Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old Time AA

Several people have asked me to talk about what is different about AA now, or what was different a generation ago.  It would take a lot longer than I have this morning to do this, but I can start...

When I got sober, the treatment "industry" was relatively new.  So, most of the AA members had not been to treatment, they had sobered up on people's couches, drinking lemonade with honey in it.  Puking, sweating, shaking... with another alcoholic nearby.  Not a physician with a prescription pad.  (I realize that some people really do need detox, I am not minimizing that, but most don't).  We knew how to do a 12 step call.  We stepped into some of the most dangerous places on earth because someone called and said they wanted help.  

We used to talk about the "step before the first step."  That's the step where you hit your bottom and decide you want to be sober.  We really can't do anything for you before then.  But don't tell that to all the folks sitting around meetings talking like used car salesmen, trying to convince people that they "don't get to AA by accident," that if they are there, they must have a problem, and how freaking great it is to be sober!!  Woo Hoo!  And just keep coming back, no matter if you are drunk today, were drunk yesterday, have no desire to get sober, whatever, just keep coming back and we will praise your "courage."  Oh yes, it do take guts to raise your hand - BULLSHIT - it takes guts to stay sober, day in and day out.  

I don't want to hear someone who just had a drink when things got tough.  They love to come in and lecture us on how it can happen to us.  Well, yes, I know that, that is why I am sitting in an AA meeting.  Perhaps if you had gone to a few you wouldn't be raising your hand.  

Courts?  Yes, we used to get the occasional person who was court ordered to attend AA.  And the wise chair persons would tell them to get their slips signed first, and then they were free to leave.  Really.  We Do Not Want People Sitting In AA Meetings Who Don't Want To Be There.    The courts don't understand what AA is or what it does, and that is fine, that is not their job.  They send people there because it seems to work.  But it has rarely worked for someone who doesn't want to be there, and it has never worked for someone who doesn't belong there.  We as AA members ought to know what AA is and what it does, and we ought to be able to communicate that to people who show up... and yes, they DO get to AA by mistake.  One DUI does not an alcoholic make.  

A drug is a drug is a drug?  Nope.  Not so.  Read the long form of the 3rd tradition.  (its on page 563 of the big book)  "Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group..."  Alcoholics.  It is in the name.  It is in our traditions.  We used to kindly go outside and talk to people who showed up at closed meetings and identified as something other than an alcoholic.  

Recently I told someone that I was shocked (SHOCKED!) that no one from my old group has bothered to call me to see if I am OK since I stopped attending a month ago today.  She said that she was shocked (SHOCKED!) that someone who is sober for 24 years needs a phone call.  WHAT?  

I remember leaving meetings in tears and having some old crusty creep from an AA meeting call me to see if I was OK.  I can't count the number of people I have called to see if they were OK.  They don't have to be sober any particular length of time.  We are supposed to care about each other.  We used to.  We used to be keenly aware that we are in a life and death struggle.  Now it seems that most of the people sitting around AA meetings are there for a social club and cheap entertainment.  If you leave they might miss you because you were funny, but the idea of picking up the phone to see if you are OK never pops into a head.  

I will be OK.  But this is a devastating loss to me.  I will keep going to my "other" meeting.  I will try to be of service to alcoholics in any way I can, and that will ensure that I will survive.  The "other" group is very grateful that I am there.  

I will keep talking about AA.  I will keep doing what I am supposed to be doing.  

Let's try to care for one another today, OK?


~Tyra~ said...

We have alot of court ordered people who come to meetings in my area as well as people from 2 different rehabs. It is hard to sit near those who clearly don't care to be there or care about the program at all.

At our local Alano Club I have noticed it's kinda like high school with several different clicks, lots of gossiping and I just stay away from it all. And when the crap hits the fan I am so glad I have kept my side of the street clean.

wolfdancer said...

I glad you said something about calls. My husband recently died, 27 years sober. We organized dances and, I thought, were well liked. Once he was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard to get to meetings for both of us. No phone calls. As the end of his life approached, I tried to call people and ask them to come visit him. "I can't handle it" was the most given response. Because it was all about them...what a shame.

