Thursday, February 26, 2009

AA's Singleness of Purpose

AA's Singleness of Purpose

An excerpt:

“I am an alcoholic. I have a drug history as long as my alcoholism, but I am not an addict. The stories I have heard of addicts, gamblers, and so on elicit sympathy from me, but do not reach that place in me of identification that I find in the story of another alcoholic- that place where I actually begin to feel the pain experienced by the speaker and relate his experience to my own. Thank God you had alcoholics speak to me of alcoholism when I came into AA. Because identification is so vital to the recovery of alcoholics like myself, I do not wish to risk weakening my effectiveness by speaking of my drug use in an AA meeting.

“We alcoholics come with many “related disorders” of drugs, gambling, overeating, sex, depression, anxiety, and so on, but by choosing to join AA we have chosen a common ground on which to relate to one another- alcoholism and recovery from alcoholism. Given the diversity of people and problems in AA, the unity necessary to function as a group would be impossible and our effectiveness with newcomers diminished if we did not keep our focus on our common problem. I have to relate myself to the group as a whole for my own recovery and the recovery of those I would help. I would hate to see the day in AA where an alcoholic’s chance to recover was dependent upon whether we had the “right” person with the “right” set of problems for him that day on the answering service, Twelve Step call, and so on. I would hate to see the day when any real alcoholic finds himself unable to relate to a speaker or discussion due to too much talk of problems other than alcoholism that he does not possess. I want every alcoholic to have the chance I had to enter an AA meeting and come to realize, as I did,  that “those people are like me and maybe if I do what they did it will work for me too.” ”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

service work

Last night I gave a lead at a meeting I'd not been to before. Lots of fresh ones, right off the rehab center bus! I just love the new people - you know the ones... when you hug them, they're still kinda wet and squishy and the booze just oozes out of their pores!

Yeah, yeah, I know - gross. But it's the reality. At least for me it was. At my first meeting, I am sure that I was stinky, barfy, boozy and possibly a little bloody, self-mutilation, aka "cutting" having become an off-and-on avenue towards my suicidal destination. Oh, and I was cranky. Okay, not cranky - I was in rage! Enraged!

Or was I... ? I always say that, but now that I've got more information -by way of the steps- maybe it was really just my intense FEAR masquerading as rage. Know what I mean? That molten volcano of mixed-up emotions somehow rumbled out of me as rage. What I really was, I think, was a person who had been literally minutes and inches from stepping off a 7-story apartment building because the sensations of hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, self-loathing and confusion were overwhelming. Overwhelming, to put it quite lightly.

So these newcomers - I love 'em. I also fear for them. As I was sharing last night, I saw a bunch of the treatment center folks nodding their heads. They were especially noddy when I talked about being in early sobriety and having the feeling that your skin had been peeled off and that sensation of bareness was SO PAINFUL that even a breeze hurt. And when people are in that place, I fear for them a lot - those are the moments when a drink seems like the solution.

So I talked about that, sharing what had been shared with me: Get yourself in the middle of the program! Stay there! Surround yourself with people who have more time than you but always reach out to grab another newcomer to take along with you. If you're in the center, you can't fall off; if you stay out on the edges, you're likely to drift away, very possibly to your death.

It's always so sweet when the newcomers come up after the meeting, thanking me for saying such amazing stuff - and I always thank them for coming to the meeting and make sure they know I'm only sharing what was shared with me... and that one day I hope they'll do the same.

In fact, I've spent a nice chunk of change taking sponsees to coffee, lunch and dinner. When they thank me for treating them, I make a point of telling them that one day THEY will be in a position to do the same for someone else. At one time, I was where they are and women helped me out so that I could be with the group for that "meeting after the meeting."

What does any of this have to do with my post title, "service work"? Everything! I was told early on that I was to say "yes" to AA whenever I was able, the only exceptions being when I truly couldn't fulfill a request.

Not everyone can stand at the podium, not everyone can read aloud at a meeting, not everyone can lift tables or chairs to set up or break down, but just about everyone can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic. And we do that in so many ways: Sometimes that's done by helping out in the ways I just listed. But too, by being there at the meeting, walking around and introducing yourself before the meeting, hugging folks afterwards... Sometimes our very presence is exactly what someone needs to see to help them stay sober that day.

So service work: Do it, do it in whatever way you can. I challenge you to even take a leap of faith and do something out of your comfort level once in a while - carry a meeting to a jail or prison, sign up to answer the late-night calls, or stand up and read "How It Works" when asked. If you do some kind of service work, you are guaranteed to keep at least one person sober: You!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Can a picture save lives?

Today at the 10 a.m. women's meeting, a fairly new member (we'll call her "Skippy") pounced on the call for a topic for the discussion. She's actually been around for a while, but she has a hard time staying sober. If you squeezed her at random times, you'd be more likely than not to get a bit of booze out of her.

