New Sponsee: I... I don't think I want to go to meetings anymore.
Mr. SponsorPants: Really?
New Sponsee: Yeah. I just... I'm sorry, I am just not getting anything out of them.
Mr. SponsorPants: Really?
Mr. SP: Ok.
NS: Ok what?
Mr. SP: Ok don't go to meetings anymore.
Mr. SP: What what? Did I mumble? You said you aren't getting anything out of meetings anymore and that you didn't want to go. So don't go then.
NS: That's it?
Mr. SP: Well, is there anything I could say that would change your mind? I'm not selling anything. You know that. You don't want to go, then don't go.
NS: Ok. It's just that... I thought a sponsor would, you know, try and talk me into it or something.
Mr. SP: Oooh. Well there's your mistake.
Mr. SP: I'm not a good sponsor. You should find a good one and they can talk you into going to meetings.
NS: Are you making fun of me?
Mr. SP: Not really. I'm kinda tired so my make-fun-of tank is pretty much on "E." We done here?
NS: We done here?!?
Mr. SP: Yeah. Are we done here? I mean, let's recap: You aren't getting anything out of meetings so you don't want to go, but you think a good sponsor could talk you into going so ... you might go get a good sponsor, but you'll probably just stop going to AA and that will be that.
NS: But... you... I... this is bullshit!
Mr. SP: Yeah, maybe. But the real bad news is that I don't even think a good sponsor can help you.
NS: What? Why the hell... what the hell do you mean?
Mr. SP: Well, somewhere in the literature, I'm pretty sure it's in the 12&12 but it might be in The Big Book (see, now if I were a good sponsor I'd know which one) it says that the one thing we have to develop on our own is the quality of willingness.
NS: I don't follow you. What does that have to do with you not telling me I should go to meetings or getting another sponsor or whatever?
Mr. SP: Well, you want someone to talk you into being willing. I've never seen that work. I'm a bad sponsor, yes, but over the years I've been a very popular sponsor -- probably because I'm so bad. I've sponsored lots of people. Doesn't really matter if they get drunk, I sponsor people so I don't get drunk. So, it's always kind of worked out okay for me, the sponsorship thing. But in all the years I've never seen that talk-you-into-it work, Not really. You want a sponsor to give you willingness but... that just doesn't work. You have to get it yourself.
NS: How can I do that when I don't even... I don't even want to do this shit!
Mr. SP: I dunno. Is there anything a good sponsor could tell you that you think would help you become willing to go to meetings?
NS: I don't know. Stuff about my drinking I guess.
Mr. SP: Like what?
NS: Oh, I see what you're doing.
Mr. SP: You do?
NS: Yeah, you're trying to get me to come up with a solution for my not wanting to go to meetings.
Mr. SP: I am? Holy shit! That's brilliant!
NS: Yeah. And then once I come up with something you'll tell me to try it or go do it or something.
Mr. SP: Really? Oh. Would that work?
NS: I thought you were nice but you're kind of a sarcastic asshole.
Mr. SP: Well hell. Unmasked at last. So, anyway, listen, I'm beat, it was a really long day, I'm going to crash, ok?
NS: That's really it?
Mr. SP: I guess. I really need to get to sleep. I have a wicked early day tomorrow.
NS: So, are you really telling me to get another sponsor?
Mr. SP: I don't know, I don't seem to be doing a very good job. I've only been sponsoring you for [a short time] and you're already giving up on meetings.
NS: Well... I didn't say "giving up." I just said I didn't want to go and that they didn't seem to be helping.
Mr. SP: Oh. I'm confused. Are you drunk?
NS: What? No!
Mr. SP: Then how can you say they're not helping? Look, I really, really have to go to bed. I have to be to work at 5am tomorrow.
NS: 5am? What the hell do you have to do at a restaurant at 5am?
Mr. SP: Inventory.
Mr. SP: Yeah, and if you were sober longer you'd see a fantastic opportunity for a joke right there, but I think today it's gonna get by you. So anyway, I'm turning in.
NS: So, you're not telling me I have to get another sponsor?
