Finding a Home Group

Walking into new meetings the first thing I notice almost every time: OMG they’re so young! Where are the old people? It’s at that point I realize I consider myself old and that my age prevents me from remembering that I was one of the young people when I came into the rooms. Which makes me say out loud, almost every time, “Well crap”. Last night at my friend Cliff’s home group we were talking about that and he said “if they’re lucky some day they’ll be as old as us and still going to meetings” or something to that effect.

Cliff has made that meeting his home group recently and people have been asking me recently where my home group is and I just haven’t decided yet. It was so much easier when I was new to find a home group: my sponsor said “this is your home group” and I nodded and made coffee, set up chairs, greeted or whatever they would have me do. Oh… you might not know what a “Home Group” is …

Excerpted from “The A.A. Group . . . Where It All Begins”, a pamphlet published by A.A. World Services and available online here http://www.aa.org/en_pdfs/p-16_theaagroup.pdf

The A.A. Home Group 

Traditionally, most A.A. members through the years have found it important to belong to one group which they call their “Home Group.” This is the group where they accept service responsibilities and try to sustain friendships. And although all A.A. members are usually welcome at all groups and feel at home at any of these meetings, the concept of the “Home Group” has still remained the strongest bond between the A.A. member and the Fellowship.

With membership comes the right to vote upon issues that might affect the group and might also affect A.A. as a whole—a process that forms the very cornerstone of A.A.’s service structure. As with all group-conscience matters, each A.A. member has one vote; and this, ideally, is voiced through the home group.

Over the years, the very essence of A.A. strength has remained with our home group, which, for many members, becomes our extended family. Once isolated by our drinking, we find in the home group a solid, continuing support system, friends and, very often, a sponsor. We also learn firsthand, through the group’s workings, how to place “principles before personalities” in the interest of carrying the A.A. message.

Talking about her own group, a member says: “Part of my commitment is to show up at my home group meetings, greet newcomers at the door, and be available to them—not only for them but for me. My fellow group members are the people who know me, listen to me, and steer me straight when I am off in left field. They give me their experience, strength and A.A. love, enabling me to ‘pass it on’ to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

It was definitely easier when someone assigned me a home group and when I was ignorant about the things that matter so much to me now (Traditions, knowledge, Big Book, steps, history…). Now it seems I start dismissing a groups chance before I even attend a business meeting. I think a part of me will always want the Northside Group to be my home group, or the Eau Claire Pacific Group or the Tuesday Night Big Book Group… Those groups hold special places in my heart and are the model for me to find a new home group where I feel like I belong… All of those groups had flaws, some more glaring than others, but each of them felt like I belonged there.

What I want in a home group isn’t that much, I don’t think…

  • knowledgable people talking about the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
  • knowledge and working of the 12 Traditions
  • regular business meetings
  • structure
  • reliability
  • greeters (this one is just a hope… but it was a part of some great meetings I used to attend)

There will always be a part of me that wants old-timers and big book thumpers to be armed with stun guns to shock people who are off topic and or rambling on and on… I’ve had that desire since I started attending and it’s never going to go away. But really, I want to be at a meeting where they aren’t afraid to call someone on their bullshit and ask them to shut the fuck up.

So, for now I’m still without a “Home Group”, but i haven’t given up looking and I haven’t given up hope to finding one. It took me almost 14 years to find a home group in DC and being the type of alcoholic that searches for loopholes to slip through I’m glad this sentence is the first in the Home Group portion of the pamphlet:

“Traditionally, most AA members through the years have found it important to belong to one group which they call their ‘Home Group.'”

That “most” keeps me looking and keeps me from settling for second best when the right group is probably out there for me to find.

Coming Out and Coming to Terms with Me

A friends brother came out recently after many years of being closeted and she wanted to talk to me about how that kind of thing can happen… so I wrote this long email to her and decided I should put it here too.

Long before I had any notion of what it meant to be gay I found men attractive (especially bearded, hairy men). When I’d play with my superhero figures it was usually Batman and Superman that were kissing – Wonder Woman was nowhere to be found, it could be that I didn’t have Wonder Woman… who would buy a boy Wonder Woman in the 70s? We were actually pretty poor and I don’t recall having Superman and Batman dolls so that was all in my imagination… so I could have thought of Wonder Woman, but she didn’t come up.