Anyway, her topic was weepily presented. A young local man died drunk last week. A number of women in the meeting knew him from other meetings. Skippy shared in top dramatic form that the dead man's mother had given her (Skippy) the man's picture and asked her to take it to meetings to pass around.

Said the mother, according to Skippy, "If just one life can be saved by looking at my dead son's picture, I'll know his death wasn't in vain!"

So Skippy had the picture in her hand and held it up as she went on to tell us that the mother was living with horrible guilt because she'd been angry when the son came home drunk. Apparently he didn't like her reaction and went back out and then crashed and died.

Skippy handed the photo to the woman on her right and there was a pause. The chair, another one who is fairly gushy with fresh booze (at times) said, "so then the topic is... grief?"

I said, "First step."

Well, we had a brand-spankin' new one there - in her second week of sobriety (and her first second week, at that - and of course, hopefully her ONLY second week).

Anyway, I decided to share first to hopefully get us on track with something like Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I'm Sober Girl and I'm an alcoholic," I began. "I wish that looking at the picture of a dead alcoholic could keep me sober, but it can't. I feel sad for him and for his family, but I knew lots of dead people before sobriety and sadly even more since getting sober."

I'm not going to try to tell you verbatim what I shared, but I will tell you this:

First, outside issues and singleness of purpose. It wasn't the mother of the dead guy sharing (and the mother is not an alcoholic) it was a third party. I think that between a good handful of us, we managed to make the meeting revolve around alcoholism, recovery, sobriety and the first step. Living in the solution was mentioned a lot.

Oh, how I do wish that images could keep me sober. And sometimes recollections of my past (upon which I do not shut the door) are alarmingly crystal clear. My own story can help me stay sober today, it is true. But if all it took to keep me sober, to save my life, was pictures of dead alcoholics, believe me - I would have overflowing photo albums all over my house.

What keeps me sober is this: The daily reprieve I am granted by way of the maintenance of my spiritual fitness. I have to do what recovered alcoholics do - pray, talk to my sponsor and other alcoholics, go to meetings, be of service to others, read our literature and DON'T pick up the first drink.

I do not believe that "some must die so that others may live." Nor do I believe that those of us who are sober today are thus because God selected us to be sober. Too frightening a thought. What if God decides tomorrow that I don't need to be sober anymore? What if God decides tomorrow that I need to die so that others may live?

No, the story of the young man, presented earnestly as a cautionary tale by a newcomer who really should have consulted her sponsor first ("hey, sponsor, this lady gave me her dead son's picture and asked me to pass it around - is that okay to do?") is not going to keep me sober. I doubt it's going to keep anyone sober.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

thanks, Parker

Thanks, Parker, for commenting. You win a (yet to be determined) prize for being the first person to comment!

I have been mulling over your thoughts and I'm glad that we can agree, disagree and even agree to disagree - and yet still be members of the same lifesaving group. (That's AA for you kids who aren't following along!)

I don't agree with everyone in AA. I don't have to. I bet I'd love hearing Parker's lead, or to hang out with him and his pals at the "meeting after the meeting." As long as my heart and mind are open, I am going to learn something from him.

Anyway, I still feel like a stickler about the traditions and how I see them sometimes being twisted and bent. But I also know that the line between alcoholism and drug addiction is getting thinner and thinner.

I've sponsored a few women who didn't identify as alcoholics at all - one was a heroin addict and another a crack addict. Neither of them are sober today (to the best of my knowledge)
- and that's not my fault. I shared my experience, strength and hope with them, tried to guide them through the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and one stayed clean for a while and the other never seemed to be able to get it.

Was that because I don't identify as an addict? That is, that my substance of choice -the one that really did me in- was alcohol? Who can say... not me.

It's unfortunate, I think, that NA (narcotics anonymous) is such a crap-heap. I've never heard anyone say anything good about it. In my earliest attempts at getting sober, I went to NA for a while, thinking that I'd be better able to relate with the leather-jacketed, hyper-tatted punk rockers that I saw there. As it turned out, they hung out in a bar and shot pool. Every time I would hang with them, I'd check out early to hit the liquor store to go drink alone. I didn't use drugs during that time, but I continued to drink just as much as usual.

NA will never have the kind of healthy members it needs to sustain new folks if those who have been clean for a while (through whatEVER program) don't go back to help. If nobody ever goes in and says, "This is not a pickup joint! This is about life and death!" maybe it just stays the same. I don't know.

Years ago, there was an OA member who came to my AA women's meeting occasionally. It was a closed AA meeting, but I guess the oldtimers felt that it was okay for her to be there. I could NEVER relate to what she shared and I don't know if she could relate to us, but there she was, talking about food cravings followed by totally unrelated shares about... yeah, you guessed it: alcoholism.