Mr. SP: Is this connection bad? I'm telling you I want to go to bed.
NS: I guess I can see how meetings are helping maybe.
Mr. SP: Really? Then why would you stop going?
NS: I don't know. I kinda just don't want to anymore.
Mr. SP: Oooh. So, you want to not do what you don't want to do, and you only want to do what you want to do.
NS: I didn't say that.
Mr. SP: Sounded kind of like it, but maybe this really is a bad connection.
NS: Ok, maybe that's kind of what that means.
Mr. SP: And, that's pretty much how you've always lived, yes?
NS: I guess.
Mr. SP: And... by doing just and only what you want to do your life is great, right? All the stuff you told me all the [bad stuff that happened -- really bad] was just a story you told me for kicks.
NS: No! I mean... wow. Fuck you, Mr. SponsorPants.
Mr. SP: So, rather than try something different and do what you don't want to do you're going to...
NS: Ok! Ok! I get it! I get it! Fine! I'll keep going to fucking meetings for a while more!
Mr. SP: Charming. Kid, you have used up your quota of talking shit to me. I'm going to bed. Actually, you've used up your quota for today, tomorrow, and the next ten times I see you. You want to call someone and talk shit to them call your mother. She'll take it because she doesn't know any better. Yet. Goodnight.
NS: Wait! Are you still my sponsor?
Mr. SP: I really think you need a good sponsor, but till you find one, ok. For now I guess.
Mr. SP: What"
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I've come to recognize I can't stop this alone, and there is a meeting every week at night at a church very near where I live. What do I do? Just walk in, sit down and listen? Is once a week enough to realize results? I'm nervous and scared of what to expect, but my current level of drinking is unsustainable. If I get up the courage to go, what should I expect?
Dear Starting Out,
I want you to imagine that you've never been in a bar, and you asked me to describe for you what it will be like when you walk in your first bar. I'd be able to say that generally, all bars have certain things in common. There's the actual, physical bar, which you can usually sit at and also is the place to order drinks. There may be tables with chairs, and/or a dance floor. There will certainly be a bartender, maybe more than one. Possibly servers, maybe some security. There could be live music, or a dj, or an old school jukebox. The patrons might be a diverse group or very similar, friendly or flirty or mostly keeping to themselves. Having maybe been to a bar or two in your life (wink!) you can easily see how the answer to such a question is, strangely, both general and specific.
The broadest answer to your question is a lot like the answer to my hypothetical example above. That is, almost all meetings have a few things in common. You can usually expect that there will be a focus to the meeting -- meaning, it might be a speaker/discussion, or a book study of some kind, or a meeting which examines the 12 Steps in some way. There's usually a written format, often a speaker, generally a secretary who helps organize things and, while responsible for helping the meeting to function is not actually in charge in the traditional sense. You may find seats arranged in a circle, or classroom style. Generally in my experience, regardless of the kind of meeting or the city I've been in, people are usually pretty friendly, and someone will probably introduce themselves to you, and ask your name. If you tell them this is your first meeting -- and I encourage you to be as honest as possible right from the start -- someone may offer you a meeting directory, or the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (what is usually referred to as our "Big Book), and may introduce you to people. If the meeting has readings you might be asked to read one -- or you might not. None of this is done to make you uncomfortable, but is more a practice of trying to make you feel welcome and "a part of" the group.
Given that there is a mental component to alcoholism which is constantly trying to talk us out of getting help for our disease, sometimes AA members with good intentions can come on a little strong to new people, mostly due to their own experiences with the struggle to get sober. These extra-enthusiastic folks might seem a bit intense, but I assure you that it is only because they know too well how serious addiction is. Based on your email, Starting Out, I can tell you have a glimmer of understanding about that. Conversely, it is also true that when we're new some of us are a little hypersensitive, and it's not that people are coming on too strong, it's that we're tender and adrift without a drink in our hands. Either way I pray you give the people in the meeting a chance. It might seem strange, there could be lingo which feels alien or hokey to your ears. Some people might talk about God (and you do NOT need to believe in God to make a start in Alcoholics Anonymous. You can remain on the fence about God -- or choose not to believe -- for as long as it is right for you -- which might mean many years, or you may not be troubled by this element. AA only suggests you find a Power Greater than yourself -- eventually to many of us that is God, but it's okay if that's not where you are with it.)
