Choosing an AA Home Group


By Martine R.

If I have indeed “come to believe” anything in my 14 years of sobriety, it is that attendance at AA meetings keeps me sober.

Nothing else.

For several excruciating years after I had decided that I was drinking too much and must stop, I never managed to put together more than three months of sobriety. Then one day, when I reached bottom, I went to an AA meeting, and some sort of miracle, for lack of a better word, happened. I lost my compulsion to drink.  And the compulsion, so far, has not returned. I therefore feel justified in asserting that attendance at AA meetings is the trigger that creates and preserves my sobriety. In Cartesian terms, I accept that proposition as true because I know it “so clearly and distinctly that it cannot be doubted”. (Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes).

It sounds like a very simple remedy to a very great problem. And yet, perhaps not that simple. Some of us manage to incorporate frequent attendance at AA meetings in our busy lives, others do not. One way to foster this frequent attendance is to pick a special group to be our “home group”. It’s a group one attends on a regular basis. Going there is part of the sober routine. Like the morning run, for people who do not feel complete if they have not run their mile first thing in the morning.

We recovering alcoholics often find ourselves quite busy after we become sober. We go back to work, we return to favorite extra-curricular activities or we start new ones, we spend more time with family and friends, we travel, we read! Our days are full, now that we do not spend so much time drinking.

Going to a meeting can now seem like an intrusion on our time. I know, again without a doubt, that such thoughts are dangerous. Going to meetings must remain the underpinning of our sober new life. Any thought, any method, any trick that directs our steps towards a meeting, is good for us. Having a home group helps in that regard. Not only because we have made going there part of our routine, but because other people in the group, our friends, will probably call to inquire how we are if we start missing the meetings.  Right there is a powerful incentive to keep our “membership” alive. A group usually keeps track of its members’ sobriety dates. So every year, if you have a home group, that is where you celebrate your anniversary. It is just one of the many small pleasant things which keep you coming.

Humans in general and alcoholics in particular, tend to stick to an activity which makes them comfortable. We will keep going to a specific meeting only if we feel at least moderately comfortable and happy in its atmosphere.

I remained faithful for several years to the first meeting. I chose a sponsor the very first time I was there. The meeting is not far from where I live. It was at a time then convenient for me. However, there were a number of aggressively religious members in that group. In the beginning, I was so desperate, then so grateful, that I did not let it bother me too much. But I did resent, nevertheless, the frequent injunctions to get on my knees and pray.

An AA group is only as good as the people who go there. And of course I do not mean that in an exclusive, elitist way.

We all have the same disease, and we treat it by being together and sharing our experience, strength and hope. But there are as many differences in AA people as they are in the world at large. Somehow, AA works because the desire to get well is so strong that we overlook differences and focus instead on our common need. When we choose a home group, all we really need is an atmosphere of tolerance.

But for some of us, having something more than just alcoholism in common with the people in the home group encourages our attendance even more. That is why many AA groups are now “specialty” groups. There are groups for: men only; women only; young people; people over 60; gays; Spanish-speaking; and probably others I do not know. These groups provide an additional level of comfort and of belonging, which fosters and encourages attendance even more.

And, there are meetings where religion is not emphasized and where prayer is not required.

 One day, as I was traveling to Chicago, I happened to look up AA meetings and I saw a listing for an agnostic meeting. I was thrilled, I had had no idea that such meetings even existed. Back home, I asked around and found that indeed there were several such meetings. Not in the small town where I lived, but in New York City, not too far away. The first time I attended such a meeting, I felt again that same mixture of immense relief and vibrant hope that had transformed me at the first AA meeting a few years before.

One of these “agnostic” meetings is now my home group. We sometimes have discussions as to the proper way to call such non-religious meetings: Atheist? Agnostics? Secular humanists? Freethinkers? No-prayer meetings? Each group is autonomous so there are a variety of names. I find in my humanist meeting the support and tolerance that was lacking in my very first home group.

However, I do have another home group close to the small town where I live. In bad weather or when I am unusually busy and cannot spend a couple of hours traveling, I go there. The members are definitely more welcoming to non-religious people than many regular AA groups. Going back and forth between two home groups is not a problem, and it is not all that unusual. There are times when convenience is very important. And there are times when you need a particular level of comfort.

It is fairly obvious that one cannot control who can and who cannot attend a meeting or be part of a group. Membership in a group is not a fixed thing. People come and go. What was a good fit for you one year may not be so great another year. I know I must remain flexible. Now, flexibility is a problem at times. I have heard it said that we alcoholics are somewhat rigid, we do not like change. There is some truth in that! One of the conditions of staying sober is to be open to change. We may have to decide, for our own good, that we need to attend other meetings and find another group.

As a conclusion, let me mention the subject of service, in particular service in AA and for AA. Just attending a meeting, any meeting, is in a way doing service. I try to remain conscious that what I bring to a meeting is as important as what I take out of a meeting. The more involved I am in a particular group, the more comfortable I feel in it, the better my contribution will be and the more faithfully I will attend.

And that’s how AA works.

Martine was born in France and lived in Versailles and in Paris. The family on her father’s side was  Catholic. On her mother’s side, they were  Protestant. By the age of 8, Martine was a nonbeliever.

By the age of 14 or so, she was drinking alcoholically.

When Martine was 20, she married an American and moved to the US, to Boston. They had two children. She taught French while her husband completed college and then went to Medical School. Over the course of three decades, they lived in Palo Alto, California, Baltimore, Maryland and Western Massachusetts. She managed to obtain a Master’s degree, a PH.D. and a law degree. Martine also was now a full-fledged alcoholic.

