6 01, 2019

No Rules in a Knife Fight

Neither [A.A.’s] General Service board … nor the humblest group committee can issue a single directive to an A.A. member and make it stick.

—Twelve and Twelve, p. 173

How John W. learned there are no rules in knife fights: Watching Paul Newman’s opponent hit the ground in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Makes sense to most drunks. A.A. should never be organized.

​ Melissa M. made a career of moving from country to country to avoid looking at the carnage she had created. Bree L. tells how Kathleen C.’s sister used the b-word to help her get sober. Also in this issue: The sense of purpose driving the survival of members and their meetings. The general service committee suggests ways groups can communicate about keeping meetings safe for newcomers.

Rules? In a knife fight?

A sense of purpose drives the survival of members

Our common welfare comes first, as Carla H. sums up (after adding emotional sobriety maintenance to her toolbox of coping mechanisms). We are the anarchists who rebel against the rules. The paradox is: We are the ones with the message we have been waiting for.

1 01, 2019

Inside Job

by Melissa M.

I get to have a relationship with reality

I’ve lived a life of “geographics”—moving from one place to another has become such an integral part of who I am that I have made a career of it. I move from one city to another; from one country to another and I love it. Or at least I used to.

I made a career of moving

Now I know what I thought of as “trying something new” was really good old-fashioned “running away.” It’s easy to convince yourself you’re OK if you don’t have to stick around in one place long enough to see the carnage you create and the people you leave behind. I got sober in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, after 32 years of Olympian drinking and travelling. While I told myself I was moving there for the tax-free employment and the chance to let my daughter frolic in sand dunes, I knew, on the inside, I was really hoping a conservative Muslim country could do for me what I could not do for myself: regulate my, by-then, virtually uncontrollable daily drinking.

In early recovery, I shared this realization at a meeting and confessed to the group I thought I would drink less (or drink with more constraint, or drink better, or drink differently, or … you get the idea) by moving to the Middle East. I was taken aback when the room erupted in laughter. I wasn’t alone, I learned, in thinking that. Virtually every alcoholic expat in Dubai had moved there hoping a country with strict alcohol rules could cure them of their alcoholism. I also learned that it worked approximately 0% of the time. In fact, instead of learning how to put down a drink I was actually provided with a perfect storm of drinking conditions: Money to spend, brutal summer temperatures that keep people indoors, swank hotels catering exclusively to expat hyper-consumption and a handful of industrious black market vendors who, for a very steep delivery fee, come to your front door with a trolley of thick black garbage bags filled with booze. There was no room for moderation even if I had known how to moderate.

Like a lot of people, when I first started going to A.A. meetings all I really wanted was to quit drinking. I needed to stop but didn’t know how. Having received that gift, I remain grateful every day of sobriety. I was also given the powerful gift of clarity: Being able to see life as it really is and being able to start a relationship with reality. I don’t drink on my problems anymore, or drink to celebrate, to protest, to check out, to check in, to chill out or to warm up. I have to meet life head-on with my eyes and spirit open to the fact that, actually, I’m not really in control at all.

This kind of radical acceptance takes place on the inside and can’t be found in any passport, airport or Lonely Planet guide (it’s an inside job, as they say). For the first time in maybe forever, I’m actually OK with that.

1 01, 2019

Life Depends On It

by Anonymous

Intrigued by this meeting I had been invited to attend, I saw the secretary took no notes, created no minutes and had no real agenda. People chimed in all over the place. A guy at the right side in the seat of honor did nothing the entire hour (the job I would try to land for sure). If I had to attend these meetings to try to keep “she who must be obeyed” off my back, then the easiest job available would be mine.

The reality of the “not drinking” purpose of these meetings was lost on me. I sank deeper and deeper into my disease. When that changed through no action of mine except daily 7:00 a.m. meeting attendance, it began to dawn on me how clueless I had been about how meetings really worked. I saw how trusted servants had volunteered their time, sometimes at a sponsor’s subtle nod, to help make things happen rain or shine.

