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Dictating the Terms of your Sobriety.

22 October 2015

Yesterday at my Men’s Meeting a new guy shared about being angry. There are lots of emotions that bull-in-a-china-shop their way through you when you’re in early sobriety, and this guy has his share. He’s been sober a little more than three months, and he’s probably my age or maybe a little older, chronologically, but he’s about 14 emotionally. That’s true of a lot of us too. We often say in AA that emotionally, you stop maturing when you become a habitual drunk. When you sober up, you start aging from there.

New Guy was angry because his ideas for making meetings better aren’t being honored and listened to. This is fairly common. Everybody, when they first join AA, thinks they know how to make it better. This typically manifests in a few stereotypical ways, either about God or about gender (The book Alcoholics Anonymous makes a few assumptions about gender typical of the 1930s, despite the fact that it’s a wildly progressive document for its time.), or about tweaks to the steps.

Generally after a year or so, people settle down and realize that there’s no need to be fractious about things. We all live and let live, in AA, and the book is what it is and says what it says, and if you don’t want to take stock in something about it, well, feel free not to. Whatever works for you. Nobody’s changing the book. Nobody’s splitting up the fellowship over arguments about language. You just do what you do and take what works for you, and let others do the same. In this way, for some 80 years, millions of us have been recovering.

New Guy was angry today that when he had chaired another meeting (And, for the record, that’s a shit idea. No one should chair a meeting until they’ve got at least six months sober and done a few steps. New Guy hasn’t.) he had decided to change up how the meeting was opened, because he felt it was a little repetitive. So, without consulting anyone, he just did it. Because he doesn’t get that it’s not about him. Then, when his sponsor called him out, he got pissed off.

This is the same guy who, a few weeks ago, came into the Men’s Meeting about 5 minutes late, started talking over the speaker saying hello to everyone, and then announced, “Don’t wait for me, I’m just going to go to the bathroom.” I looked him square in the eye and said, “Yeah, we weren’t gonna.”

I’m hopeful for New Guy. I think he’s got a shot at this. But he needs to shut up and listen to other people. The people who come in to AA and start trying to change the program before they’ve worked it usually end up going out. I’m not talking about what happens to all of us, thinking we can see improvements. Some people come in and really fight the program. They make themselves crusaders about this topic or that, and get angry when people don’t immediately adopt their newer, “better” way. Why can’t we see how smart they are?

These people are trying to dictate the terms of their sobriety. One crucial aspect of the program, one thing that is required for people who drink like we drink to recover, is the surrender. We have to be willing to take direction. To do it someone else’s way. To recognize the possibility that we may not have the answers, and that we may be wrong when we feel 100% right. A lot of people come in with riders attached to their sobriety contract: “I’ll sober up if the world treats me right.”

Yeah, good luck with that. Generally, those people just need to do a little more research, as we say. When it’s time to embrace recovery and sobriety, we must come to it from a place of brokenness, contrition, and willingness. If the sentence, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” is followed by an “if” or a “when” or a “provided”, then you’re not ready. Go try something else, or go drink. AA probably isn’t for you.

We say that a lot in AA to newcomers who are disruptive or fancy themselves crusaders for a new way before they’ve tried the old. Or those who think they can learn to drink normally. Go ahead. Give it a shot. AA will be here when you’re ready. Sometimes they do, and they disappear or die. Sometimes they do, and they return ready to recover. Sometimes they don’t, they get it, and they recover. Sometimes they don’t, they keep up their weird crusade, and end up miserable but abstinent. Or they end up going in and out for decades.

All of those are ok. I will fight like hell to help someone who wants what I’ve got. But if you don’t, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I’m in AA to save my ass, not yours. If I have the kind of life you want, and you’re willing to go to any length to get it, I can walk you through the door, up the path, and all the way to the promised land. If you don’t, or if you’re not willing to do what it takes, then I never had any chance of helping you in the first place.

The program is the program. Its worth is proven millions of times over. If you think you have an easier, softer way, I will be thrilled for you when you find it. Maybe you can help others. But I have found my way. It is the only way I know, or am interested in. Having discovered the way to peace, I do not need to fight any new battles.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    22 October 2015 09:51

    I’ve seen it a million times. It is the reason most meetings read “How it Works” at the start. That document lays out a very strident path for a reason. My sponsor guided me through my own version of this part of my pathway by calmly repeating that it was a “surrender to win” and reminding me that I was trusting a mind whose solution to everything just a few weeks prior was to go to the bar.

  2. 22 October 2015 17:11

    I know no one could accept it now, but I was told to shut up. Literally. Shut up because I didn’t know anything. I realized it was the truth and I shut up and listened. Even though my ideas were WAY better…. i thought.

  3. Syd permalink
    24 October 2015 10:48

    Great post. Thank you. So very true–every word. The easier softer way does not work for any of us who are affected by alcoholism.

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