I suppose the bottom line is that the OA woman was helped. None of us were, perhaps, but she was. And for a self-centered alcoholic like me, maybe letting someone else be the only one who benefits from something is a benefit in itself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

is "a drug-a-drug-a-drug"?

When people tell me, "a drug is a drug is a drug," they are almost always defending the notion that AA should be open to people whose "substance of choice" is a drug, not alcohol. You know that I think open meetings should most certainly be open to those who aren't yet sure, or who might have a problem with alcohol... that sort of thing. ("The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.")

Last summer, I had a Big Book study group at my house. The participants were newer members of AA and lived at a local recovery house for women. They got upset about the singleness of purpose once, telling me such things as: "That's discrimination!" and "It's segregation!" and "If it helps drug addicts, they should be able to go, too!"

So I started to list some existing and made-up "-isms" and said, "Should those people feel free to attend closed AA meetings, too?" Do you think you can help the person with food issues? Sugar issues? Heroin issues? Sex addiction? Perhaps a grown man who feels that AA can help them not have sex with 6-year old girls? The person who is a work-a-holic... can you help that person?

At what point do you think we draw should the line? When you think about sharing (exchanging) experience, strength and hope, with whom do you think about sharing it? With people who will be able to relate? Whose own E, S & H you will be able to relate to?

When we broaden the membership of closed AA meetings, we water down not only the message, but also our ability to really help one-another.

Can I understand, in a way, the cravings of a crack addict? Sure I can. How does the crack addict feel about my cravings for alcohol? I've been told (by crack addicts) such stuff as, "You had it lucky - your substance is legal. You didn't have to feel ashamed about going to the liquor store to get it."

Well, those words are true, yet I did feel ashamed when buying booze. Ashamed, in fact, to the point of going to a different store each day. And not only ashamed about buying it, but of sitting on barstools being "cute" in order to get men to buy it for me when I was broke. And don't for a minute think those men were being kind-hearted and generous - there was most definitely a price for the booze they bought me and it included my body, my self-esteem and my self-respect.

I digress. I am not against helping people in need. If a friend told me that she was depressed, I wouldn't send her to an AA meeting, I'd recommend she see my therapist, maybe a psychiatrist for meds. If you told me that you couldn't stop coughing, I wouldn't tell you to go to an AA meeting, I'd suggest you see a doctor.

I can empathize with the depression and the cough, I've even experienced them. But my primary experience, strength and hope is not in those areas. It's in the area of alcoholism.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

the only requirement for membership...

At a recent meeting, a new woman introduced herself as an addict. In fact, when I was introduced to her before the meeting (like "New Girl, meet Sober Girl - she's been around for a few 24 hours...") she told me that she's not actually an alcoholic - she smoked crack.

"Aah," I said. "Have you been to any NA meetings yet?"
"Well, a few," she answered. "But I like AA better."

I suggested that she keep trying NA meetings -in addition to OPEN AA meetings, just in case it turned out she might also have an alcohol problem- so that she could meet people with her same problem. She shrugged and said okay.

Up in the meeting, she suggested the topic: She felt like she was suddenly so angry, how could she keep from erupting at her mother and two small kids?

Because she introduced herself as an addict when she spoke and (probably) because she mentioned in her share that crack was her drug of choice, it was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that this girl considers herself not an alcoholic, but an addict.

Here's where it gets sticky:

As people around the table shared on her topic, they seemed to edit their comments to include the part where she's an addict. For example: Keith said, " for me, calling my sponsor, going to meetings and praying really helped me to stay sober. Or, I mean, clean."

Another person did the same thing, changing "drinking" to "using." And on and on it went. My companion and I are both sticklers for the singleness of purpose and so while neither of our shares were mean or sharp, we did both emphasize alcohol in our shares.

After the meeting I said, "You know what? I think we [meaning just about everyone at the meeting] just made it too comfortable for a non-alcoholic drug addict to be in a closed AA meeting." My companion agreed.

I truly believe that by allowing non-alcoholic addicts to settle into AA, we (of AA) are preventing them from getting well.

Ray O'Keefe told a story that illustrates why I feel this way: If you took 100 pounds of cocaine and dumped it on a table in the supermarket and walked away, in a day or two, you'd have 100 coke addicts; if you left out hundreds of bottles of booze and walked away, when you came back, you'd have just a few alcoholics.

In other words, not just anyone becomes an alcoholic - there has to be some set of SOMETHING in place for it to happen (be it nurture or nature or both). Anyone can become addicted to an addictive drug.

Therefore, a drug is NOT a drug is NOT a drug (my counter to the ever-popular "a drug is a drug is a drug.")

The addict needs to talk to someone who gets being an addict. The alcoholic needs to talk to someone who gets being an alcoholic. They are related, those two diseases, and yes, both are addictions, but they are still very different.

So I say to all the alcoholics out there: Let's please help our friends, the non-alcoholic addicts, and direct them gently and lovingly to NA meetings.

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