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“This is a Closed Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

15 November 2012

Alcoholics Anonymous is intentionally disorganized. There are no rules from some central authority telling us how we have to run our meetings, what literature has to be read, etc.. Any two drunks who’d like to stay sober who meet up may call themselves a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Anywhere, anytime. It’s good that way. AA’s twelve traditions, (AA does everything in twelves, it’s a little silly.) explicitly state that each group is autonomous except in manners that relate to other groups or AA as a whole. And since very, very little fits those qualifications, each group is essentially its own master. And basically, groups are kept from going off the rails by the consciences of the members. Most groups read some basic AA literature every time, and follow a format that has stood the test of time.

My Wednesday night men’s meeting is a bit of a maverick meeting. We don’t read any literature. We do say the Serenity Prayer. Then, one person talks, and we all comment. That’s the whole meeting. There’s a lot of cross-talk. We give each other advice, and comment on each other’s decisions and programs. We admonish each other when we’re straying from the path. We hold each other accountable. We’re honest, blunt, and unabashed. We do this because it binds us together in a fraternity of men each faced with a disease that kills us – invariably – when we face it alone.

There are essentially two different sets of attributes that AA meetings can have that are meaningful in this context: {men’s, mixed, women’s} and {open, closed}. There are others relating to how a meeting is structured once it gets going (is there a speaker? discussion? do we talk about step-work? do we read from the book? etc.), but the two attributes above define who is welcome at the meeting. The gender attribute should be self-explanatory. The open/closed may not be.

Open meetings are open to all. Anyone – including you, dear reader – is welcome at an open meeting. You may show up, watch, and even participate in most cases (some open meetings do restrict sharing to alcoholics, but that’s uncommon). Many people who are not alcoholics come to open meetings for various reasons. They like to support an alcoholic in their lives. They want to make sure the alcoholic they know is actually going to the meeting (these people need their own kind of help). They appreciate the program and want to adopt some of the principles in their own lives. They are court ordered to attend and do not identify as alcoholic. I’ve seen all of these.

Closed meetings are for members of AA only. There is only one requirement to be a member of AA. You must have a desire to stop drinking. You don’t have to identify as an alcoholic. You don’t have to pay any money. You don’t have to get a sponsor or do the steps. You must have a desire to stop drinking. That’s it. But that matters. As far as most of us are concerned, if you do not have a desire to stop drinking, that is, if you can drink normally or you are content drinking alcoholically, you are not welcome. You are specifically, vehemently, not welcome to attend closed meetings.

Last night, at my men’s meeting, there was a man who was invited by one of our members, who does not have a desire to stop drinking. Specifically, he’s a gambling addict. He drinks normally but cannot control his gambling. He goes to gambler’s meetings and works the twelve steps as they apply to that program. He was invited to our meeting by his brother, who is an alcoholic. I didn’t know this when the meeting began. The gambler spoke a few people before it was my turn. When it was my turn, I said:

“Sir, I welcome you, and you seem like a fine gentleman. I respect your brother, who is an important member of this group. I hope you understand that what I am about to say isn’t personal. This is a closed meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Attendance is restricted to those who have a desire to stop drinking. I am passionate about this because I love this group. AA is explicit that those who can drink normally should attend open meetings. I had other things I was planning on saying tonight – ” (at this point, the gentleman stood and offered to leave) ” – I am not asking you to leave. I am saying that if we are going to change this to an open meeting, we need to have a group conscience before hand. Thank you.”

The meeting went on, and we closed. I asked some of the old-timers if I was out of line. The general consensus was that I was not, I had every right to say what was on my mind. I said that I’m happy to be bound by the group conscience, but that AA is explicit that you cannot be a member of AA if you do not have a desire to stop drinking, and that if we’re going to welcome others, we need to have a group conscience opening the meeting. Which is problematical, because the club it’s held in only accepts closed meetings. We agreed in principle that there would be a group conscience on the matter at some point in the near future.

Then we all went to dinner, including the gambler, whose hand I shook and I told him that I was personally quite happy to make his acquaintance.

There’s a men’s meeting on Saturday mornings that I went to a few times. They open the meeting by saying: “This is a closed men’s meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. That means that if you’re not willing to identify yourself as an alcoholic, get the fuck out.” Our community matters. We save each other’s lives. This matters for all of us, it protects newcomers, who might otherwise be afraid to share their stories, their alcoholism. Closed meetings exist because they allow us to share freely, fearlessly, and honestly among those, and only those, who understand our condition.

I am a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I care about my community. I will defend it, in order to protect you, out there, considering your relationship with alcohol, unsure if you need to come into the rooms, unsure if you have a desire to stop drinking. Come. Come to an open meeting. See who we are. What we’re here for. If you’ve decided you want to stop drinking, and you need help, you need a community, if you want what we have, and are willing to go to any length to get it, come to my closed meetings. I defend that space, to defend your best hope to attain what I have.

