(Taken from the Grapevine, Reprinted with permission of the A.A. Grapevine, Inc.)
A committee puts its primary purpose first
I remember, several years back, when the area service structure where I live created an Ad Hoc Committee on Primary Purpose. A bunch of us were getting nervous because there were people in our meetings talking on and on about their inner child and codependency.
General Service Representatives were asking for help with this problem. It was happening more and more. People were getting up to the podium and talking about their therapy appointments and never mentioning how they managed to not drink through all it. One woman in my home group brought in a doll that she had purchased for her inner child and showed us its new clothes. She never said anything about not drinking one day at a time, how she got sober, the Steps, a sponsor, or anything else that a room full of alcoholics might identify with.
The first few meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee on Primary Purpose were spent sharing these examples back and forth. We were scared. We thought that AA was going to change or disappear. We carried on about the Washingtonians, and what Bill W. had said, and the Traditions. We brainstormed about what actions we could take or policies we could create in our meetings to fix this dangerous problem.
Back in my meeting, when somebody identified themselves as an alcoholic and a codependent, I would glare at them. I would send a vibe to them: You’re doing it wrong. I’m lucky I didn’t get drunk with all of the fear and resentment I was carrying.
The ad hoc committee would come up with one idea after another about what to do to save the meetings we represented. Finally, thank God, we realized that we were doing exactly what we feared “those people” were doing. We were alienating the newcomer. We were so fearful that we had become irrational. After meeting for at least a year, maybe more, we figured out a couple of things. We realized we had no right to tell anybody what they could and could not share in a meeting. We decided that the only thing we needed to do was to set a loving example and make ourselves available for sponsorship, so that we could teach the vital importance of our singleness of purpose to newcomers. Then, they could make an informed decision about what they wanted to focus on when they shared. We all agreed that the last thing we wanted to do was make somebody feel unwelcome in a meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous. The Ad Hoc Committee on Primary Purpose disbanded and individually we got busy on the Public Information and the Cooperation with the Professional Community committees, where we could be genuinely useful!
I was taught that any time we tell our story, we have an opportunity to light that magic spark of identification and perhaps plant a seed of hope. If I get up at a meeting and use my opportunity to talk only about being a vegan, or what it was like shooting cocaine with the Marines in the barracks, or coming out as a lesbian, or what it means to be a Sagittarius, that can be a lot of fun for me and perhaps very entertaining. I might make one or two people in the room feel very validated. But the only way I can be absolutely sure that I am carrying the message of hope to the alcoholic who still suffers is to talk about how I live in this world without drinking. I don’t need to keep these “special” things about me a secret, I have no secrets here. But if I am going to reach another alcoholic the way that you all reached me when I got here, I have to make certain I concentrate on the one thing I know we have in common, my alcoholism and my recovery from it.
What about when somebody comes to AA by mistake? Can that even happen? Where does God go when these people show up? I don’t believe anybody arrives at a meeting by mistake. They may not be there to get sober, but I believe it’s still my job to lovingly extend the hand of AA. Remember what it says in our responsibility pledge: “When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help . . .” So, I say a quick prayer for an open heart and an attitude of love, not fear, and then I listen.
Maybe I can help them to a meeting that will better serve them. Maybe I can take them coffee and tell them about our Fellowship and how we are trying to keep AA here for the next generation of alcoholics. I handle each opportunity the way my Higher Power tells me to. As long as I possess an attitude of love and gratitude instead of fear and judgment, I will not miss my opportunity to be helpful.