“The inability of many people to understand persons not having a carbon copy of their own stories is surprising.”
By Rick A.
Do I make it easier or harder for members of AA who may not share my vision of the world?
From time to time, some sub-set sees the world in a way different from the fabled majority. I say fabled because this oft-referenced body of members tends to be as fluid as the seasons. What is the majority today is often an amusing or sad memory tomorrow – like yesterday’s fashion choices.
These sub-sets have included women (yep women, believe it or not), gays and lesbians, alkies who are also addicts, young people, members who came from treatment centers, members who sobered up in jail, members who suffer from mental illnesses, and of course the mother lode – those of religious diversity and dissonance, including but not restricted to non-Christians, agnostics and atheists. In all of these cases there have been movements to oust these groups under the guise of Saving AA From Total Destruction.
Where does this come from, especially in an organization that purports not to care what the new members have done, or where they’ve come from? Our entrance policy is so wide and inclusive that one does not technically HAVE to stop drinking… just profess a (possibly dishonest) desire to do so. The inability of many people to understand persons not having a carbon copy of their own stories is surprising. I often talk about the fact that for most of us the hands of a clock turn clockwise… but not to the person that spends most of their time inside the clock. While this is an overly simple example it does fit for the purposes of this discussion.
This movement to expel all of those failing to conform to the majority point of view, I believe, runs counter to the aims and principles of AA. And I believe it starts with an old friend of us alkies – Fear.
It is said somewhere that we fear those things with which we lack familiarity or understanding and at the end of the day (though I like to fancy myself as worldly and tolerant beyond the norm) the simple fact is I am an alcoholic, and that makes me by description and definition extremely self-centered. True today, and true tomorrow: This is alcoholism, not alcoholwasm.
I remember being that odd ball member who came in and like most of us, based on the stories I have heard, wondered if I would be permitted to stay. Would I face resistance to my hard clutched ideas and delusions, which for me were truths? Like many of us, I learned that in the spirit of Honesty, Open Mindedness, and Willingness the best course was to lie and not let those around me know about the ideas in my head that ran counter to the majority.
There is a group of people which does not realize that when I say that it is essential to be honest, that I really don’t mean it. These are the people who, if they have a problem with any of the program, as in perhaps the God part, it is better for them to keep that to themselves and join in with the majority, lest they be targeted for expulsion. It is usually innocent on my part, mostly just wanting to keep a part of the meeting that has been around for years. And when it is pointed out to me that some find it offensive or uncomfortable, I can unthinkingly say “Well they don’t have to participate in that part of the meeting” or “I am not bothered by that, so why can’t they overlook it?”
Now is that a way to make people feel a part of the fellowship, by suggesting they not join us one hundred per cent? In most cases isn’t the best way for a member to help the newcomer get and stay sober by removing the barriers, real or fancied, that are faced by the new or fringe member?
I remember the older members who told me that I did not need to surrender all of my beliefs, etc. And they said that if I encountered people that did not agree with my way of thinking that I could learn from them. Yet they also told me that I was to talk my recovery program even if the person was from another religion or no religion, was of a different sexual orientation, was from prison, the asylum or the gutter. None of that mattered. The common ground always being the struggles with alcohol and sobriety, I was to help them be comfortable even if I was not comfortable doing it. I, after all, had more sobriety and a support system to help me deal with my aversion to this or that.
In terms of the people, AA has changed a lot since I started, but the program remains unchanged. Today there should be more open-mindedness and perhaps that so-called sacred reading or Lord’s Prayer is no longer as appealing as it once was at meetings. Is my personal preference enough to insist upon making others who do not share my vision of the word feel less then welcome under the guise of “We have always done it that way?”
I think not. After all, I was welcomed in despite my odd ideas and behaviors, beliefs and lack of beliefs. I shudder to think how few of us would be in recovery today if we all had to apply to an entrance panel whose purpose would be to only let in prospective members who fit the mold in terms of actions, thoughts, fears, beliefs or disbelief.
So it is up to me to police my actions and attitudes to ensure that I am able to welcome those prospective members who do not share my views or attitudes, and who may view the world in a totally opposite way. And it us up to me to make these rooms as welcome to them as they are to those prospective members whose views, fears and beliefs reflect my own.
Rick is a mainstream believer, with the priority that AA should be for one and all. Having worked for several years in General Service, he has direct experience of the outrage and ‘fear of cataclysm’ at the times when young people and gay and lesbians sought to gather together in AA meetings and groups. In 1999, when a new member at Rick’s home group in Pickering vociferously objected to all things religious, Rick was instrumental in getting the group to drop the Lord’s Prayer. That ‘new member’ is twelve and a half years sober today.