Meeting Makers That Only Make Meetings Don’t Make It
I’m sure we’ve all heard the so-called ironclad recommendations:
Heck, it even made it on the cover of an AA Grapevine issue with the bold proclamation, “Do Drink and Go to Meetings!”
Are Meetings The Same As The Program?
I remember my first meeting lucidly.
I was sweating profusely as the result of frayed nervous and primitive emotions seeping through my pores.
I had no idea how to live without alcohol and drugs.
I had no tools to handle even the slightest adversity, let alone feelings of happiness and nuances of relationships.
I had no clue what the purpose of the meeting was or how it could help me not die.
The only coping skill I had for every emotional facet of life was drinking and drugging.
I was convinced I had two options: ride out what I called the ‘institutional circuit’ the rest of my days or drink and drug until death.
In any event, during my first meeting this old timer proclaimed to me what he presumed was the wisest advice in the cosmos.
He said, “if you don’t take that first drink, you won’t get drunk!”
I remember responding, “thanks for your wisdom, Fred, I’m sure that will hold me in good stead the remainder of my days,” with the sharpest of unholy sarcasm.
My problem wasn’t that when I drank, I drank too much. That was inevitable.
My problem was “how in the holy hell do I not take that first drink, Fred!”
Every molecule in my body appeared motivated for one thing: that first drink.
And what was Fred’s solution?
Don’t take the first drink.
To say I was disappointed is the understatement of the century.
My only hope now seemed useless, like casting a line into the river with no bait expecting to catch a fish.
I felt defeated.
“Just come to meetings,” they said, “and wait until the miracle happens.”
So, the old do nothing technique and wait.
Fortunately, someone stepped in and corrected this nonsense and led me to sobriety. I confused the meetings with the program. The program is the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and the meetings support this endeavor. Hence why they are often referred to as “12-Step Support Groups!”
The “design for living the works” saves lives, not solely the fellowship. The fellowship alone is like casting that line with no bait expecting to make the biggest catch of your life!
I still go to meetings because the Big Book informs us that fellowship is critical and that sharing the message is indispensable.
But why was I provided with such garbage when I came through the doors?
What’s The Research Suggests Regarding The Meeting Makers?
The research suggests that those who attend meetings irregularly but get involved in 12-step work and service are more likely to stay clean and sober than addicts who simply attend meetings regularly but do no heart work.
Imagine showing up to an orgy and leaving your clothes on? Or, imagine joining a bowling team but never practicing or playing? Better yet, how about bowling without a ball and expecting the pins to fall over? I wouldn’t want to stay either!
One of earliest and most influential members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Clarence Synder, who founded AA in Cleveland, Ohio reports the following words from Dr. Bob:
But how credible is the report of one man? Even if that man is the one who spearheaded the concept of sponsorship and codified the exact purpose and subject matters of the meetings.
Perhaps we should consult the organization’s book, The Big Book.
“Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone’s home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.” (A.A. p. 159-160)
So, What’s The Problem Anyway…who cares about meeting makers!?
The main issue is that low mood psychotherapy has infiltrated Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
What is low mood psychotherapy?
George Pransky in his groundbreaking book, The Relationship Handbook, identifies low mood versus high mood therapy in the context of relationships.
During low mood therapy the client is in a low mood because he’s probing problems and other negative thoughts.
In high mood therapy, clients engage the thoughts we have in high moods—insights, non-contingent positive feelings and big-picture perspectives.
Why does low mood therapy exist? Because the therapist sees her job as helping troubled people, it makes sense to her to be sitting opposite a troubled person. She sees the discouragement in her clients but believes it’s appropriate because their problems are so formidable. The therapist believes that problems and issues cause martial discord. She doesn’t realize they are merely symptoms.
Let’s say the counselor worked with three couples today and has been in a low mood with them. The fourth couple arrives in a high mood, in a good position to listen and learn. Unfortunately, the counselor’s low mood is likely to bring them down. The pain of doing low mood therapy is contagious.
The high mood therapist sees that extracting misunderstandings, misinformation, overreactions, grudges and discouragement from relationships lays a foundation for a fresh start.
