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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.