Well this was an interesting thread to read through, ruffled feathers and all!
And it brought up a few thoughts I've had along the way in my not even 2 1/2 years of immersing myself in the program.
To my mind, Dale's original post brought up four things:
(1) the AA program of recovery and singleness of purpose: alcoholics only or a more inclusive program that embraces other forms of addiction.
(2) old timers and how rigid and crotchety they can be.
(3) service work at the GSO level.
(4) "modernizing" the way we talk about and teach the AA principles.
Now mind you, what I'm about to write are just some of the thoughts that have stuck in my head along the way. I don't present these thoughts in opposition to anything anyone else thinks or believes. Just me making noise in the middle of the night.
(1) Singleness of purpose.
I happen to be a child of rehab. And in rehab, we were all one: alcoholics, addicts....no distinction was made. The in-house meetings alternated between AA and NA.
Since rehab, I've been to all sorts of AA groups and meetings. Some of them were "alcoholics only" in that it was made very clear that sharing only about experiences with alcohol was appropriate. Others were more relaxed and sharing on any disease of addiction wasn't a problem.
Before moving to Arizona, a lot of us in my home group in CT got involved in a "new" program called Drugs Anonymous. An AA member got permission (the way NA and all the other _As did) to adapt some of the AA literature to "mind altering drugs" in general. She organized a couple of meeting in the local hospital. A lot of us AA's went because we all knew each other, so it was an opportunity to have another meeting together, but also because we were carrying the message of hope and recovery into a hospital environment in which people with all manner of drug additions were being treated.
I am first and foremost an alcoholic, but I was shocked and moved at the first "DA" meeting I went to because the speaker shared about bottoming out on pot! I smoked pot nearly everyday of my life for 25 years, yet in my first four months of recovery I hadn't thought about my marijuana substance abuse once. For me, at least, that meeting was a chance to increase my awareness of another way I ran from life and to acknowledge and accept a part of me that I hadn't gotten around to facing yet. No more, no less. Most of us at that meeting were AAers who recognized the commonality of the struggle for recovery. But we also respected the sensibilities of other AAers and so took this "more than alcohol" type meeting outside of AA.
In terms of personal preference, I go back and forth. At one of the AA meetings I attend regularly, there are sometimes more "addicts" than "alcoholics". But they talk the Steps, and they talk they same recovery that I pursue, and I identify with them greatly. At other AA meetings I go to, it's almost all alcoholics, but they are preachy or superficial or just plain boring (not that I'm judgmental or anything!). I don't hear the on-going desire to learn and grow and change that continues to animate my recovery. So those meeting don't interest me that much.
At the same time, if I had to choose, I'd choose straight up, alcoholics only AA. Maybe it's shared brain chemistry or plain commonality of experience, but in the end I am more comfortable with and identify more closely to other alcoholics. Speaking very broadly, I sense there is something in the thinking and emotional patterns of crack/coke heads and heroin addicts that is fundamentally different than what I've learned about myself and can share with other alcoholics.
BUT, the beauty and wisdom of AA is that I don't have to choose
. After ignoring the Traditions for several months, when I finally got around to reading the second half of the 12 & 12, I was deeply impressed by lessons AA learned that led to those Traditions. And at the highest level, AA learned not to tell groups and meetings how to conduct group business or how to hold meetings. So some meetings are more welcoming to addicts than others. And not only do I not have a say in that, but it suits me just fine.
(2) Old timers.
A lot of them scare me. A lot of them have the strangest take on "happy, joyous, and free". It took me a while to understand that just because you get "sober", just because you say or believe or in some way have in fact worked the Steps, just because you've been around forever doesn't mean you're working a program that works for me.
A lot of these old timers are the most vocal proponents of "old school" AA. In terms of the particulars of what they advocate, I can't find anything to disagree with. However, the way
they advocate their views makes me very uncomfortable. It was a truly challenging part of my recovery to learn to accept those AAers who choose to act and sound like they know it all, who feel the need to set themselves up as personal repositories of AA authority, who come across as cranky and judgmental with every word they utter. There was one old timer when I first started going to AA whose dog had recently died. For months and months, he talked about the dog. But if a human being who was suffering from a life threatening disease spoke of an addiction other than alcoholism, he got very bent out of shape. That raised my eyebrows.
