Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I've been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for a couple of years and was asked to speak at a speaker meeting. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for how to do this. Any insight would be appreciated.
First off, in my humble opinion, one of the reasons I am still sober is that I was taught "never say 'no' to an AA request" from very early on in my sobriety. An AA request is something that has to do with AA, of course, not any random request from a member of AA. Thus (again, in my humble opinion), the best answer to "Will you speak at the meeting next week?" is "Yes, of course" (if you are free) and, equally, the best answer to "Will you wash my car for me?" is probably "As if! Bite me, you lazy git" "No, I don't believe I will."
So good on ya for saying 'yes' to an AA request!
Here's everything I know about speaking at an AA meeting:
- Relax, you didn't give anyone alcoholism, you can't take it away. Just tell your truth to the best of your ability -- but you're not responsible for saving anyone's life or anything. That's between them and their Higher Power. You're just there to offer what you can, and perhaps something you say will be helpful to someone in the room, either that night, or in the future.
- It's perfectly natural to want to do a good job, to take the request seriously, to hope that people like you, to wish to honor whatever debt you may feel to AA for the help you've received. Thus, a little adrenaline, some butterflies, sweaty palms... all par for the course. They don't mean that your ego is getting in the way or anything like that at all. While it is not as difficult as matching tissue samples for sick children, it is by no means an easy thing to stand before a group and tell your Truth. "Caring" about how it goes is not some big ego thing -- feeling like you will live or die by how it goes... now that's a big ego thing. But it's a completely unrealistic expectation that you will have no feeling about it at all. (Unless you're a jaded old crocodile who's spoken far too much and now really and truly doesn't give a flying duck anymore what people in an AA meeting think when they speak. If you keep speaking you'll get there eventually, though I'm not sure it's an especially laudable goal or good place to wind up.)
- Don't try to be funny, don't try to be serious, don't try to be grateful, or humble... don't "try to be" anything. Just, as best you can, relax and be yourself. Though it may look similar sometimes, sharing/speaking at an AA meeting is not in any way the same as making a speech or giving a lecture.
- While it makes sense that you might want to collect your thoughts a bit before you speak, "planning out" what you're going to say has never worked well for me. If you only have a rough outline I find it leaves room for God to work, and, equally importantly, for you to speak from the heart, rather than from a "plan."
- Generally, unless the meeting has a 'topic' they would like you to address (and I always try to respect whatever format a meeting has when I speak) in AA we have two strong guidelines for when we speak (and when we share): First off, we try to share our own experience, strength and hope, which translates to what we've done and how we felt much more than what we think. But don't make yourself nuts about it. Thoughts and opinions will slip in, interwoven among our feelings and experiences -- if you're speaking from the heart it will be okay. The easy way to check yourself when you're speaking is to remember to say "I" a lot more than you say "you."
- Secondly, the other rough guide we have for speaking in AA is that we share What it was like, What happened and What it's like now. Over the years, as the general population has become more aware of how our family of origin and early experiences can shape our personalities, and how general psychological theories and ideas have influenced how people view themselves and their lives, this 'what it was like/what happened/what it's like now' has become somewhat biographical in nature, with addiction and recovery entering the story sometimes later in the telling. When I was new the focus was a bit more on What is was like when I drank, What happened that made me realize I had a problem and brought me to AA and What it is like now, trying to work AA's program and living sober today. I'm not saying that today seems worse or diluted or inferior to how it was when I was new. The Big Book, and our common sense, tell us to make good use of what medical professionals have to offer (including the fields of psychology, etc.), so this evolution of thought and expression is likely a good thing. But speaking at an AA meeting is not an invitation to tell your life story so much as it is a request to share your experience with addiction and recovery in your life.
- Some people look down their noses at drunk-a-logs, that is, they "don't like it" when a speaker spends "too much time" talking about when they drank. Dear God, what a bunch of pinched old prunes people are when they're in that phase. When I was new, I really needed to hear that the people I was listening to in AA drank like I drank, and knew what it was like to go through what I'd been through. Hearing a little of people's drinking history helped me identify, which then helped me take the First and Second Steps. So while a person's whole share should probably not be about drinking and using, don't shy away from it entirely, either. Plus, "we are not a glum lot" -- never underestimate the healing power of sharing some of your drinking stories with a group. What was tragedy at the time can be healed with that very special kind of identifying laughter one often hears in an AA meeting.
- Some people might think you were wonderful. Take it with a grain of salt. Some people might think you were terrible. Fuck 'em, you're not sharing to save them or entertain anyone, you're doing it to save your own life. Take that with a grain of salt, too. We participate in our own recovery by speaking at meetings -- we're carrying the message as best we can, yes, but it's in the practice of the 12th Step, so that we stay sober.
- Bring a watch, so that if there's not a timer or there's not a clock you can see from where you're standing/sitting you can keep track of the time. Nobody likes a speaker that goes way over time, whether they do it by accident or from self indulgence.
Hope some of that was helpful, T.
Relax, and remember, you are exactly the right person to be speaking at that meeting at that time -- so you actually can't screw it up, even if you wanted to.