I have a buddy in the program who has stopped going to meetings. He’s returning to his program after just under ten years in and another four years out again. Right now he has under six months. He says he is fine. He’s doing his readings and studying his books at home and he’s doing daily meditation. He told me he has stopped going to meetings because his former sponsor is there, and he feels that the former sponsor is looking at him ‘funny’. The community is very small here. There isn’t an option for him to go to other groups.
I heard from another friend, a recovering alcoholic with well over twenty years in the program. He has stopped going to meetings because there is too much discussion about drugs along with the alcohol. He’d like to go back to the old times with completely closed meetings and no mention of any drug. “There are other groups for that.”
I have been hearing similar and other gripes since I became a 12 step member. Both AA’s and NA’s twelfth tradition reminds us to: “…place principles before personalities.” What does that mean? To me, it suggests that I remember the principles of the program: recovery, unity, service, honesty, humility, forgiveness, hope, integrity, love, discipline, perseverance and spirituality. Not everyone is going to have all of these principles down cold. (I had to look them up, to be sure, while writing because I couldn’t have named them all.) Some days I’m more honest or forgiving than others. This tradition tells us that these principle are far more important than the defects of character in those who impart them to us.
I must remember that what is important is the message and not the messenger. In our case, the medium is not the message. Recovery is much deeper than those who present it. Were it not so, for example, AA would have died out when Bill Wilson, the founder, passed on. Something that is true doesn’t become false simply because I don’t like the person who is telling it to me. Trust me, many people delivered a message to me that I needed help long before I began my trek in recovery. Of course, in my sorry state I’d get angry with them and use even more ‘just to show them!’
We will always meet people who irritate or bother us in some way, in and out of our meeting room. We don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it. We don’t like to have to do anything. When someone is sharing I can focus on their speech impediment or their ugly shirt, or their hot body, instead of listening to what they are saying and that probably isn’t what the program is about.
Early on in my program I heard someone talk about the 70-20-10 Rule. He said that seventy percent of the time, what you hear in a meeting is good solid stuff that can be stowed in your tool box and brought out later to help you through a difficult situation. Twenty percent of the time, what you hear will have you at the edge of your seat; it’s exactly what you need to hear at this time. It is as if your higher power is speaking directly to you. And ten percent of the time, what you hear is an opportunity to practice your patience and tolerance. This rule has proven to be true for me, and others have told me so as well. However, what is my twenty percent, may be your ten percent, and visa versa. Our higher powers just works that way.
There’s an old joke in AA: What do you need to start a new meeting? A resentment, a coffee pot and a friend. If your recovery is at risk because you can’t get around the personalities in the room or how things are managed or what people are doing, then find another meeting. Try attending on-line meetings, start your own meeting, do anything that protects you from your disease. If sobriety is my number one priority, then I don’t have the luxury of cherry picking. I need the program more than it needs me.
Periodically I attend Al-Anon meetings. These folks have a lot to teach me about life. I particularly like a part of their closing statement: In closing, we would like to say that the opinions expressed here were strictly those of the person who gave them. Take what you liked and leave the rest….We aren’t perfect. The welcome we give you may not show the warmth we have in our hearts for you. The message delivered by the personalities around the table and the principles intertwined in that message are what keep me sober, not the personalities who deliver them. Keep coming back.