After his death, our home group fell apart and his death was to blame according to the grapevine! I moved away and tried to find "real AA" again, but the and a drug addict people seem to be the new alcoholic. We have lost our singleness of purpose and now we now why Bill W made such a big deal out of it.

Thanks for keeping it real, I need to hear AA in its rawest form.

Shadow said...

may i ask why you're no longer going to the group you love so much?

J-Online said...

Thank you for sharing the old vs new ways of AA.

I care about you a lot. I read your blog long before I got sober and you helped inspire me to walk through those doors. For that I am forever grateful. I DO CARE! Hugs

J-Online said...

PS- And if I had your phone number I would call you to check on you for sure. I can sense you are going through some tough times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for talking about the third tradition. It is something that my sponsor has stressed over and over to me. We are not snobs! But AA is killing drug addicts who are told by treatment centers that is where they need to be. thanks MC. This newbie plans on staying sober and keeping the traditions as well!

Syd said...

MC, my wife thinks that the rehab people who show up aren't really interested in sobriety for the most part. They are brought in via a van and seem to be disinterested.

I think one of the most disheartening things that I hear is that all addictions are the same--alcohol=drugs. I don't believe that and there are scientific data indicating otherwise as well. It is as you say, Alcoholics Anonymous.

And the lack of calling goes on in Al-Anon as well. A member lost her son and her home group didn't send a card. I called her, and my homegroup sent her a card. It seemed sad that few people checked up on her. And it is sad that no one from your old home group has called you. Self-centered and self-seeking seems to be a common problem.

wendy said...

I'm grateful that you are here even if I'm a few thousand miles away.

I went to the "social club and cheap entertainment" meetings for a while. Eventually when I realized those weren't going to work, I had to suck it up and start going to meetings at 7am. The sacrifice has been well worth it.

The majority of the people I know in my age bracket arrived at AA from treatment centers and they like to tell me about everything they learned there that I'll never know.

In spite of that, I might be OK. I have absolutely benefitted from people that tell it like it is...

veganmama said...

I'm not an old-timer (God willing, I'll have a year on 9/26), but the things you are irritated by are ones that bother me, too. I go to most of my meetings at a halfway house that's celebrating 50 years this year, and some of the old-timers have 35, 40, 45, 50 years of sobriety themselves... and I appreciate it when they bring up the 3rd tradition when someone veers off into drug abuse. And as for phone calls -- I totally would and do call if someone stops showing up.

MEG in VA said...

My best friend got sober in Texas some 32 years ago and always talks about the way things were then. It makes me sad I wasn't there with her. But I do have the benefit of her experience which I try to put to use in my life and get some of the quality back. I too find that a lot of AA is watered down because we might hurt someone's feelings; God forbid they might die and we would never know about it because people don't share about the real problems in their lives at meetings...only what they think we need to hear. Thankfully I do have a Big Book also that does NOT dilute the message.

Thanks for your post today.

Scott W said...

You and I have discussed this, so I won't comment, other than to say I appreciate your message always. Don't give up. If Bill and the first 100 gave up we wouldn't have AA at all.

Pam said...

Well you know how I feel. But that never stopped me from saying it again :)
New AA (treatment center invented AA) is killing Alcoholics and Drug Addicts.
ARRRGGGG "you did not get here by accident".
Ya know Mary, what we really feel is closer to sadness than anything else, don't you think?

Pam said...

Oh know what I forgot?
Please send me their names and phone numbers (the old home group)-I'll have a close and personal talkin' to with them.

Lou said...

I really don't know this..if you have a closed AA meeting, can't you ask someone nicely to leave?
(drug addict, etc)

Although the points you make do go deeper than just that.

AlkySeltzer said...

This is a double dip, sorry 'bout that:

Ya know, I also miss the "old-time" Alcoholics Anonymous which I 'used to know'.

For long time I resented people who got to take 30 days out of their lives, and devote every minute to recovery. I never got to do that. But, after seeing the 'percent' of recoverers, I'm grateful to God for smiling on me, at that particular moment I was ready.

Give me the "good old days" of AA, but I'm afraid they are gone forever, as every period of "good old days"! At least we still have the Traditions, let us guard them CAREFULLY and WELL.