She and her family moved to New York 16 years ago. She had to leave her law practice behind in Massachusetts and spent her first two years in New York drinking herself almost to death. Then, in despair and frustration, Martine decided to ask AA for help.

She has now been been sober for over 14 years. Martine believes that she would never have stopped drinking if she had not gone to AA. She believes that she would be dead by now. But Martine is alive, and fairly well, and very busy in various endeavours and with many loving friends. She credits all of this to AA, especially to the humanist/agnostic meetings. Without these no-prayer meetings, she might very well have stopped going to AA. To these meetings in particular, Martine feels a very special gratitude.

8 Responses

  1. Lance B. says:

    How nice to hear your story, Martine. I’m the fellow you met last November in Harlem where I qualified. Great meeting.

    Your suggestions support my own. I was on a two week bike ride when your story came out and so missed it until now. Just last Saturday I agreed to step into service one more time to fill out the last 6 months of our DCM’s term. I feel valuable and involved. That is after a couple years of separating myself from my home group because the religiosity made meetings less fun and because some members seemed to feel uncomfortable around me.

    So I began my own secular meeting. It is a meeting within my home group which does not ordinarily posit supernatural solutions to the problem of alcoholism.

    I loved my first visit to NYC and particularly the sunny day when I found you and that little group. Thank you for being there and for writing this excellent treatise on one of the practical ideas to gain and maintain sobriety.

  2. Mark C. "Mark In Texas" says:

    Oh, so much good stuff here! Thank you Martine, and Roger!

  3. Dave J says:

    My sponsor who has been gone for 34 years used to say ” You can’t be too dumb to get sober, but you can be too goddamn smart.” Over the years I’ve realized that AA works. Pure and simple. And it works despite some of it’s voodoo, mysogynistic psychobabble or shame/blame religious nonsense. BTW there is a new free thinkers, agnostic and atheists group on Saturday nights at 7 pm in Windsor, Ontario, Canada at Assumption church (go round to back door) under the Ambassador Bridge 5 minutes from downtown Detroit. The meeting is called Everyone Welcome and is only a month old. So it looks like a Catholic Church in Windsor can teach those meatheads in Toronto something about open mindedness and inclusivity.

  4. C’est bon! I hope we hear more.

    Sometimes I work the phones at Toronto Intergroup and I get someone calling in who says, “I think it’s time for me to go to an AA meeting.” I will invariably say, “Bad idea,” which will get a shocked reaction. I will explain that AA meetings are so different from one another that it is likely that you will get the wrong impression of AA by going to “a” meeting. Some are in the hundreds of attendees, some are less than a dozen sitting around a single table. Some are ritualistic and some are informal. Some are more religious and some are more secular, some are have more sharing and others have only a few sharing and everyone else listens. Meetings have personalities and each group meets the needs of the members. What’s perfect for one is unworkable for another. So I recommend going to 10 meetings within a week or two and then decide if AA is for you.

    Secular AA isn’t for atheists and agnostics per se. It’s for atheists and agnostics who are rubbed the wrong way by AA’s sometimes theistic view of life and alcoholism. Just as many women don’t feel a gender-barrier in mainstream meeting, many of AA’s secular members don’t pay attention to the god-talk in regular AA. It doesn’t trigger them. So for those of us who feel more relaxed discussing AA with like-minded people, we have meetings for everyone.

    I really enjoyed what Martine said here:

    What was a good fit for you one year may not be so great another year. I know I must remain flexible. Now, flexibility is a problem at times. I have heard it said that we alcoholics are somewhat rigid, we do not like change. There is some truth in that! One of the conditions of staying sober is to be open to change.

    I was once a member of Midtown and it felt like home. In the years to follow it moved, the people changed, I changed and going there felt like a chore. I had also moved. So I joined another group. I came back there years later and felt refreshed, again – getting a lot out and putting my share in. I left that group to join others in forming Beyond Belief group in Toronto. I still owe a debt of gratitude to Midtown. My involvement there surely kept me sober.

  5. Peter T. says:

    Merci Martine. I feel exactly the same way about groups and their importance to our sobriety. And I realized, reading your piece, that as far as I am concerned, there are three categories, all of them instrumental in my sobriety. There are religion-oriented groups that are intolerant about non-belief; groups that are nominally devoted to God and Higher Power but who cheerfully make room for those who don’t agree; and atheist/agnostic/free-thinking groups who welcome alcoholics of any or no beliefs. All of them have contributed to my sobriety, but it is groups of the last kind which have given me a second wind and a joyful new enthusiasm for my life in AA.
    Peter T.

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    Thanks Martine. I can so relate. The meetings keep us sober no matter what.

  7. Tony L. says:

    Thanks Martine I concur with your sentiments, particularly regarding service.

    I volunteered at my local group on attaining 12 months sober I’m still Treasurer Open up & buy Tea coffe etc.

    I hope to celebrate 10 years in a month or so. Like you say Home groups mark these occasions. Our Tradition is to get a big birthday cake On 1st 5 10 etc, Other times a birthday card goes round; I like it.

    Nice to realize a milestone. Then just carry on life on life’s terms, etc.

  8. Vic says:

    Well done. I especially like, “Somehow, AA works because the desire to get well is so strong that we overlook differences and focus instead on our common need.” Cartesian indeed.

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