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MY FIRST MEETING

I met a guy who was at my first meeting back in 1985. He has been sober now for about 40 years; no mean feat, I'm sure you would agree. He complained that while giving a talk at a prison treatment wing the residents had insisted on asking lots of questions about the Steps and weren't interested in his story. I advised him that they had already identified themselves as alcoholics by requesting to be residents of a treatment wing in the prison. I explained the residents were going through a 12 Step Programme and wanted to know more about broadening their recovery rather than dwelling on his past. His reply was all too familiar and common place in meetings; "but we need to help them identify and they need to hear my story; I only have one story."

He seemed quite downhearted so I suggested he look to the past and reconnect with the Programme of the book, not the oral tradition of the meetings. He asked, "What the hell has happened to you man?" I told him the following story: of how in the year 2000 I had been required to go and give a mother the news that her daughter had been found dead. She told me she had been in Al-anon for many years and studied the Big Book and could not reconcile the message in the book and the message in the meetings. I asked her for examples of what she meant. The mother said her daughter could recall lots of drinking stories of deprivation and thought she should be grateful she didn't have to experience those things - she was repeatedly told to keep coming back - but she couldn't understand why her daughter was repeatedly told for ten years that she needed to get Step One under her belt before she attempted the Programme. All familiar examples of advice that thankfully my sponsor was not in agreement with. I left her some hours later with that haunting tale in my mind and was never able to shake it for as much as I wanted to speak up my position was untenable as I had repeatedly heard the same mantra in meetings.

In 2006, at my 21st sober anniversary, I was ready to leave AA. I was going insane listening to ESH war stories, I had watched the membership of groups change so many times that I was sitting in a room full of strangers who swapped drinking stories be it at home or around the country. If I mentioned the Programme or Higher Powers or, God forbid, a passage from the Big Book other than the laminated copy from chapter five, 'Rarely have we seen a person fail' there was an outcry. I was even called a '12 Step Nazi'.

Our local Big Book Meeting had changed to a yet another general share meeting several years previously at which time I left the group. So following my anniversary a guy I sponsored said why not, start another Big Book group. I agreed only to shut him up hoping he would just procrastinate on the matter; but he didn't thank God. That was 11 years ago.

Since that day in April 2006 I have seen a group grow from 6 members to 50. Of those members that reached 2 years' sobriety not one has relapsed to date the oldest will be 11 years sober in November. We try to be guided by a few simple rules that don't go down well with some other groups.

The focus of the group is always in rooted in Tradition Five. The sober member can share their drama, their life issues, but if it is a 'get it off their chest moment' we try hard to do that before the meeting, in the break or after the meeting. During the meeting the newcomer needs to know how to deal with the mental obsession driven by the bedevilments highlighted on page 52 of the Big Book, through the application of the 12 Steps.

We stay disciplined and try to demonstrate 'How cool is my life today - the joy of living - not revelling in the pain of endurance in untreated dry time'.

We listen to the newcomers and we acknowledge they know how to get drunk so our focus is always on demonstrating how they can stay sober; they ask us to help them stay sober, so we listen and act - we never say take the cotton wool out of your ears and put it in your mouth. We offer a simple set of tools and try to show them how to use them.

Sponsorship – we are guided by the Big Book. Start as early as possible; give them a copy of the book tell them to read 'The Doctor's Opinion' and ask lots of questions next time we meet. The Big Book is full of stories of members completing the Programme in days, if not hours. This includes Bill W - Bob S - Bill D. After all, the Programme is only as complicated as we make it - it isn't rocket science. Teach them if they do what the first 100 did - in the manner they did it - in the time frame they did it, then they stand a good chance of getting the same result.

Maintain a clear distinction between Service work and 12 Step work (Big Book, chapter 7). Service makes the 12 Step possible and the latter ensures continued recovery for the member and a better life for their family.

It is crucial to understand that 12 Step work, for example, is about being on the group or area 12 Step lists, or sponsoring; that they are not optional tasks, they are what we promised to do in Step Three and Seven. It is how God calls in the debt that we owe Him for the great life we and consequently our partners and children also share. However, to have and keep this great life 'we must be rid of selfishness or it kills us'. The Big Book talks about the gaunt prospector who hits the mother lode and directs us to mine that gold for the rest of our lives and give the entire fortune away.

Most of all, we have a belief that if those of our families are in a higher risk group in term of being vulnerable to drinking problems then we have to provide the best service we can in case they also need to hear the message in the future. We try to remember that every person who comes through the doors of AA is a son or daughter and, unknowingly, their parents trust us with their children to give them the best also.

We try hard not to share expert opinions such as offering our own personal convoluted views of the Programme. We try to give newer members an understanding of the 1939 12 Step Programme from that little known book called 'Alcoholics Anonymous- The Story of How Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism'. They can in turn can tailor the Programme to their own circumstances but always must go on to teach the basics to others using the Big Book as a frame of reference.

Mostly, we are guided by the following: We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us. (BB,p 164)

I am so grateful to my friend for the night he started that Big Book Meeting. I now have 33 years in Recovery, have just retired with my wife, two daughters and three grandchildren. I give over a lot of time to sponsoring and I am active in my home group - Intergroup - 12 Step Work - PI campaigns - Telephone Service and Website and still find time to turn up early and put out the chairs and complain there is no milk.

I have watched the members of my home group grow into the finest examples of loving caring human beings one could ever meet. The best honour I could bestow on them would be knowing I would be contented to trust any one of them to sponsor my daughters, if they ever need help!

TOM,
Sunderland