AlkySeltzer said...

Yesterday I visited an acquaintance in the hospital. He had been attending my daily 6AM meeting for severtal months. He has congestive heart failure, not an old guy like me -grin-, but an old-timer, sort of.

He asked me to report to the group that he is sober and expects to return in a couple days. I did this.

My 'expectations were that people would ask his room number, etc., etc. or How is he?

Not even an acknowledgement did I notice (and I talk -too- loud, always!) Yes, things have changed, but I cannot "fix" them, in fact, I cannot afford to even get excited over these changes. One Day At A Time, Steve

I will go visit John again, today.

indistinct said...

Thank you, MC, for sharing this.

It's hard to push past feelings of fear and inadequacies to reach out and help another. I don't want to stay stuck in fear. Done that my whole life.


Anonymous said...

Great post MC; right on topic. My homegroup has a service position called "goodwill ambassador" who's duty it is to call members that haven't been spotted in the meeting. Not the aa police but a little hint that their missed. It's not done perfectly but it's thought about and ideally wished by our group conscience.
-Dave from Maryland

tony said...

its funny, i found this blog while doing a search for "oldtimers finding an aa sponsor". only 17 years sober, and i too have noticed a change in AA. i remember the days of the "12 step call list", hanging out at the central office doing service work, and my original homegroup had a call list (if we didnt see you in 2 weeks, we called!). now im in a new city and AA is different, and finding a sponsor with more time than me is hard. luckily i belong to a large sober motorcycle group and have an outlet to share where im at and get input on "the next right thing" for me to try, tho its online. i miss the personal one on one interaction...nice blog...odat

Anonymous said...

This essay is rather sad. A person is claiming to know "old time AA" How would a person who got sober in 1984 know such a thing? Isn't old time aa what happened in the 30's and 40's? And who says it is any better than AA now? Where is the evidence? This essay is clearly written by someone who wishes for the "good old days" with the good old days being when she sobered up. And when she sobered up must be the "right way" and "old time aa".

AA has survived and prospered because it has grown and change with our society. If the author actually read the traditions she would understand that.

The world has moved on from when I sobered up in 1975. It has moved on from 1984 when the author sobered up. It will move on from today. And Fundamentalists like the author cannot stop it.

Unfortunately it is people like her that allow many to say AA is a cult.

Mary Christine said...

At the end of a horrible day, I come home to the above charming comment.

I guess I am a "fundamentalist" who is responsible for people thinking AA is a cult.

I never said I had all the answers. A couple of people had asked me what was different about AA in the 80s - and this is what I wrote about.

Sometimes I really hate putting myself out there and doing this - go ahead - tell me to stop it then.

Dick B. said...

One of the best ways to learn about "Old Time AA" is to study our history. When I first came in almost 25 years ago, I never heard a word about the roots until a young man told me that A.A. had come from the Bible--which it did. Then I dived into A.A.'s own literature like DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, Pass It On,and A.A. Comes of Age. The more I read, the more I realized what a gap there was between the facts and the vacuum of history. As a result, I've spent 20 years writings some 42 books and 500 articles about A.A. history and its roots. One, for example, was The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.'s Roots in the Bible It was written when I finally learned why words like "Creator" "Maker" "Heavenly Father" "Thy will be done" and "faith without works is dead" are found even in today's 2001 edition of the Big Book. Further, the best way to understand the successes of early A.A. is to learn what they did in 1935 that produced the successes. God Bless, Dick B.

Gerald Bollinger said...

I made my first meeting in 1976 and stayed sober on 4/1/83. I never known a time when AA members called new people or helped them in any way. (Except for 13th Steppers offering rides to and from meetings) What I have seen change since 76 is that meetings are getting smaller and smaller and the general age in my area getting older. In 76 at least 40% of the people at meetings were under the age of 25. Today only 10% (maybe less) are under 25.

merced said...

hola DIS mr. P.

