I came into SA in 1987 in Los Angeles. I attended meetings, went to international conferences, had three sponsors in succession, made as many as four phone calls every day and followed directions from those three sponsors. I was never sober for the first six years. People ask what changed. In 1993 there was a confluence of several factors. I was broken, I had no job and drove a car that was so battered that people couldn’t agree on what color it was. I had no hope for change in any area of my life let alone sobriety and I was desperately lonely. Two friends tried to get me to go to a meeting where they saw something different. My friends told me the guys at the meeting could help me.
The meeting was in North Hollywood on Friday night. Through the influence of two guys who had experience in another 12 Step program, the meeting became known for a tough, no-nonsense approach to recovery. The SA meetings I had attended up to that point were not helpful. Members just shared whatever happened to them that week or in the past without regard for how what they were sharing affected others in the meeting. We seemed to be glad to dump whatever we were carrying at the time. The sharing rarely got down to problems that had been solved by applying the principles of the program, the Steps.
The North Hollywood meeting focused on sharing the Solution. If a problem was brought to the light the person sharing ended with the solution and the eventual outcome. People were encouraged not to indulge in self-pity. Usually, if this happened, one or two recovering members would confront the person during or after the meeting. They would ask questions like – “What is the solution?”, “What are you going to do about that?” “You are sucking all of the air out of the meeting – when are you going to contribute something?”
They would frequently ask random members, “What have you done to save someone’s life today?” That was code for have you cared enough about another person to ask him how he is today? Have you packed anything into the stream of life or are you still just taking? We asked each other what Step we were currently working on and when we could finish that Step and move on to the next one. Having a sponsor was important so they asked people if they had a sponsor. The next question might be, “When was the last time you called him?”
My experience of the meeting on that Friday night gave me a shock. There were people there who were changed. One guy in particular showed such radical growth that I was amazed when I talked to him. He demonstrated the attitude and the priorities of the meeting by asking me two questions – “Do you want to be sober?” and “Will you work with a sponsor?” He selected a sponsor for me from a pool of volunteers. That man is still my sponsor after 28 years. At last I had a sponsor who had a sponsor and who had taken the actions described by the Steps. I was told to read the White Book and the AA literature. The first 164 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous contain the solution. The White Book tells us to look for detailed instructions on working the steps in the AA Big Book. So meetings, sponsors and individuals became steeped in the White Book, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
I was welcomed into a fellowship of recovery. I was encouraged to get involved, talk to people and contribute. We met in members’ homes. We drove wives to jails to meet their husbands. We went to Court to support a member on trial. We met before meetings and showed up early. I learned to go to meetings to see what I could give. I was to listen during the meeting to identify someone who might need help and talk to them after the meeting. Look for the guy who is on the fringes and not engaged with anyone.
Helping others find sobriety and recovery is why we meet. If I revert to being as selfish and self-centered as I was, I will sink into that horrible dark place that is lonely and keeps me in slavery. Page 20 of Alcoholics Anonymous has this gem – Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.
After some meetings we find a place to talk. We might stay for hours talking about baseball. Other nights there is confrontation about recovery. There are sessions where there are tears. The purpose of meeting after the meeting is to provide a place where members can talk about anything and find solutions. North Hollywood was never a social club. We had one purpose – to help sexaholics find relief from the horrible condition of sexaholism. The meeting was not interested in hearing what drunks had to say. They wanted people who had experience taking action, the actions in the Steps, or as the White Book says, the actions of love.
No one was trying to be mean or severe. The aim was always to be available for the addict who was suffering. The availability was not so that we could commiserate with him, join him in a pity party, but to offer a solution. It scared me to realize that those guys were not going to baby me or take care of me. They showed me that I was responsible for the quality of my life. I could look to or blame no one for being responsible for the condition of my life. I was responsible to take action. No one could do it for me. I had to grow up quickly. That was hard at 42.
One of the strengths of the meeting grew out of familiarity members had with the literature. One example was when I complained about another member to a recovering member of the group. He looked at me and quoted page 90 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions – It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. But I repeated that conversation two or three times, always going to the same guy to complain about how another member had hurt me or offended me. After maybe the third time, I began to see what my friend and the book were trying to say. I needed to look at myself when I was disturbed. Strong meetings have members who know the literature and have applied it to their lives and helped others apply it to theirs.
Everyone participates as an equal in a strong meeting and rotation of leadership is practiced. These are my opinions based on my experience. Nothing I have written should be accepted until it is compared with what is in the White Book or the first 164 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous. I may be wrong on some point. There are no rules, but there are lessons we have learned from being in meetings. What I have written are some of the lessons I have learned. The most important thing is that our meetings and our lives be governed by love.
Gary W., California, USA