Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 900-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 29th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Carrying the Message

I've always understood that the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. And my definition of "still suffers" is that someone who may not be drinking, but may be so new that he or she doesn't understand how to apply the tools that are in the big book. The tools that have led millions over the past 75+ years onto the path of sobriety.

For someone new, the environment of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be intimidating. There are strange slogans on the wall that say such things as "One Day At A Time," or "Easy Does It." People are friendly. Some of them are laughing and virtually all extend their hand to welcome newcomers. Even though the group may seem friendly, there are many newcomers with a lot of social anxiety and are still suffering from withdrawals on top of that.

Yet, over the years I've seen several alcoholics with decades of recovery who behave so poorly in the meetings that it makes these newcomers so uncomfortable that I'm surprised to see them at the next meeting - if ever again.

Almost all of them fall under the category of what is known as "old-timer." One fellow, whom I haven't seen in probably a year, used to carry a dogeared big book around in a custom-made case and and collar a newcomer and begin to tell them exactly how to read the book, tell them loudly what was wrong with them, and generally badger them until they were looking for a place to hide – anywhere to get away from this pesky, overbearing loudmouth.

Last week, I saw an old timer approach a group of newcomers and do something similar. It seems this fellow has a fetish about where people sit in the meetings. He gets really upset if anyone sits in the back of the room when there are open chairs in the front. I think he's gone as far as to remove a couple of the back row chairs so people are forced to sit in the front of the room. However, at the meeting I'm talking about there were maybe one or two empty chairs in the front two rows when five or six people came in at the last moment, just as the meeting was starting.

So a few of them went to the back and brought chairs forward so they would have a place to sit. However, this old-timer jumped up and ran back and pointed to the front of the room and told them that there were plenty of chairs up front for them to sit in. Then I guess he noticed that there were only a couple of open chairs and allowed them to bring extra chairs forward so they would have a place to sit.

While I'm not sure what this old-timer's problem is, it probably has something to do with control and power. But the reality is that our goal in AA is to help people get sober. And anything that affects them negatively might interfere with that process.

I know that when I first came to 12 step meetings I didn't necessarily want to be there. And anything negative that would happen would be just one more reason for me to not be there. Today, after more than 25 years of recovery, I don't give a crap where anybody sits in a meeting or if they sit at all. To me, the important thing is that they're inside the room.  And hopefully some of the words they hear will sink into their subconscious.

The alcoholics and addicts who are not quite sure whether they want to be there will use any excuse at all to avoid having to come back. Especially when longtime members treat them rudely or embarrass them.

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