WELL i THOUGHT I WAS AN OLD TIMER WITH OVER 25 YEARS OF sOBRIETY. Today there are so many people think that a person has to have 30 to 40 yrs to be an oldtimers ;their so full of crab cauz they have less probably. Iam considered an oldtimer im my home group and thats fine with me.The thing is change is happening in AA but it has to be in Gods time. New comers want to change things to their benefit and cuz they know better;Bullshit. I dont listen to them but ther are groups and people in AA that do . They do this to please them so as to make them happy and so they cna keep coming back.To me this kind of action is Fatal.God is in charge of their sobriety not me.WE try to help if they wanta stay sober but not at the expense of other lives.Oldtimers I grew up told me to shut up and listen to experience strength and hope not to my own constant bullshit.Oldtimers are the Gatekeepers and we have experience
strength and hope but we have to stand our Ground.

Anonymous said...

I have been clean since my first meeting in 1983.

In the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Michael Caine explains to Steve Martin that he is stealing the money for worthy purposes, one of which being that he is maintaining an english garden. Michael Caine says "It takes 300 years to properly grow and english garden."

The same concept is true in NA and AA. When we violated the traditions and affiliated with an outside organization, started signing legal documents and endorsing the drug court cause (we met with judges and encouraged them to force people to attend NA and AA on penalty of going to prison) we forever changed the nuture of NA and AA.

The chaos caused the oldtimers to flee. Soon the newcomers outnumbered the oldtimers, before it was the other way around. The oldtimers quit teaching the newcomers how they stayed sober and sat quietly, lest they be castigated for most everything they said.

The recovery rate went to zip and new NA/AA was off and running. It was like a flight school where the students argued with the one remaining instructor.

Federal Drug Court which operates under the authorits of Homeland Security just tripled its budget, thus flooding the courts with more and more people that had no interest in quiting. Now they wear gps ankle braclets so the issue of court signing is moot. We have been overrun.

The most effective treatment for drug and alcohol which happens to be at epidemic levels and climbing was blown up by the federal government just as our country's economy was.

It is doubtful it will ever rebuild like that english garden. The courtslip is the darling of every codependent person in recovery. All they have to do is cite one person that got sober and the oldtimer trying to follow the traditions loses. But what cannot be denied is that the courts are killing the host.

More and more meetings go dark for lack of secretaries. Secretaries who have fled the chaos. I suppose that the federal government will start paying people in NA/AA to secretary meetings one of these days.

Nope, the only thing that works is for a person who has hit a bottom to attend stable meetings with a clear message of recovery populated with good sponsor material and oldtimers who will not let the new person seize control of the meeting.

In a few moer years all of what I have said will become painfully clear. But for now, its all about getting that judge to dump more people on 12 step.

If you have not worked the traditions it all makes perfect sense.

Mary Christine said...

Right on!

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about AA changing. 19 years ago they did not have worksheets that are mandatory in this town. And we have this secret society called SISTERS OF SOBRIETY, and if you do not bend to their will or meet the criteria set to keep certain types of women out, they ostracize you. That is the hand of AA? No that is the hand of self-will, just like that designer AA, if it isn't wait Bill and Bob did its not for me. I don't need to memorize passages like in Sunday school because someone believes in a sponsorship line and all must hail the Grand, Grand, Grand sponsor and do their bidding and not mix with those who are not in the secreat society. Where are all the real AA's?

Anonymous said...

My name is Joe and I am an alcoholic. We too have experienced the lack of single purpose in AA today so we did soemthing about it. We cant give it to those that dont want it but we can to those that do. A friend and I have started several meetings which are single purpose aa meetings and in the format we use a statement that bluntly states the facts of what an AA group is about. THis statement from AA pamhlet 16 entitled The AA Group has been incorporated into our format which is read at the beginning of each meeting. It is this "Experience with alcohol is the one thing all AA members have in common. It is misleading to hint or give the impression that AA solves other problems or knows what to do about drug addiction" We then empower nad teach the chair people how to chair a meeting and what to do if the meeting starts getting off track which rarely happens once its known that htis meeting is for the alcoholic who wants to stop drinking. My sobriety date is 12-19-87 and thanks go to God and AA, no doubt about it.

MattC said...

Thank you for the great post. I guess I'm a couple years behind the curve considering the original date of this thread.

