A typo in this post when originally published made part of the point I was trying to make unclear. Thank you very much to eagle eye readers who caught it and brought it to my attention!
They were young in years and young in sobriety. I knew them vaguely from meetings, but they were always together, and similar in appearance so I wasn't clear which one was which, even though we'd been introduced before.
"What do you think, Mr. SponsorPants?" One of them asked.
They had been heartily trashing an old AA Crocodile I knew by reputation, who had objected to a Closed AA Meeting becoming an Open one.
"I think you shouldn't poke a bear with a stick, that's what I think."
"Huh?" one said with voice, the other with expression.
"Forget it." I said. "What do I think about which part? Open and Closed Meetings? Or the way Crocodile framed his objection to the meeting changing? Or what do I think about how you two are disguising your gleeful character assassination as a conversation about AA Tradition and Meetings, etc.?"
"All of the above." This from the one.
"Yes." From the other.
"You two should take this act on the road. Okay, let me ask you first, you understand the difference between an Open Meeting and a Closed Meeting, yes?"
"Yes." I don't know which one answered. I had stopped trying to sort the two of them out shortly after I sat down.
"So tell me."
"Well," came the answer, "An Open Meeting is for everyone who wants to go, and a Closed meeting is only for alcoholics."
"Mostly right." I said, "But allow me to clarify that a little further. A Closed meeting is only for people who identify as alcoholics, but not for people who identify only as an addict."
"Huh?" Again said by one while the other did the confused puppy head tilt. But I think they traded on who's turn it was to speak.
"If you identify as an addict, and only identify as an addict, then you should go to Open AA Meetings, but probably not Closed ones. That is, if you want to respect the meeting. I've been to plenty of Closed Meetings where people only identified as an addict and nobody stopped the bus. Though I have seen it happen."
"But an alcoholic and an addict are the same thing!"
I shrugged. "I guess. Ultimately, I think arguing about whether you're an alcoholic or an addict and getting too caught up in that at the meeting level is a little like arguing about whether its better if they roll you into the morgue through a door on the west side of the building or the east side."
"So you agree, it doesn't matter, and Crocodile was..."
"Stop please." I help up my hand. "I will not comment on Crocodile. I will say, however, that it doesn't matter at all AND it does matter very much."
"Huh?" I was ready for it this time, and almost said it with them.
I swear to you, my friends reading this, I only went out for a cup of coffee to get away from the computer and take a break from working on the Mr. SponsorPants book. God, apparently, was having some sport with me it seems, by having me run into these two kidlets at my corner cafe, right in the midst of their righteous indignation. There are so many problems in the world, to those reading who are not alcoholics or addicts this must seem like such a silly conversation. And, like the answer I gave the kidlets, I must tell you that it both is and it isn't.
"Look," I said, "a meeting is a meeting, and if you struggle with addiction and you go to one then you'll probably hear something helpful to you if you have ears to hear it, regardless of the meeting."
"Buuuut...?" Kidlet One anticipated the "but."
"Buuuut..." I acknowledged "For me, when I was new, how AA first spoke to me was through the process of identification. I wasn't able to think in metaphors or make an esoteric leap about how spending days nodding out on heroin or being up for a week solid on crystal was, in the context of how addiction hijacks our lives, the same as one of my three week benders. Yes, it is, of course, but also, no, it isn't. When I was new, I needed to hear people who did what I did and felt like I felt and drank like I drank. And... never mind."
"No. Finish that. What?" maybe it was Kidlet Two asking. One of them, anyway.
"Well, I want everyone to feel welcome in the 12 Step World -- everyone who needs help and seeks it there, anyway -- but I'm not sure it's such an awful thing to ask that in an AA Meeting the alcoholics don't get lost in the mix."
They thought about that for a minute.
"I'm not saying anyone isn't welcome, but there are plenty of meeting choices now, and many, many more Open meetings than Closed ones. I don't have a problem with a Closed meeting holding the line on being a Closed meeting, or asking in the format that to attend one identify as an alcoholic."
"But still, isn't that kind of exculsionary?"
I shrugged. "The Program is not called 'Everything's Anonymous.' Should I go to a Gambler's Anonymous Meeting and share about my drinking? Should someone from OA who has never done Crystal Meth Lead a CMA meeting?"
"But that's different. Drinking and drugging is the same, comparing those things isn't
"East door, West door." I said. "Sure, it's a different rate of mortality but suffering is suffering and lives shattered by addiction are lives shattered by addiction, whether you betray the love and trust of your family by gambling away their future, or becoming a shut in as you balloon up to 400 pounds...
I held up my hand again. I know that Crocodile is a difficult soul, and however much I may have agreed with the point it sounds like he made, I have absolutely no doubt he made it in the most unpleasant and confrontational way possible, almost losing whatever point he was making in vitriol. For me, some of us are Shining Examples and some of us are Horrible Warnings. I learn from both.
"I really don't want to get into anything about Croc. And really, I've got to get back to work."
We said our goodbyes, and I made a mental note to ask a friend who knew them better which was which.
I walked away and began to head back up the hill to my place, imagining this exchange after I'd gone:
Kidlet One: Did that make any sense to you?
Kidlet Two: Sort of. Those Old Timers really go on though, don't they.
Kidlet One: Yeah, they really do.
What's nice is that, I didn't even get an imaginary resentment about their imaginary conversation.
Or a real one!
And I'm capable of either!
There are more stories like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download a Kindle reader for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.