Keeping the Spirit Quiet

“There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill’s Story, Page 16

“So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experience out of the past. But why shouldn’t we laugh? We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.” Alcoholics Anonymous, The Family Afterward, page 132

People in Alcoholics Anonymous and many of the other 12 step programs, millions if not billions of people, have escaped certain death. We reached a point in our lives the way we were living it where there was no hope – many lost friends, family, spouses and careers as a result of addiction.

There was a vision in my head of what an AA meeting must look like –

old men, white t-shirts and overalls on – the smell of cigarettes and bad coffee waft through the room and man after man shares about his tragedy and how horrible life is…

That was the vision, and in truth I’ve been to a few meetings like that, you can switch out old men for young men or black women or what have you – there are meetings that resemble my old vision all over the country if not the world. Fortunately for me, and people like you, there are many more meetings that aren’t like that at all.

I had been in the background at meetings my mother attended when i was a child – they seemed pretty somber to me and I didn’t see many people happy, smiling or laughing – maybe the rose-colored glasses were covered in dirt, which is likely. So I entered my first meetings as an alcoholic myself expecting much the same. Instead I found a Pacific Group.

The Eau Claire Pacific Group in Eau Claire WI was a different kind of meeting for me. There was applause, laughter, oohing and aahing. I saw genuine smiles and people who talked about getting better. That first night I decided to stick around, because obviously these people didn’t know what AA was all about (I was a little over 1 month sober and thought I had it all figured out already).

I don’t stick around at meetings that aren’t fun with people talking about the joy of living now that we’ve escaped certain doom. I “don’t want what they have” as we say… I want more, I expect more. The Big Book even promises more – there are promises all over the book that I seek during my journey. One of my favorites that has come true again and again in my life is:

“At once we begin to outgrow fear.” Alcoholics Anonymous, How It Works, page 68

and most other people like the promises after Step 9 (I think they are over read personally)

“…We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us…” Alcoholics Anonymous, Into Action, Pages 83 and 84

So we want to shout it from the rooftops, we have found a solution – we found a way to resurrect the dead… a speaker I like says it “I’m looking at a room full of dead people sitting upright” or something like that. We were the dregs of society that no one really wanted around anymore, but here we are – recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body… “miracles” they say.

We are loud though… I guess. My home group meets at a church and we are probably 50 strong each week. We have fellowship before and after the meeting and we catch up with friends we might not have seen for a week or more. We laugh, we hug and give one another a hard time. During the meeting when we celebrate birthdays (1 or more years of continuous sobriety) we sing loudly and horribly off-key – on purpose. This is a big deal – someone who at one point couldn’t go a single day without a drink of alcohol has found a solution (most people call that solution God) and is now a contributing member of society… that’s a BFD. We have a “Rule 62” which tells us not to take ourselves too seriously – so we try to enjoy life.

But the church says we’re being too loud during the music lessons. Now as a functioning, contributing member of society – whom, according to the big book, ceased fighting anything or anyone… I’m supposed to just leave this be. But it’s hard… I would think a church would be happy that a group of men have found the spirit, the joy of living that the church talks about (or at least I figure that’s what they talk about) and would be happy to hear us laugh love and live in their basement each Wednesday night… it should be the great news that is spoken of on Sundays  “Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday nights and Saturday mornings the hopeless have found hope – here in our house of worship” I’d sell the shit out of that and encourage members of my congregation to attend and find the power greater than themselves that will lead them back to the church…

But I’m not the guy in charge there or anywhere, no matter how many times I think I am – The Director job has been taken by someone else and my job is just to help others. I have to stop and think about what would happen to the alcoholics that needed a meeting if we were asked to leave? What if all the groups were asked to leave the church as a result of my meeting being loud (and happy, joyous and free).