This observation keeps the high mood therapist hopeful and patient. She doesn’t focus on problems. Instead, she explains personality and mood distortions and shows how misinformation damages relationships.
Once this understanding strikes home, the couple begins to glimpse the same possibilities for their relationship that the therapist sees.
They see the viability of a fresh start. At this point, the couple sees their relationship history as a nightmare from which they are awakening…
Why Is Mood Emphasized?
Moods are the constant shifts in perspective built into our experience of life. Our thinking and therefore our perceptions of life are a function of mood changes. Our thoughts are more optimistic, lighthearted, and wise when we are in a high mood…
Often people think of feelings as things to work through or deal with. But feelings were meant to be a barometer to help us maintain our emotional equilibrium. Feelings provide our moment-to-moment experience of life. They tell us the extent to which our perceptions are distorted by our moods and thought systems…
To get a fresh start in a marriage, we must know that the so-called “issues” in a marriage are symptoms and not causes of disharmony. The cause of marital problems is bad software, a misunderstanding of the deeper dynamics of a relationship…
The Software Analogy…The 12-Steps Are An Operating System
AA promotes high mood variety therapy; by therapy I simply mean “healing.”
The 12-Steps were designed to create fresh insight and understanding via a spiritual experience.
The bad software running rampant in alcoholism is self-centeredness. It’s a low mood variety rumination over problems.
Rather than trying to defeat self-centeredness with self-centeredness, we lay our attention elsewhere, the solution – new software.
We become God-centered or solution-centered.
With a new operating system comes a new experience. To support this experiential transition to a new software is the purpose of the meetings.
==> See my article on Powerlessness under the subheading “The Self-Loop” to explore this transition further
A Benchmark of Meetings Is Not Meeting Makers
A healthy AA group is characterized by the individuals sharing their experience, strength and hope.
Indeed, this is the historical benchmark of a meeting.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always what is discovered when a newcomer walks through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Instead, in low mood fashion, newcomers are saturated with problems.
War stories, drunk-a-longs, whining and complaining reign supreme. The problem is expounded upon, dissected, deconstructed, and re-lived in a variety of different forms.
People often report feeling like shit leaving a meeting and thirstier than ever.
I don’t blame them if they are in fact inundated with low mood nonsense during a meeting. It’s a shame.
On page 86 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says, “we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.”
If this is the case, why are so many meetings, particularly open discussion meetings (OD), almost entirely for one purpose: to drift into worry, remorse, and morbid reflection?
So, what does work?
How can we be well on our way to sober to stay?
“A Baltimore, Maryland study of 500 former and current heroin and cocaine injection drug users over the course of one year indicated having an AA/NA sponsor was not correlated with any improvement in sustained abstinence rates than a non-sponsored group. However, being a sponsor was found to be highly correlated with sustained abstinence. In fact, 75% of the sponsors group maintained abstinence over the one year period and showed the the most improved lifestyle changes.”
This seemed to prove that one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic with another, was vital to permanent recovery. (AA. p. xvi – xvii.)
Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are very ill. (AA p. 89).
In conclusion, meetings are invaluable if used correctly. If used incorrectly they are like driving a car without a steering wheel.
However, when used in conjunction with the Big Book and sound sponsorship, with the intention to become a sponsor, meetings can be like the holy grail, capable of “carrying” living waters to quench the thirst of dying alcoholics.
Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001.
“A.A. at the Crossroads,” by Andrew Delbanco and Thomas Delbanco. The New Yorker, March 20, 1995, p. 51
Crape, Byron L, Carl A Latkin, Alexandra S Laris, and Amy R Knowlton. “The Effects of Sponsorship in 12-step Treatment of Injection Drug Users.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 65, no. 3 (February 2002): 291–301. doi:10.1016/S0376-8716(01)00175-2.
Moos, Rudolf H. 2008. “How and Why Twelve Self-Help Groups are Effective.” Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery: Series: Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Vol. 18. American Society of Addiction Medicine and Research Society on Alcoholism. Edited by Marc Galanter and Lee Kaskutas. 450 p. 22 illus.