A meeting of the minds, if so inclined, with memories of habits that drove us insane. A free exchange of facts, that transform, reshape and implications that engage thoughts that there is a better way.
A.A. Meetings are a cross between a self-help program, group therapy and a revival meeting.
Meeting formats and procedure are as diverse as there are groups. I have been to meetings all over most of these United States and some foreign countries including Mississippi.
In the early 1960’s when wife swapping was in vogue, an A.A group formed around this platform of depravity. A moral indignant railed to Bill W as to the potential black eye to A.A. and the dark cloud of guilt by association. Bill W asked are they staying sober? The emphatic reply yes they are, Bill exclaimed that every group has the right to be wrong.
It only takes two things to start a new A.A. group: resentment and a coffee pot. The coffee pot is optional
Meeting formats are borrowed; they develop from the surrounding and familiar formats of the nearby groups. The founders of the new group emulate the familiar, the good, the not so good and the unthinking. Change is hard for most and Twelve Step fellowships sometimes can be an extreme example of maintaining the status quo. Once upon a time, a fist fight broke out when someone changed the positions of the chairs. We have paid dearly for our seats and now we become glued to our personal point of view.
Change in A.A. is accomplished at the group level by the function known as the Group ConscienceÂ. Â Parliamentary procedure is adopted and anyone can bring up topics for discussion. Anything that can impact the group is addressed with lively aplomb. In my experience, much is discussed providing a platform to gripe, where egos are challenged and everyone is right and no one is wrong. We vote on an agreement to table the proposal to avoid a loggerhead of hurt feelings and, in the extreme, a possible fight. Believe it or not, some how some way, things slowly get done.
Once ingrained, meeting agendas are almost impossible to change. The collective thinking may be This is what worked for me, If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Who put you in charge? Rules, we got no stinking rules; what we got are stinking suggestions. In A.A. we have more than our fair share of know it all’sÂ and egomaniacs with low self-esteem. How do I know what these things are all about? Because in part I am talking about me.
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD WHERE THE SPIRIT IS AFFIRMED EXPERIENCE CAN BE TAUGHT; LEST I FORGET, LET’S HAVE SOME FUN AND GET CAUGHT UP
Open up and let her fly– versus closed and locked where anonymity is jealously stocked
Open meetings are just that; come one come all. Young mothers with babes, toddlers even so. Most through courtesy know enough to simmer down their tone. Even the occasional sociology student or intern from some specialty will find their way through the doors of recovery. Family members who would show support are welcomed to stay and do their part.
Doctors, lawyers and captains of industry, airline pilots, judges with a sense of jurist prudence in order to avoid any tempest fury.
The requirement is a desire to stop drinking, or if you think you have a problem with alcohol, you’re welcome, otherwise not.
One such club has a checkered history. A founder was fond of a lady with a similar disease who frequented the same club location. Alas, his wife was an Alonon and to insure his dalliance would avoid detection, he and his co-founding cronies closed down the club against any and all inspection.
The players are all gone to their reward but the club policy has remained intact. One of three clubs in the U.S.A. that remains completely and uniquely closed. Time takes time and perhaps one day when the old timers, the guardians of the status quo, go the way of all flesh, things might change or it will boast how it uniquely remained the same. The only thing true is that there is room for two.
No one is in charge, but what we do have are trusted servants.
The chairperson brings the room to order and his first order of business is to announce his/her name, his/her affiliation (or affliction) and name of the club or group.
Hello everyone and welcome to the (time and day) meeting of the (XYZ) Group of Alcoholics Anonymous. My name is Joseph G and I am a grateful recovered alcoholic. My sobriety date is January 10th, 1997.This is a no textiingÂ zone, and please stay off the pager and stay off the phone, put it on stun if you gotta run. Thank You!
Let us take a moment of silence to use in your own way followed by the serenity prayer.
The silence hangs as the spirit is enlivened and thoughts are collected. Sometimes a barley audible and collective exhale as serenity is summoned.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The chair: Â Is anyone attending their first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting anytime, anywhere? Would you please identify yourself by your first name only so we can get to know you?
(Suggestion) A pre agreed group of like gendered individuals will accompany you to another room so we can introduce you to A.A. The inquiry would determine if the newcomer has been given the gift of desperation, a nudge from the Judge, keeping a threatening spouse or employer at bay or somehow has just gotten lost somewhere along the way. A temporary sponsor could be made available giving the new comer direction, hope and a sense of redemption. If they are just window shopping the mini meeting would assure them that if they are willing to follow our path that they could expect a better than average chance for a daily reprieve from this disease of mind body and spirit. (Because of the organization required it might very well be like herding cats. A newcomers meeting might be the most appropriate venue.
Are there any visitors that are passing through that would like to be recognized? If you have legal documents to be signed, please raise your hand. Would the person sitting next to you take a moment and please sign off on the document. You are now free to go or you’re now free to stay. A.A is for people who want it, not for people who need it.