It didn’t take long to see how homosexuals were portrayed on TV and in movies and even though I couldn’t identify as one yet, I was suddenly much more aware of how limp my wrist was or how I walked, talked and dressed, I’d seen the way other people (my parents, TV stars, school kids) talked about gay people and I didn’t want them to talk about me like that so I was very careful at a very young age to not show too many signs… lol, seems silly to me now. Elementary school and high school gym class and shower rooms were very uncomfortable and i would get out of there as soon as possible, not looking at anything because I knew I might get excited and then I’d be discovered, the worst were the gym teachers and coaches – with their hairy arms and full bodies… just don’t look, just don’t look.

When I was around 12 or 13 an adult friend of my mother seduced me and took me – and several other kids in our small town – as his own for his pleasure. That was more secretive than being gay and exciting too. Finally the things I couldn’t really put into words or thoughts in my head were happening and it felt good but it felt bad too and it was a struggle to get through with that. It didn’t help that at that point I didn’t have any positive male figures in my life, all my mothers husbands beat her and were drunk no one I wanted to be like. This was the first time I had been loved, that I could tell, by another man.

When the adult that molested me was caught they sent us to therapy, in the 80s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, what I heard the therapist say was “if you enjoyed any of that than your a sick pervert too and will catch AIDS and die…” again, that’s what I heard what he actually said might have been something very different. But it did instill in me again this feeling that I WAS WRONG, not that there was something wrong with me but I was completely wrong.

When I was seeing a therapist while in my foster home I was honest with him about my feeling towards other guys and explained I could only get off thinking about guys… he suggested that that was a learned behavior and could be changed… if I wanted to I could imagine cars when I was beating off and after enough time that would change, I was desperate to be normal and not “get AIDS and die” … sadly, thinking about girls, or cars… didn’t seem to do it for me… and wasn’t satisfying, so I gave up.

Outside of the molestation, I didn’t have sex with anyone until I was 19 or 20. My friends convinced me I had to have sex with a girl so that happened.. but I honestly had to think about a man to perform. It wasn’t enjoyable, it didn’t feel right and it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do again… but my friends were excited for me, I felt they accepted me a little bit more now that I was normal…

During my first drug and alcohol treatment I discussed my gay thoughts and feelings about it with my counselor… who suggested I might be gay… which I didn’t like very much. How dare he say such a thing! Even though I’d been fighting that very thought for years in my own head. But the thought stuck there and I started to give in – I was a doomed homosexual and the world would hate me.. and the “God” of my understanding was going to condemn me to hell because of something I didn’t have a say about.

After that treatment, when I was drinking again, a friend offered to let me see if I was really gay by having sex with him… he wasn’t “gay” of course, just doing a favor for a friend… It wasn’t really an enjoyable experience, but he wasn’t exactly my type either. So I didn’t repeat that experiment and it didn’t answer any of my questions about myself really.

After my second (and hopefully last) treatment visit I decided I was gay, but I didn’t have to act on it… so at night I’d pleasure myself and then ask “God” as I understood him, to forgive me for being a monster… every night, again and again…

At that time, the mid 90s, the internet was pretty new so there weren’t the massive amounts of gay sites there are now… so I did this Phone Bank thing where you could listen to guys on voicemail like things and then hook up… the closest city was Minneapolis/St Paul and I found a guy that I was interested in base mostly on his voice – he didn’t sound “gay”. I told my two best friends I was going to my Ma and I told my Ma that I was going to a conference – this is me in early AA lying… even though I know I have to be honest about everything to stay sober… and I went up to the Twin Cities and had the best time ever with this guy who was very patient, gentle, understanding and virile… OMG VIRILE, insatiable event. Then I was being destroyed by the lie… I felt so horrible for the lie but felt so right about what I had done… it was so conflicting, so I told my two best friends that I lied to them and told them the truth about me, which they knew anyway, but it felt better to be honest.

one of those two best friends was moving to Washington DC and told me that I had to come with “Eau Claire WI is no place for a gay boy to be” and I jumped at the chance, but mostly to get out of WI, it wasn’t about exploring being gay at all. When I told my co-workers I had to tell them something (that I was leaving) one of them said “You’d better not be coming out, you fucking faggots all need to die”

When I did get to DC it was amazing: guys were holding hands with one another ON THE STREET, for that matter, there were other races and some of them were holding hands with other races and some of them were gay or lesbian… I didn’t know what the hell was going on… it was so cool but I didn’t think you could do those things…

Shortly after moving there I was walking down 17th street, minding my own business and a car of a bunch of kids drove by and tossed a half-full beer can at me yelling “fucking faggot”… so there was that, this hatred of me for being me was everywhere not just in my head or in small town America, even in our nations capital.