People usually identify when they speak; they usually say "I'm so-and-so, and I'm an alcoholic" and it is a general custom for people to respond, "Hi so-and-so." The roots of this are from the need for people to be honest with themselves about their condition and also to be friendly and help people feel welcome. You are not required to do anything you don't want to do, but the more you participate the more you might get out of the experience -- so don't be thrown by this, and if you're asked to introduce yourself you can say out loud that you're an alcoholic (if that's what you believe) or just say your name or say you're name and say that you're just here to listen.
Can you get results from going to AA once a week?
Well, let me ask you, can you get results from going to the gym once a week?
I would suggest that once a week is a little light when it comes to treating alcoholism. I can absolutely tell you my experience is that I needed a good number of meetings for a good long while to help me stay sober. My dead sponsor -- he who's wise counsel I miss every single day -- used to sqint through his cigarette smoke, sip his espresso and say to me, "Did you drink every day?" and I would be forced to answer, "Pretty much. Yeah." Then he would nod and say, "Then what's your [expletive] problem about going to a meeting every day?" It would have taken a better man than I to balk at his dire glare and dry tone.
Now, Starting Out, I hope the above helps you feel like you know what to expect, and thus makes it a little easier to walk through the door, but the simplest answer to your email is this:
Yes, just walk in, sit down, and listen. No one can make you do anything, you can leave at any time. No one is judging you. Sure, they're people, with the attendant foibles of any group of people, but they are people gathered to share their experience in being drinkers like you, and to talk about how the solution AA offers is helping them stay sober -- and part of that solution is sharing it with other people, and they'll be more than happy toshare it with you if you let them.
There is a basket that is passed, but if you're short of cash no one will think anything of you not putting anything in. Most people have been there -- especially when they're new. You might get some phone numbers, so when you're afraid you're going to drink you can call someone and talk it through. Yes, this sounds appalling, to call a virtual stranger and ask for help about such a thing, but if you do you'll actually be helping them tremendously, since you'll help them get out of their head and be of service to you for a little bit -- and that is actually a life saving thing for most of us, self obsessed as we are.
AA is the best thing that ever happened to me, Starting Out, and I credit it with helping me become the man I am today -- and, for the most part, I'm pretty happy with the result. With the kind of drinking I used to do, and the things I used to do when loaded, or trying to get loaded, or trying to recover from getting loaded -- well, AA uses the word miracle a lot, and for the most part it feels pretty apt when I look at my life today.
Don't wait for the time you're not nervous or afraid -- that time might never come. Go anyway, despite the fear. I'm not sure of exactly what you'll find, but the one thing I can guarantee is that you will find people who truly understand.
Walk in, sit down and listen.
And despite having a terrible illness which will try every trick in the book from preventing you from doing so, you might just save your life.
Say a little prayer. "Help! Help! Help!" is good enough to probably get you through the door.
I'll say one for you too.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I live in [a major city] and am blessed with many AA meetings to attend. Some of them are quite large. I like the energy in these large meetings and feeling like I am a part of something big.
I have [a lot of time] but I have a guilty secret about meetings. It's not a big deal but it does get under my skin. Before I tell you, let me say I know it is fear and ego but I can't seem to make any headway on this.
Sometimes when I go to an AA meeting if it is small I feel like it is a waste of time and because of that I sometimes leave early. If I am asked to Chair a meeting and it is small I secretly feel like I am wasting my time. Praying and writing have not helped much yet.
I like your thinking on a lot of AA (but some of your ideas I do not agree with at all). Can you share anything which might help?
Maybe you've heard this one before. Maybe it will help you think about this differently:
A man was vacationing by the seashore. He had been working hard and long and was greatly looking forward to a holiday of sun and sand, so on his very first day of vacation he was up early, almost the crack of dawn, and decided to go for a walk on the beach.