I have been traveling on the road full time for the past few years, surviving on Grapevines, phone calls and a few stray meetings. We recently settled down in a small town who's major employer seems to be a Rehab. Consequently, the local AA meetings have left me feeling displaced. I've been going to meetings in surrounding towns, but they all seem the same. Whatever you call it, this is not my father's AA, the AA that has kept me sober for the past 26 years.

I don't want to be the outsider that moves into town and causes trouble but I refuse to accept this 'flavorless' brand of AA. Watch out now, I have a case of the arse and a coffee pot. =)

Any suggestions as to how can I contact other recovered alcoholics who have started old-time basic meetings?

Mary Christine said...

Matt, thanks for the comment. I don't know what to suggest other than getting your own coffee pot and starting a meeting. A closed meeting.

Anonymous said...

It is very clear from Bill's Story and from Dr. Bob's story that both men were addicted to alcohol and high powered sedatives. Both related the details. And there appears to be no evidence that either pursued his addictive behavior after each was cured and said so.

Dick B. said...

As one who has consistently worked with newcomers in A.A., has taken many through the Steps, and can truthfully credit 26 years of continuous sobriety to the support of the A.A. fellowship and the power of God, I have a comment about the "addict" and the "alcoholic." First, I have never met, among the dozens of newcomers with whom I have worked, one who has not been plagued by excessive, uncontrolled abuse of both alcohol and drugs. Second, had I eliminated help for these people, I would have been left with nobody to help. Third, both Bill and Bob were alcoholics and addicts. Finally, the solution to their misery was placed in the hands of our loving Creator--who had and has the power to help and heal all those who suffer. I have found nothing in the ravages of alcoholism and addiction which does not lend itself to the power, love, forgiveness, guidance, healing, and grace of Almighty God.

Mary Christine said...

Dick B. doesn't seem to be able to resist coming by here every couple of months and boasting about his lengthy sober - I'm sober longer if you would care to get into that pissing contest.

He has the nerve to talk about AA tradition while selling books about AA. A low $249. for the set!

His books are about the biblical roots of AA. That's fine, I am a graduate of a 4 year Biblical School. But AA wisely decided to chose the term "higher power," and not shove religion down the throats of newbies who could find their own way there.

Dick has written numerous books (42?) about AA and surely knows that Bill Wilson himself wrote about addicts not belonging in AA UNLESS they were also alcoholic.

But he cares not one whit about AA tradition, he is too busy talking about what GREAT WORK he has done. Everyone else who has stayed sober any number of years has also done this work, or they would not be sober, but they learned some humility along the way.

MattC said...

My two cents:

I regularly attend BOTH fellowships. When at AA I speak about how my higher power though AA, relieved my insanity. When at NA meetings I speak of my using and how NA works for me. Out of courtesy to other members I do not cross 'borders' when I speak. Nor do I chastise those new-comers who stray into the other program's domain while sharing.

My Big Book has a story on page 439 titled "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict". This was one of the few personal stories I have read. Someone at an AA meeting early in my recovery pointed me to that story which resonated. I tend to rely on the first 164 pages, however this story had much to do with me coming back.

When pressed by members as to my time in the program, I will tell them, however, I point out I woke up at 10AM (or whatever) and if they woke before me, they have longer than I because My program works a day at a time. I am just a likely to mention, "We are not cured of our Alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."

As to my resentment and coffee pot.... I resolved to let Principals come before Personalities. I stopped whining about the flavor of the program in this neck of the woods. Instead I decided I'd try to infect new-comers with the 'hard-core' AA I was taught when I was a some old timers new pigeon. I never cease to be astounded by what the new-comers teach me.

I stand corrected.

Bryan Zubler said...

Great stuff, Mary. Off topic, but I came across this post awhile back, and for the life of me could not wrap my brain around the "shocked-SHOCKED" reference. Just watched Casablanca, again, and heard the same thing. Not sure if this was intentional, but brilliant nevertheless! Thanks for the laugh.
Bryan Z

Mary Christine said...

Bryan, Thanks for coming by and commenting.

Actually the two "shockeds" is just something I say, sort of for emphasis. I will have to watch Casablanca again to see what you are talking about!