Firstly …....DON'T PANIC! Most AA meetings are still safe to be around, and most AA members only want to help you.... because helping you helps them as well. So everyone's a winner! BUT.... and there's always a BUT.....there are people associated with AA who aren't very well, and have quite a different agenda. This article is intended to help you spot these pitfalls and avoid them. Otherwise enjoy the journey!
Membership of AA
You are a member of AA when you say you are. You don't have to prove to anyone that you have a desire to stop drinking - or that you “qualify” for membership in any way - or present a doctor's certificate - or swear an affidavit or even fill in a form. You decide …. end of! Similarly if you don't want to be a member of AA any more? Guess what! It's your choice. If you say you're not a member of AA then you're not a member of AA. Couldn't be simpler could it!
You can attend any AA meeting you like (anywhere in the world) and go to as few or as many as you wish – or even none at all. It's your choice and no one else's. If a group places ANY restriction on you attending a (closed) meeting (other than the fact that you meet the self-determined membership requirement) then it's NOT AN AA MEETING.
Speaking (“sharing”) at AA meetings
Any member of AA can speak at an AA meeting (but one at a time – otherwise it's gets a bit messy!). No one can censor what you say (other than according to the criminal law of the country). You can speak if you're one hour sober or a lifetime off the booze. That's your choice – and no one else's! There are no qualifications for “sharing” eg. you do not need to have 'done' the programme, reached a certain step, have a sponsor etc in order to talk about your experiences. And of course if you don't want to say a word you don't have to. That's your business.
You can make a contribution to help pay for the expenses of running the meeting and maybe towards other costs incurred by AA in “carrying the message”. e.g. general service office, telephone service etc. Or then again maybe you don't feel like giving – in which case you don't have to. That's your choice. But at least don't take any money OUT of the pot!
You can help out at meetings right from the start. But if you don't want to and would rather just sit and listen (and share maybe) then you can do that as well. Remember – that is YOUR choice! And no one else's.
Generally this refers to Alcoholics Anonymous “suggested” 12 Step programme. “Suggested” means advised. You may elect to follow this advice. On the other hand you may not. Either way this is your choice and …. NO ONE ELSE'S!
In AA there are no 'experts', 'authorities' or 'bosses'. There are, however, people who think they are! Study guides, work sheets etc are entirely dispensable (including ours!) and none are provided by AA. Circuit speakers, “personalities” (for want of a better word) and gurus are merely the modern day equivalent of 'snake oil purveyors'. If what they promise sounds too good to be true … guess what! It probably is. Remember! While they're busy lecturing the rest of us are just getting on with our lives. Beware of the slick sales pitch because that's precisely what it is! All that glitters is not gold! Or maybe it's just fool's gold! So why buy it!
Sponsorship (see here for some ideas on the subject)
It isn't essential or even necessary for recovery, and no sponsorship is certainly better than bad sponsorship – and there's plenty of that around. If you've stopped drinking and you're getting some insight into your alcohol problem (and some possible solutions) then you're ALREADY ON THE PROGRAMME... and you don't need confirmation from anybody else as to whether you are or you aren't! Don't be in a rush. You've got your whole life to get well and it's better to lay sure foundations now than rush ahead only to have to retrace your steps later. Again if anyone claims they can show you the way to overnight success then remember what we said about it sounding too good to be true. It is!
If you do decide you want a sponsor (and that's your choice not theirs) then here are some things to look out for:
If someone offers to sponsor you (temporary or otherwise) they may have good intentions … or then again they may be control freaks looking for another victim. If in doubt DON'T take up the offer. Take your time and when you have got to know someone (and are confident they are NOT A CONTROL FREAK) then YOU MAY choose to ask them. Take the initiative and remain in control.
Don't give your phone number out to anyone who asks. They may offer their number to you – that's up to them. Again wait until you've got to know somebody before handing over this information. You have the right to privacy.
If, having got a sponsor, you find that they are trying to control any aspect of your life eg. relationships, medical treatment (including medication), therapy (eg. counselling), finances, relationships (sexual or otherwise), employment, dress code (No! We're not kidding here!), which meetings you attend, what time you contact them etc then you have by definition lumbered yourself with a control freak. This is not sponsorship. This is someone playing God! Again … DON'T PANIC – unlumber yourself forthwith... and then it's back to the drawing board! Don't blame yourself for the decision. Put it down to experience and move on.
The same guidelines apply with groups. Most AA meetings are run by members who are there simply to help. They will share their experience, strength and hope with you but the rest is your responsibility. But some meetings are run by groups of people (we call them cults) who want to run your life. Don't let them. Again don't be fooled by appearances. Some of these operations are quite slick and appear impressive. But again … look out for fool's gold. The fake stuff gleams just as prettily but just try and cash it in!
You DON'T have to put up with bullying! You're worth more than that
You DON'T need your life run for you by someone else. That's YOUR responsibility
You have the RIGHT to THINK FOR YOURSELF. Don't let anyone try and undermine that
You have the RIGHT to FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – don't let anyone try and stifle that
Your HIGHER POWER is your choice – no one else's
It's YOUR PROGRAMME OF RECOVERY that counts! Not theirs!
And finally - we did not escape the tyranny of alcoholism simply to be subjugated by another alcoholic. Freedom is the magic word!
Have fun! (and that IS a suggestion!)
The Fellas (Friends of Alcoholics Anonymous)