He strolled along the water's edge, savoring the morning. It was so early he was nearly the only person up and out, save for a few lone joggers in the distance. He watched the waves fling themselves onto the shore and then recede, and as he walked he noticed the water mark and, comparing it to where the waves were striking, decided that the tide was going out.
He paused and closed his eyes, tasting the salt in the air and feeling the sun upon his face. Early as it was he could feel its strength, and knew it would eventually be a scorching hot day.
Resuming his stroll he noticed, just a short ways down the beach, a number of objects in the sand, near the edge of the receding waves. It didn't look like trash exactly... he walked a bit faster, propelled by curiosity, and drew close enough to see what it was.
Many starfish, dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds even, lying in the damp sand, feeling the last touch of the sea as the waves' reach diminished under the cyclical pull of their eternal mistress -- invisible for now -- the Moon.
He looked at all the starfish, both beautiful and ugly in the way of some things, with their cartoon symmetry and their strange, almost prehistoric skin, bumpy and golden in the increasingly hot sun. Some few were low enough on the tide line to be pulled back into the sea, but most of the others were too high, and would soon die in the baking heat of the oncoming day.
Maybe it was Nature's way, but he couldn't just walk by and leave them to their fate. He began picking them up and flinging them back into the sea, as far as he could
Unnoticed till now, one of the lone joggers in the distance had reached him and, watching for a moment, asked the man what he was doing.
"Well," the man said, pausing, "if I just leave them, they'll die."
The jogger looked down the beach at the number of starfish. "There's no way you can save them all. I mean, ultimately, what difference does it make?"
The man cocked his head and looked at the jogger, then looked down at the starfish in his hand before giving it a mighty throw back into the sea.
"Made a difference to that one." He said, continuing on.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
1. Working the 12 Steps changed me -- profoundly -- for the better; and it continues to do so.
2. AA's focus on service has given me a way of looking at the world which opens my heart on a daily basis -- and that is a powerful antidote to becoming embittered by life, as I feel how easy it is to keep the heart shuttered as I grow older.
3. AA Meetings are often (not always, but very often) a place which renews my faith in people and in something Good in the universe -- and some speakers and some who shared have given me some of the biggest belly laughs I have ever had.
4. AA has taught me to be a good listener.
5. Sponsorship -- both sides of the coin -- has taught me what a privilege it is to set ego aside in an effort to help people -- and it feels like a privilege -- and what a powerful catalyst for personal change that can be.
6. AA has given me friendships which endure.
7. AA gives me a safe place to go when I am troubled or I make mistakes.
8. The practical advice I've been given in AA serves me in all areas of my life.
9. Watching people in AA face life's challenges -- some of the toughest -- has taught me what real dignity and courage look like.
10. AA has shown me that my past is not my future -- that there is no expiration date on the promise of reinventing myself, or starting over, or on God's Grace in my life.
I was walking down the hill, and the car was driving up it. When it came next to me it stopped and the passenger side window lowered. I recognized him from meetings but hadn't seen him in upwards of a year. He didn't look too well, but then, a lot can happen in a year. I remembered him as kind of an angry person; nice, but conflicted.
"Hey, you need a ride?"
"Aren't you going to offer me any candy?" I asked.
He didn't get it, tilting his head sideways and giving me the "huh?" face.
"Never mind. Thanks, but I'm good."
"So... do you still go to meetings?" he asked.
Wow. Right to it. I shrugged. "Sure." I rattled off the current roster of meetings in my orbit. I had a good idea where this was going -- to be honest with you I've been in this same conversation many times over the years, all that changes is who I'm talking to and what reason they use.
"I haven't been to a meeting in... oh, a while now. Close to a year."
"Ah." I nodded noncommittally, and we fell silent for a few minutes, the only sound the cars driving past on the hill.
"Well," I said, "I'm on my way to get cat food and some..."
"I couldn't stand the religousness of it." He blurted it out as if I had asked him -- or accused him.
I nodded again and shrugged a little. There was a time in my sobriety when I would have... I don't know, not argued exactly, but... debated a little. At this point in my life I just... if I'm not your sponsor, then I don't know that it's my place anymore.