Each AA group is autonomous except in matters affecting other groups of AA as a whole. (Tradition 4) So there you have it… I have to be responsible again and try to get my fellow members to be a little more quiet before and after the meeting. Because we have a home here and we still have many other alcoholics to show the way out – it’s the only thing we have to do to stay sober – help another alcoholic, and to do that we have to have a place to share our message. This will be hard, but we’ll find a way to make it work.

(I thought this was just going to be a rant about asking us to be quiet, but once I started writing I saw my own defects and those of my group and that we needed to change… it’s interesting to see different results come out then I expect)

Hope for Christmas

He’d been trying this “AA thing” for months now – years if you count that time the court made him go after the DUI, like a month of sharing his feelings was going to make a difference. He shared all the time with his friends at the bar and they really understood him.

“go through the book” they said. There is no way a book written that long ago could help him – he’d read on the internet all the cult like behaviors and the pushing of the book on people. He refused to be brainwashed that easily, he wasn’t stupid.

They also said get a sponsor but all the girls he asked said no, so when he found that guy with a Harley, now that was something he wanted, wanted real bad. But that guy just wanted to go through the book too, and all that talk about God – no more preaching, thank you. So the latest guy didn’t say much at all and just listened when he whined about how awful life had been treating him – that’s all he every wanted. But why go to meetings for that… One more drunk and he was back again, there has to be a trick to this thing. Sponsorship, meetings, sharing… ugh…

One night at the speaker and potluck meeting (he only went for the really great Swedish meatballs that pretty girl made) he heard a guy from share about being of service making all the difference. “Great,” he thought “now they want me as slave labor” But he volunteered that night for the Christmas Alcathon, just to see if this would make a difference.

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Thumping the Twelve Traditions

When I was fairly new in recovery I was very involved in two of the groups where I regularly attended meetings. One of those meetings was very Step and Tradition focused and the other was very… entertainment doesn’t seem like the right word.. but they were about the message and the fun in recovery – as it was a speaker meeting you never knew what kind of message you might hear coming from the individual, almost always good though. Both groups encouraged participation at all levels of the group – commitments (making coffee, setting up chairs, greeting), service positions (GSR, Secretary, Delegate, Treasurer), fellowship… well one group was only really into the fellowship when we met every week… lol. Both of those groups encouraged people to be involved in the meetings they went to – the idea is that if you participate you’ll have more vested into your own recovery. Participating means I might get to know other people in my group who are participating and make them a part of my life. It’s a nice little system, I’m sure other organizations do the same things.

They shared with me the idea and importance of the spirit of rotation, encouraged me to read up on the history to see how these things came into being and why they’re so important. They led the way into service – inviting me to see how it all works behind the scenes. I was exposed to the Traditions and Concepts very early on by people who utilized them in the service structure and in everyday life. I consider myself lucky – most people consider me a geek in these regards, that’s ok. They shared what was so freely shared with them, in love and for my own good.

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Normally Do Not Mix

I was thinking today of my friends (especially Suzanne, it’s her birthday) in the world and how incredibly varied they all are. Not all of my friends are in 12 step programs but I think being in a 12 step program has made it easier for me to become friends with a wide array of people. Going to a meeting you will likely run into a gamut of characters – bikers, politicians, house wives, students and divas to name a few. We all manage to get along as we have a common solution, a common peril that unites us. We stand together or we fall alone – it’s been proven to be true – this 80-year-old program changed more than just the lives of Alcoholics, it’s changed the world. (the book made the Library of Congress’s top 100 books that changed America LINK)

12 step programs not only make members better… they somehow transform those around them into people members can tolerate. 🙂 I kid, I kid… If you work the 12 steps the result is intended to be “an entire psychic change”, some say a “spiritual awakening”. That entire psychic change is a pretty marvelous thing in my experience – it made me a different person, some argue that drugs and alcohol hid the real person, but I’m not sure. What it did do was fill my life with some really wonderful people who I don’t just tolerate… i need them, they fill holes in my brain and turn calamity to calm.

“WE are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.” Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition, Chapter 2, There is a Solution, p 17

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