Feeling safe in a meeting

Strange topic, I know. There have been a few meetings I attended that I did not feel safe for myself and my sponsees in. I did not return. Here are a few criteria for the difference between a safe and an unsafe meeting.

  1. How do they identify themselves? There is a reason for this. If a group identifies only as a recovery meeting, and not with a specific fellowship, then I don’t feel comfortable. I have attended fellowships where the recovering rapists were sitting next to the victims of sexual abuse. It is similar to shooting fish in a barrel. However, I have also met and made friends with a convicted murderer who was sober in AA. I was more comfortable sitting next to him than in the other fellowship.
  2. How do they moderate the meetings? Is one person, outside of the speaker meeting situation allowed to speak for over 20 minutes? Is cross-talk allowed or encouraged? Are the members bullied by the other members? If the meeting is not moderated, I am not sure that I should return to that specific meeting.
  3. Is the literature used and referred to in the meeting? I have attended what Joe and Charlie refer to as group depression meetings. I always felt worse after attending than before I attended. They were a “How was your week” meeting, and not a, “We have a program, here is how we work it” meeting. If the solution is not a part of the meeting, I may sit and have a cup of coffee and bring up the program, but I won’t return to that meeting. I can attend therapy if I want that type of meeting.
  4. Are the members offering to help the newcomers? The newcomer is the most important person at any AA meeting. If no-one greets and offers to share with the newcomers, then why are the meetings happening? If a member I have not met before comes into the rooms, I usually try to greet them warmly, and offer to introduce them to one of the members I know who can help them through the meeting if I cannot do so myself. If this is not happening on a regular basis, I usually bale on that specific meeting time or location.
  5. Are members allowed to share? If the meeting passes all of the above criteria, and yet certain members are not allowed to share, I will wait for an answer. For example: If a person enters the rooms who appears to be homeless, are they allowed to share? If a person enters who is apparently drunk, yet desires to quit drinking, are they allowed to share within reason? If a person enters who is not an alcoholic, but there are no meetings available for their fellowship in the area, are they allowed to share on the topic at hand? If the answer is no, I am confused as to why not. What does it harm our primary purpose, which is to carry the message to allow our members to speak?
  6. Lastly, are the other members actively listening and paying attention? I have sat in meetings and watched the whole group talk amongst themselves while others were sharing. It has happened to me. Not being heard is the most disrespectful thing that can happen to the others in the room.

That said, what do I do when I enter a meeting and it fails one or more than one of the above criteria? Usually, I wait it out. I do my best to be outwardly and inwardly a good example of an AA member in good standing. In the case of odd fellowships that under tradition 3 I qualify for, but that I deem are not safe, I do not return.

In the case of members being bullied, I usually speak up. I ask the bully what step they are working, and what traditions they are not working. In the case of members not being allowed to speak, I will speak, and then pass it to them specifically. In the case of a meeting where one person out of 30 is allowed to speak for 20 minutes, I will watch my watch. I do not time the members’ shares, I will time my own. I may suggest that I did not know that it was a speakers meeting that specific night. For the newcomers, I do the best I can.

I have learned that sometimes the only way to change a bad meeting is to change it from the inside. If the meeting cannot change, then I do not bring myself or my sponsees back to that meeting.

That’s all I have for now, take care.


They are hidebound, I can adapt

Good afternoon. 

One lesson that hit me the most often over the years is adaptability. There are no set rules in recovery or life. Something that works today may not or likely will not work tomorrow. I learned that alcohol abused me as much as I abused it. I learned that psychiatric medications were not the solution to my alcohol problem. I learned that my worst character defects were killing me. I had to adapt.

I am not an intellectual. I barely passed high school. I never went to college. I learn hard, and I often forget the lessons learned. Yet, this lesson, somehow stayed with me. Like the Big Book, let me give you some examples from my own history.

When I came into AA, my local recovery community was a small one of two meetings per week. I began to supplement my recovery, eventually by going to meetings 30 miles away. I was warned about this group, being told that it was too incestuous. I learned quickly that the person who shared that information with me was correct. The group was excessivelyclicky. I became swamped immediately in the fray. 

Part of the problem I faced was my personal religious beliefs, my history of mental illness, and my status of surviving a man who beat me for going to meetings. There were several in the group who wanted me out. Add in a not so passing addiction to prescriptions, and I was in trouble. I survived, and thrived under fire.

How did I do it? 

Tradition 3, and the help of a couple of old timers. One old timer would not let me use my mental illness as an excuse to not recover or work part of the program. I had to work it all or not at all. I adapted. I learned, and I succeeded. 

Another person wanted me out because of my religious beliefs. She went so far as to call all of the churches in the area, busting my anonymity, and letting them know of my religious beliefs. I was not Christian at the time. A close friend warned me of this, who was a deacon in his church. 

I learned Tradition 3 and Tradition 10. I started bringing them up in meetings. When the meeting topic was God, I spoke often that there is no requirement for AA membership that states a specific religious connection. When I spoke of my religious affiliation, I made it so broad and general that most newcomers would not know of it, except by being told by “well meaning” old timers.
Another was certain that once I became free of the marriage that would have taken my life, I would immediately seek out all of the men and sleep with them all. That is just gross and disgusting. I had to fend off some not so appropriate touches and hugs from several men. I was not as choosy as I am today, but I survived.

I also dealt with one of the major sponsors in the area spreading her own personal cult of recovery. Thank God I no longer was in her sponsorship line. I did the best I could with what God handed me.

Over time, my religious beliefs aligned more ‘properly’ with the group’s ideals, through my own exploration of the steps and my relationship with God.

Then came the pogram of kicking out the addicts, and the fellowship war. At this point I belonged to two fellowships in the area, qualifying via the 3rd tradition for 3 different active fellowships. Like a turd, I swirled the bowl, but did not sink. What helped me here was faith in God and faith in the twelve steps and traditions.

I kept coming back, and they could not bar me from the rooms. 

I am no angel. I am not a saint. However, I am a survivor, and not a victim. I learned the traditions, like a badge, I wore them on my chest. I adapted, sometimes floating while the group swirled around me, but I survived.

The most important lesson I learned is to not worship at the altar of someone’s sobriety date. One of the sickest people I ever met claimed over 20 years. Our biggest argument came the day I asked them, “And what step are you working?” 

Everyone in life has the right to recover. Everyone has the right to work a program of action. Everyone has a right to live alcohol and addiction free. 

If your home group is as poisonous as my old home group was, then maybe learning a few traditions may help you. May the good Lord be with you on your journey through recovery and life.