I learned more and more about gay people and our history the longer I was in DC. I became more and more comfortable with myself the more I let myself… I came out to my entire family (loved ones) via an email on National Coming Out Day in 1998… and later that year I came out to my mother by wearing a t-shirt that said something clever like “my boyfriends mother doesn’t know I’m gay” or some such… she was not amused 😉

I’m a typical gay man, because I happen to like having sex with other gay men… but in other senses I’m not a typical gay man. I don’t care about the Tony Awards or Liza Minnelli, I’m not a fan of drag shows or say “fabulous” a lot… but not all straight people like NASCAR or Fox News or find Rhiana attractive… I’m an individual who finally came to terms with being who I am after much trial and error. Are there still times I feel hated by others? sure. Are there times I hate myself? not so much anymore. I think I’m fortunate to live in these times when people start to realize that there are more than one kind of love, more than one kind of relationship in the world… To come out today with all the wonderful things happening for gay people … well it would have been a great time to get to know myself… but I wouldn’t trade the struggles I had for an easier softer way, those struggles shaped me into the man I have become and I like him… I wouldn’t date him, not my type at all 😀

In All Our Affairs

Everything I know about being a good worker I learned from 12 step programs.

One of my first sponsors told me to shake hands with everyone before and after the meeting and introduce myself to them. 

When someone comes to the office I stand up from my desk, walk over and extend my hand, introducing myself – they apparently like this and I see their shoulders relax a bit and a smile form on even the grumpiest of people.

Our basic text, the Big Book, tells us “Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” A.A. page 62

If I’m manning a table/booth at an event I smile and welcome people over – I ask about them, I want to know what they do and how they like it. I find out how I can help them. If I focus on helping others then I can’t spend time in my head thinking about me which is a great thing.

I am Responsible.  When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there.  And for that:  I am responsible. 

and

“How can A.A. best function” and, “How can A.A. best stay whole and so survive” A.A. page 177 (in the mini Big Book)

I am responsible for my job too, my company and my co-workers. I want them to always be there for me so I have to be responsible. That means I ask how I can help them do their jobs, if there is anything I can do to make their loads lighter – if their load is lighter than that might make them have a better day. It also means I have to be aware of the rules and how the company is doing. “How can my work best function?” and, “How can work best stay whole and so survive?” Those are some great questions to consider when thinking about your job.

“Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” A.A. page 178 (in the mini Big Book)

I try to stay out of gossip at work – I don’t want to need to participate in it and become involved in any drama. I also just focus on the job at hand there and keep politics and religion out of discussions with co-workers. Yes, I do have an opinion about all kinds of things – but that doesn’t mean work is the place I need to share it.

“…and when we were wrong promptly admitted it…” A.A. page 59

That one’s easy – usually… it throws some people off when you come at them and say “Hey, I screwed up here, how can I fix this with you”. People like the honesty, the openness when you do things like that – sometimes it makes them wary but if they see you practice it more they’ll come to understand it’s a part of you.

“As we go through the day we pause when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.” A.A. page 87

This one saves my bacon time and time again – before I toss out my witty retort or type off a heavily worded email I stop and take a deep breath and consider what I’m about to do – sometimes I have to take a few pauses before I’m alright again…

Sponsor Direction: Show up early, help set up the meeting – make the coffee, get to know people. Stay late – help tear down the meeting and get to know people.

I’m always early for meetings, I’m always early for work. I make sure that I’m there to talk to people before the day starts and to see how they’re doing. I make the coffee (sometimes my co-worker does) I turn on the lights. At the end of the day I clean up the coffee (sometimes my co-worker does) and make sure everything is locked up tight… It helps to get the day off on the right track. Staying after is nice if someone needs help there you are, you can be in a place of maximum helpfulness to them.

A.A. can and does make it easy to go to work and do what I do, it also bridges a gap in relationships with my co-workers and people my company serves that otherwise I wouldn’t have. My natural instincts are to stay to myself not talk to anyone else – even when I was drinking I was that way. But I have to be involved in the stream of life and participate, I’m meant to.

November 2014 edit: People have commented over the years and recently about my great work ethic – I used to credit it to being raised in the Midwest, but then I recall my younger days at factories when it was all about me and my jobs didn’t last very long at all. Being a better worker means thinking about your coworkers, organization and those goals – it means focusing less on you and yours. Surprisingly these small changes can make a world of difference in every day.

originally published July 2013