And, it’s not personal, but if it’s a closed meeting, and you don’t have a desire to stop drinking, get the fuck out.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Syd permalink
    15 November 2012 21:08

    Good post. I go to open meetings and specifically don’t speak. I believe that AA open meetings are meant for AA’ers to share their E, S, and H. I don’t need to pipe up in them.

  2. 16 November 2012 07:37

    Right on, my brother!

    I am so glad you spoke the truth at that meeting. If more people were willing to do that, we would have a better fellowship.

    And I would LOVE to go to a meeting with that opening, but alas, I am a female.

  3. 20 November 2012 04:01

    Had some instances of this on and off in my time.

    Firstly we had a guy who started coming to a meeting of AA who was a co-dependent. I appreciated his problem there was no meeting of an appropriate group nearby. However we raised it at a group conscience. The consensus was that he could attend but not share as his sharing would not be about alcoholism. Not surprisingly he stopped attending – I felt for him but we are AA. He could have tried to get a meeting started for another fellowship I suppose.

    The other week we had a closed meeting and the speaker arrived just in time and flustered, the weather was awful and she’d come some way to be there. As we all introduced ourselves her friend said she was an Al-Anon member. We had a rapid group conscience after an old-timer politely but firmly and correctly said “Just a moment we are a closed meeting do we need to agree to open the meeting?”.

    I know a lot of people raise eyebrows at this stuff and seem to think you are being pedantic but it is important for the “singleness of purpose”. So I support and applaud you for raising this like you did.

  4. 30 September 2013 11:02

    So, how about if I have a desire not to drink, am an alcoholic, but during my share mention drug use? I was told I could be thrown out of the meeting. Doesn’t this break the 3rd tradition?

    • 30 September 2013 11:05

      People have shared about drug use in almost every meeting I’ve been to in 5+ years. There was a time when there were some people who didn’t like talking about drugs, and a few meetings full of old-timers may still grumble about it, but for MOST alcoholics, drugs of one kind or another are part of our stories.

      I’ve never seen anyone admonished, much less kicked out, for sharing about drugs. If you have a desire to stop drinking, you’re welcome.

      Now, if you are ONLY quitting drugs, and continue to drink? Stay out of closed meetings.

  5. Patti permalink
    29 January 2014 01:06

    I want to know the history of when and how meetings became closed verus open? Thanks

    • 29 January 2014 14:31

      I don’t have any idea of the history. Sorry.

    • Bill H permalink
      20 February 2015 17:04

      The history goes back to AA’s origins. Groups originally allowed spouses and family members to be part of the group. It soon became apparent that some members (alcoholic) were reluctant to address their problem with spouse or others present. Closed meetings soon became the norm with open speaker meetings usually on the weekends. This trend continued till the late 60’s into the early 80’s. During this period treatment centers made up the highest percentage of new members into AA. AA meetings digressed to group therapy. (bring your problem to AA for an emotional solution) Many old timers became disgusted with the ‘new’ format of meetings and closed meetings in members homes sprouted up.
      Today many AA closed meetings are listed closed to prevent addicts from attending. This is the result of Treatment Centers and Court Programs that address alcoholism and drug addiction as “substance abuse” or “chemical dependence”. These programs encourage their participants to attend AA meetings. People with problems other than alcoholism are eligible for AA membership only if they have a drinking problem.

      This is just a short synopsis of the history, there are many more variations in local areas but at least this will give you a general idea of how it came to be.
      Regards
      Bill

      • JohnnyBee permalink
        9 February 2016 09:09

        Bill you have hit on some key facts in the matter. However once the Oxford group influence faded the closed meetings were the norm. Personal anonymity being a big reason. According to the chapter on the 12th Tradition in the 12 and 12 open meetings were formed to allow for experience strength and hope to be shared so parties could be exposed to the solution without violating the safety of a closed meeting. Then parties who liked what they heard at the open meetings and wanted the AA way of life would be able to seek out a closed meeting. The groups wanted to spread the word and realized word of mouth wouldn’t be enough.

  6. Bob permalink
    22 February 2014 04:50

    We have a guy coming to our closed meeting who talks a lot about his drug use and also about how drinking was never a problem, or so it seems to him. He has trouble identifying as an alcoholic, yet doesn’t want to drink because he fears the path it will lead him down. Some in the group question why he’s there. I don’t – that’s a clear desire to stop drinking. Singleness of purpose is fine, but I think we need to be careful not to scare away the seekers.

    • 22 February 2014 07:19

      Agreed, Bob. A desire to stop drinking does not require that someone self-identify as an alcoholic.

  7. Dennis permalink
    1 June 2014 20:18

    Get the fuck out? Anyway, the 3rd Tradition does not make you a Member. It is the requirement for member ship. You can ONLY be a member when you say you are. No debate. As for druggies in an AA meeting, if it’s open, they and anyone else are welcome. If you think they are going to “Destroy AA” then do as it says above, make it closed. This was laid out very simply by Bill W. in the Pamphlet “Problems Other Than Alcohol”.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    20 August 2015 22:43

    Can I make a motion to open a closed meeting

    • 21 August 2015 07:16

      If you are a member of the group, you can propose a group conscience that the meeting status change. Then it will be voted upon. That’s how most groups do it.