I seek out those meetings, return to them and survive because of them

I heard one meeting continued after a brief group conscience on the morning of 9/11. After all, sober men and women seem to deal with tragedy a bit better than those who aren’t. I took hard the lesson that if the man you tried to 12-Step didn’t get it, you were to move on to the next suffering alcoholic. The Big Book’s authors had recovered; they told us how they had done it. They shared vivid and desperate stories, promising no matter how far down the scale you went your experience could help another.

So why would we leave the one who did not get it behind? How could we abandon even that one? The story of the shepherd going to any lengths to save one sheep gone astray was a reverberating counterpoint. But it was I who did not get it.

The life of a meeting depends on its members

As time passed, I realized that those who seemed to make it did so because of something within driving them to survive. No one had been able to instill that in me. I realized I could likewise not instill it in the next person. I could only carry the message, not make them hear it. So too it seemed with those meetings I attended.

While my Home Group has not changed, often my schedule gives me other alternatives. I have found those meetings where I “want what they have” all seem to have that same sense of a drive to survive. They seemed compelled to do the next right thing as a group to keep their attraction alive. That does not mean they just have the best array of cookies or a variety of organic teas, although rigorous honesty demands the acknowledgment that I do not find those to be detractions. It means they found a sense of purpose that is palatable to me.

Hands are quick to be raised for help with cleaning up or to grab a commitment that is open. The awkward silence of waiting for a volunteer, if present, is short. The people in those rooms seem to exude a genuine caring. Many might call it love for those about them, particularly ones who are suffering, whether with just 24 hours or decades of sobriety. They realize that living life on life’s terms is not always easy. They make that awareness evident in how they participate in the meeting.

That attraction is infectious to me. I seek out those meetings, I return to them, and survive because of them. I have come to believe that they survive because of the same reasons that I was drawn to the program in the beginning. Their members share the exact same reality I experienced—that to drink is to die. They seem to know, truly, that the statistics are against the alcoholic. So in the same way as life depends on it for me, I see how the life of a meeting depends on its members living this reality and going to any lengths, one meeting at a time.

1 01, 2019

Safety & A.A.

Area 11 Connecticut General Service Committee

What Can Groups and Members Do?
Groups and members can discuss the topic of safety, to raise awareness in the Fellowship and seek through sponsorship, workshops and meetings, to create as safe an environment as possible for the newcomer, and other members or potential members. This can be the subject of sharing among groups at the district or area level.

Helpful suggestions and reminders

  • Talk about issues of safety before they arise.
  • Safety is something each member attending an A.A. meeting can be mindful of.
  • Communicate clearly what A.A. is and what it is not.
  • Sponsorship plays an important role and sponsors can be helpful in pointing out warning signs or unhealthy situations to sponsees and newcomers.
  • A.A. members who are concerned about the words or actions of a sponsor or other member, may find it helpful to speak to someone they trust, their A.A. group, or a professional, as needed.
  • Include Safety and the A.A. Meeting Environment as topics for a group inventory.
  • Consider developing group guidelines and procedures on safety. Recommend no one walk to a car alone, but instead be accompanied by a trusted fellow or travel in a group.
  • In all discussions about safety, keep the focus on our primary purpose, our common welfare, and place principles before personalities.

Helpful Resources for A.A. Members and Groups

  • Box 459, October 2010 edition, articles on “Disruptive Members at A.A. Meetings” and “A.A. and the Law” (available on the newsletters page at
  • Report on “The 62nd General Service Workshop: Safety in A.A. Our Common Welfare.” *
  • Final Report of the “Ad Hoc Committee on Group Safety of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous, U.S. and Canada.”*
  • A.A. pamphlet, “Questions & Answers on Sponsorship.”
  • A.A. pamphlet, “The A.A. Group… Where it All Begins.”
  • Contact your District Committee Member or Area Delegate for local shared experience.

*Available upon request by contacting G.S.O.

1 01, 2019

Our Common Welfare

by John W.

Each member is a small part of a great whole.

“No rules,” just like Paul Newman’s character Butch Cassidy said was true in a knife fight, as told to the opponent he vanquished with a markedly low blow. I was enthralled to find there were no rules in A.A. Having minored in college in political science, steeped in philosophies of government, organization and how systems worked, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject. I learned quickly I was a “newcomer” when I confronted A.A. and my place in it.

