Lets be honest: I come from a different place filled with hard nosed, tradition preaching, big book thumping recovery. I recall an old friend in the program, Buck C. (who passed a few years back) who had come to the Eau Claire area from the south and struggled mightily with AA up there. Each group is autonomous everywhere you go, you don’t realize how autonomous until you get out of your comfort zone.
One of the first meetings I attended in DC was at the Dupont Circle Club, I think on a Saturday back in 1998. Typical AA clubhouse with smokers out front blocking the entrance, old friends chatting away about what’s going on and a few solo folks like myself trying to figure out where to sit. The most shocking part of the meeting was during the reading of “How It Works” when everyone in the room started to chant along to the steps being read, I started laughing (I still chuckle every time I hear this). Then the meeting was filled with mostly bad day stuff – it was a topic meeting after all. But a few people talked recovery and I came back a few days later and had the same experience and those same people were talking solution. I asked one of them to be my sponsor here and he agreed and told me I had to call him every day. “Every day?” I asked, “yes, he said, that’s the deal”. This seemed like a pretty stupid thing to do for someone who was three years sober, but I did honestly try to do this for a few days. Eventually I gave up on that and just didn’t call him again.
I had never been to a Gay AA meeting up to this point and decided to try one out and this time I thought I should find a Step or Big Book meeting. I found a Wednesday night gay 12×12 meeting and gave it a try. One thing about Gay AA is all the eye candy, but at that time i was pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing. I sat in the back and thought the meeting was just ok. I was planning to sneak out when the guy next to me said “you’re new here”.
That was Michael K and he was the only person to talk to me at that meeting – that’s why I asked him to be my sponsor. He never did ask me to call him every day or I don’t think once a week. He ended up being just what i needed at the time to acclimate to gay culture and stay in AA. (He’s also a StarTrek fan so that helped a lot). He suggested I do thing reluctantly and I did them, usually “fun” social activities with peers – eeeewww. Michael is my friend today and we still talk a lot about everything, though not as often as we used to.
I attended that Wednesday night meeting and a Sunday morning meeting both gay meetings pretty regularly and made some friends in there. Some of those friends are still friends today, most are just acquaintances – hard to maintain friendships if I don’t see them and I don’t go to those meetings regularly at all. I was at the Wednesday night meeting after I found out my Ma had breast cancer and I shared in that meeting that I “felt like such a pussy” and you should have seen the hackles that were raised on the lesbians… wow. This was also a time when, mostly the lesbians, would try to make all the readings gender neutral and replace “Him” “He” “His” “Men” and anything else with “Him/Her” or some gender neutral term – I found it annoying.
I really missed having a good Big Book meeting to attend and all the ones I would try to attend were reading the stories in the back or really just bad day meetings with a Big Book name. So a few months before 9/11 I attempted to start a new meeting based on the format of a group I attended in WI on Monday nights. I had a lot of people interested in it and about 10 people were at the first few meetings. It was a rather strict format and people were asked to stay on the subject of what was read – what happened was people got upset who came because they wanted to talk about what happened to them that day and the group felt they should be allowed to. That ended my experiment with creating a Big Book meeting here (or so I thought).
Many years ago in WI someone told me I have no tact. That seems pretty accurate.
In meetings I would frequently speak out against things I considered to be inaccurate or complete bullshit – like “Pills are just dry alcohol so feel free to talk about whatever you need to, it’s all the same.” and I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and it would show that I would be visibly upset about it. At a business meeting for the Wednesday night meeting I suggested we read the Traditions more frequently (they read three at one meeting at the end of the 12 Step cycle) it was not taken as a good suggestion, this is what they’ve done for years why change now. Open minds I could not find, or so it seemed.
I also tend to think a lot of the talk in Gay AA is “I drank the way I did because I was gay”. But I believe that alcoholics drink they way they do because they are alcoholics – gay, straight, bi whatever.
