Some folks are simply stuck in tradition, as opposed to the Traditions They like to interpret plain English to make it mean something that fits their own ideas. Yes, Tradition 5 refers to “our primary purpose,” but that doesn’t alter Tradition 3, which states that “The only requirement for . . . membership is a desire to . . ..” Primary purpose does not mean ONLY purpose. Twisting words and reading between the lines doesn’t make it so. If Bill Wilson (and, presumably, the people who adopted the Traditions he wrote) had wanted it to read “only,” that’s how it would read.
Our fellowships have to change with the times. If we don’t, we surely will wither and die. Becoming more inclusive is even more important in light of today’s understanding of the nature of addiction rather than a few hide-bound, out-of-date prejudices. Bill W. and Dr. Bob were both addicted to other drugs besides alcohol. What if the other 98 of the First Hundred had decided the founders didn’t belong in AA? Silly, huh? By the standards of some of today’s members, that could have happened.
It’s particularly easy for us old-timers to influence this kind of thing. We need to remember that our opinion is just that, state it, then shut up. Others have to remember that it’s one member, one vote, regardless of the years. (I know a lot of people with two or three years who are, in my opinion, a helluva lot more sober than some old-timers I’ve met.) It ain’t how well you talk the talk, it’s how you walk the walk.
Be nice to newcomers. One might be your sponsor someday.
I agree. My thinking about that has undergone a big change over the years, especially since I’ve become involved in fellowships that aren’t nearly so cut-and-dried as the “mothership”.
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Bill – this is a great post. And at the center of a larger debate about traditions in the new millennium. I like how you phrase that it comes down to kindness for the newcomers. I think that gets lost in the old “tough love” phenom that worked for me, and may have worked for others, but definitely doesn’t resonate with this new age of people, I think.
Lovely post Bill. xxx