Next Monday I will celebrate 33 years of continuous sobriety. Every year I get a little bit more grateful for this miracle in my life. It is God’s grace, given in immeasurable quantities. I am surely not capable of this, but God is. I thank Him every day. And I try to put that gratitude into action… to the best of my ability.
I had another blog for years, where I talked about being a member of a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. After a while, I felt like an apologist for the organization. In time, I just couldn’t continue to do it. I received so many comments and e-mails from people who had plenty to share about themselves or others being hurt by other members. My answer was always that the fellowship is FOR sick people, and run BY sick people. That it is fool-hardy to expect great behavior from a group of people in various stages of recovery.
As time goes by however, I am beginning to see it differently.
Even the big book says “we are people who normally would not mix,” which I believe is more true today than ever. Over the years, my perception of the alchemy of the AA group has changed from seeming almost miraculous to seeming almost evil. Please note the italics… probably no group is absolutely good or absolutely bad. But there are differences, and they are important to note and take heed of.
We have people who are appropriately coming to the program; they are dying of a progressive illness, they are vulnerable and desperate. They are grasping at straws for something that will help them get out of the trouble they are in, whether legal, familial, physical, or mental. We tell them we can help them. That is the truth.
But we take it a step further when we tell them “This is a safe place.” “You can trust us.” “We all understand.”
We also have people who are predators. They may be alcoholic, they may not be alcoholic. We seem to think it is somehow discriminatory to suggest that AA is for alcoholics, so we say “Everyone is welcome here!!!” “This works for everyone!!!” I watch out for people who never share their stories. I find when people say they don’t want to share their “drunkalog” it frequently is because they don’t actually have one. If we don’t have that common foundation, what do we have?
In an ideal world, both of these groups of people would find a healthy group and healthy sponsorship and proceed to recover from alcoholism. Warning bells should be ringing when someone suggests otherwise.
I have been around AA long enough to have seen a lot of groups, and a lot of people. Some of the finest people I know belong to AA. Some of the worst people I have ever encountered belong to AA. I have been hurt terribly by a couple of AAs, and helped tremendously by others.
When I look back on the 32 year old vulnerable woman I was when I came to AA, I feel tremendous sorrow for her and what she has and will go through. I feel a little bit sad that AA was NOT a safe place. I overlooked that for years because of my love for the fellowship and gratitude for my recovery. But the older I get, the more compassion I have for that young woman who was once me. And I have that compassion for other desperate alcoholics who hit our doors.
Over the last 25 years or so, I have been part of two AA groups. One is close to home and convenient. There have been times I have felt that it was my home group.
The other group is where I got sober. It was my original home group and many of the same people are still sitting in that room, 33 years later. They have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. I love those people and they love me. There are also newer people in the group. They came into the group and were cared for. They were not coddled and allowed to act like fools, but they were led with sponsorship through the twelve steps into recovery. In this group, we go to funerals of people who have died of old age after decades of sobriety. There is an occasional motorcycle or other accident that kills, but for the most part, these people are living long lives in sobriety. This, I know in my heart, is where I belong. I just wish it didn’t require a 37 mile drive to get there.
Can I just give some advice here?
- I’m sorry, but AA is NOT a safe place.
- You should use discernment, to the best of your ability, and a lot of prayer, to determine which group you should attend, and which people you want to trust.
- A group with one person who is sponsoring a majority of the group, and people of both genders, should be avoided – at all costs. Go.To.Another.Group.
- Please do not feel flattered and special when a person who purports to have decades of sobriety is interested in having a sexual relationship with you. This is not healthy.
- Even the big book tells us we should not allow other alcoholics to live in our homes, at least not for long, please heed this – especially if you have children in your home.
- If someone is “in love” with you within 15 minutes of meeting you, s/he is either lying to you or has serious issues.
All that said, I am incredibly grateful to and and for the fellowship. It can be absolutely wonderful. Nearly every one of my friends is in AA. They are good people.
But there are bad, ill-intentioned people too. Please be careful of those. It doesn’t mean you should judge all of us as bad. Find another group. Most of us are in large enough places to find them.
God bless you all.