    • JohnnyBee permalink
      9 February 2016 09:23

      A proper groups conscience would not have a vote that day however. It is really hard to fully discuss and have been educated on the issue. It is an “informed” groups conscience. Most groups announce they want to have a groups conscience on an issue and then set the start of discussion for 2 weeks from that day. This gives all members a chance to research the matter and be prepared to serve their group. Note I said “start of discussion”. Often it will take two or more discussions to fully vet the options. Please be aware that when you change from “closed” to “open” you are opening to everyone! Not only will the focus of the meeting change you will exposed to shares from gambling addicts, sex addicts, debtors anonymous, drug addicts many of whom you will not only not be able to relate to but more importantly you won’t be able to help. Secondarily your meeting can also be attended by probation department officials checking up on clients, jealous wives, people wanting to collect debts, etc. Additionally, an open meeting will expose you to parties who want to seek easier softer ways and they will want to share their process with you. In other words, the opening of the meeting may be opening your groups to all kinds of things that are difficult to foresee. I have seen members of religious bodies attempt to recruit AA members at open meetings!

      • Bob permalink
        29 May 2017 16:44

        Why would AAs want to open up a closed meeting so an non-alcoholic could attend? Makes no sense. If someone has a particular problem other than alcoholism, why not start your own type
        meeting

  9. Frances Slubik permalink
    17 September 2015 21:10

    I had entered a meeting held at a chirch. I was admonished for attending a closed meeting and asked to leave in a manner which I considered disrepectful. Distain for druggies seemed somewhat ironic to me, in its implication that there was something special about alcoholics vs. addicts. How inhumane to kick an individual out of a sacred meeting place, by using such logic. Oh, and I see a “Whites Only” toilet over there. Lets call a spade a spade. There is no hierarchy in this disease called addiction. Those who continue with closed meetings will soon find their rooms empty. Sharing is sharing, and our society needs to turn to the holy logic of acceptance for all. We are not living in 1935.

    • JohnnyBee permalink
      9 February 2016 09:32

      AA simply believes that while our concepts will work for all who use them we do not delude ourselves that we can be all things to all people. That is why Bill W. willingly released the 12 steps to all to use for their issues as they see fit. I have found that contrary to your admonishment that the more a meeting follows all the 12 Traditions the more it grows! Fortunately for you there is now groups called Substance Abuse Anonymous and I encourage you, as I feel Bill W. would have, to start a group in your area. Similarly NA is proud of their statement that a drug is a drug is a drug. It sounds like you would find their philosophy more in keeping with yours. I wish you well in your journey.

  10. Honey permalink
    29 December 2015 14:56

    Interest history and comments. I do understand why closed mtgs must be closed as an aa’er myself. I do not understand the foul language and hierarchy that is expressed in an environment that has helped us all. I don’t want an alcoholic to go out there to drink and die after being kicked out of a different addiction meeting. God shows mercy so let’s take the steps, whichever procedure we need to follow and show mercy to the next challenge similar to this, we face.

  11. 17 August 2016 16:04

    In my group a controversy has aroused about whether a drug addict can come into the group it’s a Closed Mtg this is A.A. meeting.
    Could you reply A.S.A.P
    Eddie. E.

    • 17 August 2016 19:09

      In my groups we always allowed anyone with a desire to stop drinking. If the person is abstinent from drugs, but continues to drink alcohol, I would say they should attend open meetings. Just my opinion.

  12. 21 September 2016 15:33

    With an attitude like that, do you really think anyone wants what you have, let alone be willing to go to any length to get it?

  13. Neal Jacquot permalink
    13 October 2016 12:50

    Let’s get to the bottom line on closed meetings……….can a wife (or someone who does not have a drinking problem) attend a closed meeting of AA? To a great extent, you seem to miss the question.

  14. Rob Coulahan permalink
    11 February 2017 18:18

    Very well said!

  15. 21 May 2017 09:20

    We have gone to a point where we are a closed meeting, but we announce that we will neither ask anyone to leave, nor ask anyone to stay. We will NOT ask anyone to leave the meeting after it has started, and we announce that we will deal with any questions of membership AFTER the meeting in privat. This is in accordance with the 4th tradition, and using love and tolerance as our code, in accordance with a loving God as He expressed Himself in our group concience. When new people show up to a meeting, they have no idea what closed or open is. To stop a meeting that is in progress, just to kick someone out, shows just how rigid we can be as human beings. Not a member of our group sees doing something like that as sober or loving?tolerant. We have had a member get up and leave when someone wasn’t asked to leave; but I submit that fact that I have heard ” the new comer is the most important person in the room” so many times that I finally realized that we collectively should put our money where our mouth is. We do not need to be a-holes about things. God is in charge, not us.

  16. Paul permalink
    23 May 2017 01:27

    Is this a “closed” thread? My response was never posted. I think it was too honest and too close to the truth. Sad sad sad

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