We were silent for another minute. Me leaning through the car window.
"I like the Sunday morning meeting." I offered.
"I'll be there this Sunday."
"I can save you a seat if you want."
He looked at me. "That's nice of you to offer."
I shrugged again. "No big deal. It's not like I'm offering to donate one of my kidneys or anything."
"I'll be there, I'll save you a seat. It's a good meeting. Be nice to have you there."
"Thanks. Sure you don't want a ride?"
"Nah, I'm good."
"Okay, well... later."
"'kay" I answered. "See you Sunday."
He drove off.
Maybe. I thought.
Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
hello im a sober member of aa. i have a conflicting issue though. The whole 90 meetings in 90 days thing...ive read the big book which contains the steps and haven't seen it anywhere...ive also noticed that people hear that and walk right out of meetings ..its re occurring where i live...the reason i ask you this is because i had someone call me and say that if i don't do 90 in 90 will i relapse...thanks ur website is really great.
Well thanks for the kind words, Sober Member.
First off, you're right, the suggestion for someone to do '90 meetings in 90 days' is not in the Big Book -- nor is it in the 12 and 12 nor any other AA lit that I'm aware of (nice loophole, Mr. SP!).
As my first sponsor told me -- and I've told other people I sponsor -- that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is defined in the book from which our Fellowship takes its name. What people in AA suggest you do, or try, should always be held up against what's mapped out in the book. So your habit of checking input with the text is a good one. If I were to make any suggestion at all to you it is to carry on with that good practice.
This whole 90-in-90 is, however, a common suggestion, made often to new people, or done by AA members with some time (one of my sponsees with double digit sobriety decided on their own to do it again) to either help establish a foundation, or to turn up the volume on the meeting experience; get a "booster shot" if you will, of AA medicine. And there is much wisdom in the fellowship, based on our collective experience, outside of what the Big Book says. So yes, check and see if something's in the book, but just because it's not doesn't immediately mean it's not helpful or worthwhile. Common sense and feedback from others is a good filter for all AA direction. (In my case of course, when I was new, I had zero common sense -- and I'm not sure I have much more today -- so I generally stick close to AA principle and direction from trusted spiritual advisers -- both in the form of sponsors and sober friends.)
(I have to confess to having a bit of an argument over this suggestion. Some feel it means strictly that one goes to a meeting every day for 90 days. That is the spirit of the suggestion, yes -- but if you've got a conflict on one day and making a meeting is especially difficult, going to two on another day can sort of "make up" the missed meeting. I think it is unhealthy to be didactic about AA -- one should embrace the spirit of AA's suggestions, not just the letter of them.)
If you "don't do 90 in 90 you will relapse." I can't say one way or the other. There is more to sobriety than meeting attendance (though my sobriety isn't much without it, either.)
People who hear that suggestion and "walk right out of meetings" would find a different reason to walk right out if they didn't hear that, I suspect -- some people are just looking for a reason to leave. And that's out of my/your/our hands. Do I think coming on too strongly can turn people off? Yes -- and in a number of places the Big Book addresses how that is not a helpful way to be in the context of 12th Step work (and what is a meeting if not always that, eh?).
In your specific case, I would consider the source of the suggestion. Is this a person who generally offers you good, calm, sober input? Or are they perhaps a bit rigid or militant in their AA? I often think of what the Big Book says when talking about how we should frame our sober sex lives -- that we should "avoid hysterical advice" and to (paraphrasing here) watch out for extremes of thinking. That's a good way to process a lot of things, actually.
But alcoholism is serious business. People may call AA a kind of self-help group, but that's not what it is to me. It is a life-saving dose of medicine against my alcoholism -- it is a 24 hour reprieve each day which keeps sick thinking and profoundly self-destructive impulses at bay.
No matter who made the suggestion, or what you feel about them, maybe the universe is giving you a nudge? What harm can it do to hit 90 meetings in 90 days? Certainly it will be the aforementioned booster shot, and more importantly, rather than doing something for your sobriety, maybe it will give you the opportunity to do something for someone else's... and THAT is the best protection against relapse I know.