I was confused at first by who was running the meeting and why it was done so inefficiently. People introduced themselves at some meetings, but no one ever took roll. The ones with the prime seats nearest the secretary did not seem to do anything to earn them. They just showed up. Then there was this business of newcomers being “the most important people” at the meetings. The first time I said I was a newcomer, because I had lied about it for the first several months of regular meeting attendance interspersed with daily drinking, I was “volunteered” to help tidy up the meeting room and put away the chairs.

I had to hang with this new posse or I was toast

Those folks sure had a funny way of letting me know how important I was. I heard, “We don’t drink between meetings. You ought to consider trying that.” And never, even after copping to being a newcomer who was really, honestly, trying to stop drinking but just couldn’t, did anyone ever say, “You must stop drinking now!” This was a relief because I would have rebelled and bolted if they had. And I know for certain I would not be penning these thoughts now, over a sober decade later. I’d be dead. A.A. was a new frontier for me which fit no mold I had ever studied.

Though bewildering, it kept me sober and saved my life. A.A. worked when nothing else had, as those I heard from the beginning said it would, if I followed their simple suggestions. After sober days became sober weeks and then sober months, the mystery of time started to intercede. I began to realize and learn that time has a wonderful way of passing in Alcoholics Anonymous. It passes One Day At A Time.

As this mystery of time passing unfolded daily before me, I realized this was the spiritual element of my disease. I was being healed by this daily reprieve I had unbelievably begun to experience and enjoy. As I became able to successfully confront the daily drink challenge, I started to hope this success would last. As time passed I began to really want this success to last. The longer I stayed sober, the more I understood that if my sobriety was to last I needed the group for help and support.

I slowly came to realize I had to hang with this new posse or I was toast. Throughout my process of awakening these A.A.s made only suggestions. They gave no orders. They suggested I be of service, helping someone who needed it, and said this would help keep me sober. Take what you can from the group, then give it all away, was their message.

It all got so simple one day when I watched a guy, very smartly attired in a suit and tie, grab a mop to swab the water closet which someone had left in a less than pristine state. Dressed in jeans with no place to go, I had offered to clean up the mess after I realized what he was doing. But he smiled in response, said he was a drunk as common as a spare tire in the trunk of my car and things like this task helped him keep life’s priorities in their proper perspective.

We needed to keep the place clean, he said, or they wouldn’t invite us back. He wanted to make sure we had a place to meet the next time. No one had said he must, he knew only that he ought to for the good of the group. This guy had what I wanted. He showed me just what I ought to do (he did not tell me what I must do). His example is one I have never forgotten.

1 01, 2019

Kathleen C.’s Story

by Bree L.

It takes a village

My sobriety date is September 11, 1986, my sister’s birthday. We drank and used together, shoplifted together, got into crazy dangerous situations together. She was a few months clean and sober and had been dragging me to meetings in Los Angeles every time I visited. “Bitch, if you don’t quit drinking, you’re going to die.”

I called her on her birthday. “Happy birthday; by the way I quit smoking dope. I think I flunked the bar exam because marijuana ruined my short term memory.” Long silence on the other end of the phone line.

“And what?”

“What about alcohol?”

“It isn’t my drug of choice, it isn’t a problem for me.” Long silence on my end as I thought over what I had just said. “Hmm, you know, I have been drinking a lot more wine since I quit smoking weed.” “Why don’t you try not drinking?”
“Okay, I’ll try.”

I snuck into recovery through the back door: meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics and working the steps with a sponsor. ACA members who were also in Alcoholics Anonymous convinced me I needed to look for an AA meeting. The Hilldwellers meeting became my home group. It’s a Big Book meeting Monday nights on Potrero Hill. Thanks to my Higher Power, I met Bonnie and we worked the AA steps.

Hilldwellers became my home group

We did my Fifth Step in a study carrel at the UCSF Medical School Library. She took time for me, even though she was living in San Jose taking care of her sick mother and commuting to San Francisco every day for work. When I had about five years sober, at a women’s conference with my sister, I admitted in a small group that my program consisted of one meeting a week and no sponsees.