(Suggestion) I will be passing a newcomers packet (men for the men, and women for the women) If your so inclined please put your name and phone number in order to help the newcomer develop his or her recovery life line. (Meeting schedules, A.A. pamphlets and any other material suggested by group conscious)
The Chair reads the A.A. preamble:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
We ask that everyone respect the privacy and anonymity of each person here. The opinions expressed in this meeting are those of each speaker and are not necessarily those of A.A. as a whole.
We ask that those who share their experience strength and hope focus on our intended purpose– recovery from alcoholism. If you are a newcomer to A.A. or the (XYZ group), please stay after the meeting as we would like to get to know you.
I have asked (a friend) to read How it Works from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous pages 58-60 (Some have heard a thousand times and for some it’s the very first time)
I have asked (another friend) to read the Tradition(s) of the month. And/ or the Promises (Simple enough)
(In St. Paul MN. they also read)
Chair: Will those who have worked the Twelve Steps and are available to be sponsors please raise your hand, please take a moment and look around at these people who are willing to give of there experience strength and hope so that you can attain and then maintain sobriety in A.A, Thank you
What Is Sponsorship?
Alcoholics Anonymous began with sponsorship. When Bill W., only a few months sober, was stricken with a powerful urge to drink, this thought came to him: You need another alcoholic to talk to. You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you!
When we first began to attend AA meetings, we may feel confused and sick and apprehensive. Although people at meetings respond to our questions willingly, that alone isn’t enough. Many other questions occur to us between meetings; we may find we need constant, close support as we begin learning how to live sober. So we select an AA member with whom we can feel comfortable, someone with whom we can talk freely and confidentially, and we ask that person to be our sponsor.
Whether you are a newcomer who is hesitant about bothering anyone, or a member who has been around for some time trying to go it alone, sponsorship is yours for the asking. We urge you: do not delay. Alcoholics recovering inÂ AA wantÂ to share what they have learned with other alcoholics. We know from experience that our own sobriety is greatly strengthened when we give it away!
A topic both pondered and well conceived or an intuitive thought; something that the chair person seeks clarification of wants versus needs. If nothing particular comes to mind the topic can be solicited from the gathered group. After all, this is A.A.; you can speak to your needs. Try to stay on topic so that the discussion will take direction. All meetings are gratitude meetings and once we let go, the meeting will take on a mind of its own, directed by a power greater than we know.
A good meeting is when you heard something you needed to hear. A great meeting is when you said something that someone else needed to hear.
The Chair: suggests a topic or expands on the suggested topic with his experience, strength and hope; three to five minutes is sufficient to accomplish this feat.
The Chair has also spoken its peace. It suggests that there should be no cross talk– we do not talk directly to someone’s share. When we share, we need to feel safe as to what we say. The Chair is to see to an orderly conduct of the meeting, anyone unruly or disturbing to the group will be asked to leave. The Chair monitors the time allotted and signals when time is up so the group is not taken hostage. The Chair sees to the collections of funds and to the circulation of a newcomer’s packet. (And if you must, the signing of court, and medical documents) and that’s enough.
The Chair does not share after someone speaks. That would be cross talk. The Chair does not affirm, relate, correct or suggest any thing that has been said. The Chair listens attentively. Cross talk from the Chair also deprives precious time from others who may need to share. When we share in a meeting we are participating in our own recovery,sometimes the most important thing we will hear in the meetings fall gingerly from our own lips.
Please limit your share to five minutes or less to give those who are in need of this precious opportunity. (Besides, if you speak more than three minutes it’s all about you).
The challenge to the Chair is to initiate a forum of participation.
The number one human fear is speaking in public, even more so than death of the body, the death of a child, the loss of a home or even the loss of a job, for ridicule is death to the ego and the ego will sacrifice the body on the alter of pride in a vain attempt to stay alive. The preacher said vanities of vanities all is vanity.
We would like to invite our Sponsor volunteers to start us off, sharing their experience strength and hope with us.
There are as many forms as there are opinions. The first that come to mind are:
- Rotation- First to the right or first to the left, please give your name and sobriety date, otherwise it is your choice to pass or to participate. This format usually works in smaller meetings. It has a very strong impact to give the shrinking violets the opportunity to share or at least make themselves known to the group.
- Round Robin- the chair picks someone with the instruction upon completing their share to pick someone else (someone you know, someone you don’t know, men pick women, women pick men, etc.
- Directed- the chair picks all speakers in an attempt to be moved by the spirit of random selection or by the familiarity of cronyism. Oftentimes people are called who attend regularly and have developed a well-practiced sharing. Pretty young women are often called upon, confirming Oscar Wilde’s admonition that “only young women have important things to say” this being Â relativeÂ to the oldest man in the room. This is my least personal favorite, requiring the greatest amount of work and demonstrating the greatest restraint to the spirit, it also gives the Chair the illusion of control. Alas, in California where a meeting can be a thousand or more, directed meetings is the order of the day and rightfully so.
