Honest. Open. Willing. As I begin a new step meeting in my home town, I can not help but reflect back on ways of thinking and believing that almost pushed me away from meetings when I was myself a newcomer.
I need to study these carefully, so as to avoid similar mistakes in this newest meeting.
In the meeting where I began, I witnessed program oldtimers tell stories that may not have been true... to resolve their inner conflict with the newcomer that "got away." I'd see heads shake and one or two people say, "that person wasn't ready" or "they needed to hit a deeper bottom." Funny, I was always attracted to folks who pointed out where the program rubbed them wrong. I wanted to learn from them how to work out these "bugs" myself. But the sturdiest old-timers would simply brush off the criticism as if that were a disease of all newcomers. One told me that there was a particular "type" of person who wanted to change the program, and that "character defect" is exactly what would keep them from recovery. I wondered, how could they be sure of this? But I chose not to argue, because I am also a person who questions and doubts. I would have to stick around and see whether that meant the program would not work for me.
Despite my time in program, such generalizations continue to bother me. Looking back, through the lens of experience, I have compassion for those first meeting founders. They needed the program to be more right than any individual who questioned it, in order to breathe easy about their recovery. They probably didn't see how they judged the newcomer they don't even know yet, when they said the newcomer was not in "enough" pain. Or was too intellectual. All of these are biases. Judgment made with very little fact.
In my earliest EA meeting, stateside, there was a strong AA influence. Those who were "allowed" to speak first in our rooms were those with the most recovery. They had done the steps, so they were chosen to speak first. They only spoke about what had worked for them. Fortunately, one new and committed member shared that this kind of sharing was not working for her. She felt this was a kind censorship of those who were genuinely in pain. She found this kind of sharing of telling how the program had "worked" for them, in the past tense, to be "canned." I appreciate that our longest timer was able to listen. He changed the way he shared and was humble. But I know the more hard-line founder of our group would not have changed their sharing to suit anyone but themselves.
Whenever this founder visited the meeting, their model for us was that we don't show facial expression. No head-knodding, no compassion, just a stone face. It was this person who would glowingly tell the newcomer the program was guaranteed. My gut tightened when I heard that. The implication to me was that someone hearing those words, might think if it wasn't working there was something they were doing wrong! Then our founder shared their Sponsees did the steps in 12 weeks! I was dismayed. I would be acting out of one of my worst character twists were I to do program like that. To me it sounded like someone else putting an agenda on my recovery. Healing for me means to take my time, and not force things. I knew my work would take longer, in learning from my dark emotions.
As for the masked face, if I want a mask I'll go to a psychiatrist; most of the ones I have known also want keep their emotions invisible. I simply cannot keep "coming back" to a meeting where folks are not warm and friendly. Nor can I go to a meeting that deals with the emotions and not name "negative" emotions nor share details of my current challenges. Thank God this old-timer was not our only example.
At another point, a hard-timer in our program who in no way had a clue about my illness or my need to be told the truth suggested I might not be humble enough. She took me under wing and said she would pick me up at my house and bring me to her next AA meeting. There I would learn better, by listening deep and emptying ashtrays.Yes, even though I am a total non-smoker. But being really impressionable at the time, I had been willing to go. Thankfully I was spared the craziness of this exercise. (I like to think that HP intervened, when this person was unable to keep her part of the commitment and forgot to fit me in her schedule. )
Because I was a newcomer through all this, I only spoke up once to challenge any of what I have shared here. That was when I heard the words, "the program is guaranteed," for the fourth time, in after-meeting conversation. I challenged the speaker and pointed out that because they were a phD mathematician, they should know better.
I hope it is clear that it is the absolute statements that I object to. And that nothing I am saying is directed at anyone here. Only used for illustrations of real things that can happen in meetings, when any of us attaches to this simple path and any right way to do it. Self-righteous ideas about the right way or even the best way to do program get in the way of learning.
Perhaps I get a bit too strident, but I wonder sometimes about that idea that we inherited from AA, that only those that keep going to meeting stay well. That fact is simply not verifiable. Believing people get sick when they leave our rooms, will have us judging others who make the decision for themselves when it is time to move on.
Yes, the program can and does lead to a happier way of living the more we apply it and keep an open mind to new ideas. Yes, it helps to come back for refresher study and discussion. When I keep coming back, it's to continue to test out the principles to be sure they work. As if I were a newcomer. I continue to learn from all you newer comers. I hope I am always a newcomer!