I had to learn that what bothered me the most about that type of "old timer" (and there are a lot of AAers who haven't been around that long that fit that bill) was that they reminded me very strongly of my own unhealthy self-centeredness, need for certainty, for knowing it all, for being right, for feeling in control, and the many ways in which I was extremely rigid and judgmental. Once I saw my reaction to those types of people as a reaction to my own
character defects, I was able to begin to have a greater acceptance of them and of myself.
Every story I hear about the personalities at organizational meetings at the GSO level leaves me with one thought: it's a wonder AA survives. Can you say "self-will run riot?"
(4) Changing AA?
I think there's an irony to pointing to the Big Book and saying "that's the way the first AAers got sober, so that's what works and that's what we are sticking with! Well, before Bill W. sat in bed one night and wrote How It Works, not one soul got sober working the Twelve Steps of AA because there were no 12 Steps. As I'm sure you know, there were 6 somewhat formal steps or principles those first alcoholics passed on to one another. And, of course, when Bill and Bob found their path to recovery from alcoholism, nothing formal existed at all.
Personally, I found and continue to find the Steps as written less than revealing. But that's more a measure of my initial unwillingness and inability to seek answers and solutions outside myself, what more have any understanding of the concepts and practice of honesty, hope, faith, self-examination, humility, prayer and service to others. For me, patience, tolerance, humility and seeking guidance are absolutely critical practices in my recovery. But as a newcomer, and to some extent even today, those concepts don't leap out at me when reading the Steps. I needed a sponsor who could show me how to learn and work the Steps in my everyday life, and I needed the Steps to point me towards attitudes and practices that create the basis for an on-going process of change and growth.
I, too, have felt uncomfortable with the seemingly dated language of the Big Book. For many years, I tried to read the Big Book and just couldn't relate. In particular, I found disturbing the class consciousness and social hierarchy of the time as reflected in the writing. In fact, it was only early last summer when I was in terrible emotional pain over something and truly desperate for some guidance that I picked up the Big Book and, reading it for the 100th time, read it for the first time
. Prior to that, I had read the BB because that's what we're supposed to do. But that day, I turned to it as a form of surrender. I was reaching out and asking for help when I opened the Book that day, and what a different experience that was!
In retrospect, when I was reading the Book like I would read anything else, when my self-centeredness and ego were very much to the fore, when I was interjecting my own thoughts and opinions and indulging in whatever reactions I might have to what I was reading, I had a lot of difficulty relating and had all sorts of opinions on what I didn't like about the Big Book. But when I recognized that I needed guidance from outside myself, when I lay my ego aside, when I took up the Book in a spirit of open-minded surrender, it spoke to me in a way that answered my most fundamental needs as a human being and alcoholic. My previous reactions, in comparison, were petty and trite, and reflected my own fears and insecurities. The same is true of my whole experience with the Program.
Could the Steps be made somehow more explicit? Sure. Why not? Am I going to do it? No. Are you?
Back to the what goes on at the GSO level: if AAers get bogged down in passionate disagreements over relatively mundane administrative matters that have little consequence, I'd hate to be within a hundred miles of the convention that seeks to change the way the Steps or Big Book are written.
I believe that if and when a person is ready, when someone truly wants to and is capable of changing who and what they are--no sooner and no later--AA and the Big Book and the 12 & 12 and the 24 Hours A Day book and all the other existing literature, and the fellowship (warts and roses and all) has everything anyone needs to find their way to a life beyond active alcoholism.
If I had a say, which I don't, I'd say leave things as they are. If something "better" comes along, it will do so through a process that no one of us controls, unfolding in a time not of our own choosing. All I do know is that when I finally, finally was ready, my fellow alcoholics in AA were there for me.