- Directed Two: Â One of the most powerful meetings I ever attended was a directed meeting. The Chair took the topic of the Twelve Steps. The Chair called on the first speaker and asked them to address their experience, strength and hope with Step One. Upon conclusion of the share, the Chair called upon the next speaker and asked that they would share their experience, strength and hope with Step Two and so on and in less than the allotted hour, all Twelve Steps were addressed. It was one of the best meetings ever.
- The Volunteer- the least amount of work, the most dependent on the spirit and some of the most rewarding. The Chair finishes with the topic and with the introduction Â this is a volunteer meeting, if it has been some time since you shared , if your sponsor has directed you to share or you have to get something off your chest now is the time. This is your meeting, the floor is openÂ. Some Chairs are miffed by the silence and don’t give the silence time enough time to do the heavy lifting. The phenomenon of the committee comes into play. If you have 50 people in the room and with their committees (the constant chatter of the mind), you have a cast of thousands. Once the room knows that you will not relent, the silence will become deafening. Alone with their thoughts someone will always relent. The meeting will slowly take off with a mind of its own and it becomes abundantly clear that God has been the one in charge after all.
- Abbreviated speaker meeting: An individual speaks of there experience, strength and hope for about twenty minutes and the meeting is then opened speaking to the individuals experience.
- The Speaker meeting: an individual speaks on What it wasÃ‚Â like, What Â happened, and What it is Â like now. …for about an hour
- A Big Book study, a Step study, a Traditions study, a meditation meeting, a Sponsorship work shop, a Third legacy meeting, A men’s meeting, a women’s meeting, a young peoples meeting etc etc etc
About half way through the meeting (known as halftime) The Chair chimes in with “according to our Seventh Tradition, we are self supporting through our own contributions If this is your first meeting it’s on us, if this is your last meeting please don’t take anything out. Wallets open and purse clasps snap as we gingerly do our banking. With halftime in place, the shares are less distracting. Are there any A.A. announcements? The Chair exclaims for those who just came in, the only A.A. Meeting you’re ever late for is your first meeting, as long as you make it to the closing prayer you’re right on time. The topic is (____) and who’s next?
Some tips that have helped me sharing at meetings. (Tim M.)
(1) Always mention something to do with alcoholic drinking. People who don’t know you will connect better if they know you’re one of them.
(2) Mention a current or recent difficulty. People who are new or struggling will also connect better if they realise you’re a human who experiences difficulties from time to time rather than a lecturer from a superior, unattainable planet.
(3) Mention the Big Book. People need to know where the path to the solution lies and what it is. They can’t argue with it, because most don’t know what is in it.
(4) Mention what Step-oriented actions you have taken and are taking about (1) and (2) and the results you have been getting.
(5) Speak from your own experience of identifying with or taking actions based on the Big Book rather than lecturing on its contents. Stories always come across better than lectures. Also, no one can argue with your experience, for it’s yours and yours alone.
It’s possible, in 3 minutes, to get newcomers to identify with you without intimidating them AND to share a solution. Besides if you share more than three minutes its all about you.
Disclaimer: There are no rules, they are more like guidelines. We do not have share police, sometimes love and tolerance presents itself and what is shared is not program or A.A. and sometimes an A.A. meeting resembles a cross between group therapy, a self help program and a revival meeting.
Five minutes left, the Chair again makes itself known, and queries are there any burning desires? (If they do not speak, they very well might drink).
The Chair explains that we are on a chip system. We celebrate lengths of sobriety. Is there anyone celebrating an A.A. birthday today that would like to be recognized? Is there anyone celebrating years of sobriety for this current month that would like to be recognized, please give us your name and your sobriety date? Is there anyone celebrating months of sobriety please give us your name, eighteen months, nine months, six months, three months, two months and one month? People have walked up to the Chair and to raucous applause and a hug to acknowledge their recovery. The momentum continues to build as the Chair pauses and pulls out an aluminum colored disk and explains that this is a beginners chip; it’s an outward sign of an inward commitment to try our way of life for twenty four hours; are there any takers? Please come up (the well-worn path of those who have come before you); please give us your name– My name is John or Jane and for the very first time they have the opportunity to say that they are an alcoholic to a like-minded group of peers (sounds like Step One to me).
The Chair settles the meeting down with the acclamation: Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. What you hear here, who you see here, let it stay here; the group chimes in, Hear! Hear!
The Chair: Please clean up the wreckage of your presence, anything that came in with you, please take it out with you.
The Chair- We will close in the usual manner They either pick or they do the trick; please take us out.
The room circles up, hand in hand; the rest is extemporaneous, but as for me it goes like this,
Let this circle represent what we can do together, what we can not do alone. Who’s Father?
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.