Afterwards a woman came up to me and said, “You’re going to drink! There’s no standing still in A.A. If you’re not moving forward, you’re sliding back.” She scared me into looking for more meetings, and maybe someone to sponsor.

The Cocoanuts meeting in the Mission District on Sunday mornings is still a mainstay for me. There are also meetings in West Marin, where my husband and I had a weekend cottage: my favorites are the Saturday women’s meeting in the Inverness firehouse and Sunday Serenity in the library.

In the Federal Building, where I was working since I passed the bar exam in sobriety, there was a meeting called We Care. Back then we met in a conference room on the second floor. An elevator took me to a meeting. A woman in that meeting asked me to sponsor her. She was enthusiastic about fellowship: chip meetings, birthday dinners. Thanks to her I started saying yes to A.A. and having way more fun. Sponsoring gave me the courage to try other kinds of service: GSR, H and I, speaking at meetings, writing and editing The Point.

Because of the fellowship that I avoided for so long, I do not have to live life on my own. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and died a year later, Bonnie advised me from her experience as the caregiver for her mother. Other A.A. women, longtime friends, had lost husbands to cancer, usually after a lot of stress. To them I could say about my husband: “You know, sometimes I want to kill him myself,” and they would respond with knowing laughter rather than shock.

In A.A. we absolutely insist on enjoying life. At an event called Take Your Sponsor to Brunch in San Jose, Bonnie won a raffle and invited me to join her at the prize: A Sharks hockey game. My sponsees call and text and give me rides to meetings. With AA friends I have breakfast after morning meetings, dinners on all occasions. My A.A. village brings me joy every sober day.

1 01, 2019

We Anarchists Stick Together

Tradition One in Action

by Carla H.

Although Tradition One is about group unity and how we must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately (undoubtedly misquoting Benjamin Franklin), my experience of this paradoxical tradition was supremely useful in getting me to embrace A.A. fully. I had to set aside my fear of being stripped of my 30 years of sobriety because I hadn’t done the steps nor had a sponsor.

I was sobbing on the phone

“No A.A. can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled.” These words are in Tradition One on page 129 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. I heard them a little differently some years ago from my younger sister, also 30 years sober. She had done the steps with a sponsor or three and had sponsored other women. She suggested I go to a meeting when I was sobbing on the phone that no one in the world had ever understood me like she did.

The backstory: I had 30 years but zero emotional recovery. I was scared I was going to go out, for no reason, and just pick up a drink. It was a dark time in my life when I woke up in fear every day, a tight ball of nerves and panic.

I was terrified of what my life had come down to—60 years old, underemployed during the Great Recession, living partially on my savings, with no close friends in San Francisco any longer. My therapist of 25 years was dead and my beloved sister was leaving the Bay Area for good. I had no skills or tools to deal with my fear. It was my sister’s idea I could try a meeting, where I’d find other people like her.

I was skeptical, of course. “But I can’t prove I have 30 years. They won’t let me keep that, will they? Won’t I have to start over?”

She said, “Nobody can take that away from you. I’ve spent some years not going to meetings and I don’t subtract them. I’m still sober.”

“But nobody wants to hear I’m sober when I didn’t do it by working the steps or anything.” Her voice got fierce. “You can say anything you want. Nobody can kick you out or tell you to shut up. Nobody can tell you what to say or do.”
“There are no rules in A.A. If anyone criticizes you, tell them to work their own program, not yours.”
And that’s how I got up the courage to go to a step meeting near me. Three days later, I accepted a woman’s offer to sponsor me. I started working the steps and reading the literature.

During my 30 “dry” years, I assumed a sponsor would try to turn me into an A.A. zombie. But the first tradition also says, “Surely there is [no organization] which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk and act as [s/he] wishes.” Hooray! Since that time, I’ve always felt free to say exactly what I want to about my own experience, strength and hope. What’s more, I now listen for all kinds of thoughts and opinions, including the “minority opinion” I’ve learned is also encouraged and valued in A.A.

We’re the anarchists that hang together and carry the message so this life-saving organization can continue. As Tradition One says, “Neither he nor anyone else can survive unless he carries the A.A. message.” So yes, our common welfare always comes first.

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