I started to branch out and look for other meetings. A meeting close to home was labeled a “big book” meeting but when I went there were no books in sight – there were lots of women and the goal apparently was to have a more horrible story than the woman before you and get lots of “Amen”s. I found my way to the West Side Club, a “Big Book” meeting there was discovered to not actually be anymore, but it was suggested I try out the Sunday morning meeting there and I did. I discovered that I rather liked it – still not a lot of book or tradition talk or practice that I could make out, but the folks were friendly and once in a while you could hear someone talk about their experience with the steps and/or how their sponsor took them through the book and how important it was.
That’s a recurring thing here – I can go to a meeting every day and hear days and days of crap, but once in a while someone comes through and shines with a real message of hope and expressing the promise that the program of recovery offers. My problem is I don’t think we should have to wade through all that shit to see hope – and newcomers especially need to have a clear path with directions.
Eventually I gave up on the gay meetings altogether. I did go to the Florida Round Up one year despite myself, I had told myself that contempt of it … well contempt prior to investigation is a bad thing – There main speaker had several decades of time, but her talk consisted almost entirely of her relationship with her lover and very little program of action.
I subscribed to a few Speaker of the Month CDs and those helped to sustain me when I’d get discouraged about the whole scene here. I have had social workers and psychiatrists friends tell me that some of their clients find the same lack of real recovery here compared to where they were from.
After a low time in my spiritual life (see story here) I asked a man from gay AA to sponsor me. He had what I wanted, but I couldn’t describe it then… I think it’s serenity. He’s a calming that I needed. I also found my way back to some gay AA meetings, but it hadn’t changed either. The people were a help – comforting to be around some friendly faces.
I had been tattooed by my artist a few times, including the circle and triangle symbol of AA on my leg, and he never mentioned that he was in AA until the fall of 2011 (to be honest one of the guys in the shop outed him a few months earlier but it was none of my business). I whine a lot about AA, when you’re getting tattooed you have a lot of time to talk and need topics… AA is a big part of my life (I want to say “AA is my life” but I think I could do more than I’m doing so I’m not going to say that). He suggested I attend a meeting on Saturday that he found tolerable and there were others that were talking real recovery there too… I’ve told this story recently here but will share a bit here too.
I found a group of folks that also got sober outside of DC, struggling with the same things I’d been struggling with for so long. Those people became my friends, I’m very lucky to have those handful of people in my life – they are shining beacons of hope for people suffering from alcoholism here in DC. We became a group, then we formed a meeting, now we’re paving a road of happy destiny together (well I’m moving and abandoning them all, but I wish i could take them with me).
I’ve said it a few times before, there is a serious lack of the practice of the Traditions here – I think that’s part of the problem. There is also this need in the city to be politically correct and not hurt anyones feelings – which is scary. Time after time after time the chronic relapsers struggle on, but don’t change a thing about their journey – they get the same sponsor they go to the same meetings, they come and they share about how terrible life is or that their cat died or, my favorite, what they told their therapist today.
“The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action. This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 2, “There is a Solution”, Page 17
Nowhere in our text book (the first 164 pages in the Big Book) does it suggest “just come talk about whatever” or “take what you want and leave the rest”. It says we have a common solution, a way out. I worry about the health of AA, we were given the Traditions – ok, maybe Bill forced them on us, but they’re very good tools to keep us whole and let this program be here for several generations to come.
My current home group, the Tuesday Night 7:15 Big Book Study is the best meeting in the city. If I thought otherwise I’d have a different home group. I hope, if you read this, you think about your group and ask yourself if you’re having to wade through shit to find the gems of recovery at each meeting or if its a gleaming diamond with a few flaws now and then.
When I get to Phoenix and try out the AA there chances are it wont be like Eau Claire WI nor like DC nor anywhere else that I’ve been, but I’m going to go and spread the message that was so freely given to me by others. And I’m going to ruffle some feather, mostly cause I have no tact.
One last thing: When’s the last time your group did a group inventory? Ask your old-timers.
Here’s a link to it: http://www.thejaywalker.com/images/Group_Inventory-8_2005.pdf
I’m happy that I got to meet some great people in the AA here, but I would have been happier to see some with programs that I’d admire or desire.