Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Recovery House Rules

Perhaps memory has grown dim with age, but I seem to recall a time when persons could disagree with each other without being believed to be and labeled "traitors," "morons," "extremist nuts," or "evil." Perhaps it was another age, perhaps I don't remember clearly, perhaps I simply hung out with a more tolerant crowd. In any event, it seemed that way. Politics, religion, whatever—so-and-so believed what he believed, and Whatshisface believed what he believed. Sometimes it led to spirited arguments, sometimes it led to fights and long, grumpy periods of silence. On rare occasion, it even led to enlightenment. In the end, however, family and friendship usually won out over opinion and the need to win..

Now, however, if you root for that team, worship God by that name, insist on voting for that candidate, or voting for that proposition, you are—at the very least—ignorant, ill informed, confused, and influenced by the dark side. At the worst, however, you are stupid, evil, and may even be the Great Satan himself! This all leaves little room for later kissing and making up.

So, what does all this have to do with recovery?

Among those in Twelve Step programs, there are, at times, disagreements about how things ought to be done. These things include service work, the conduct of meetings, working the Twelve Steps, sponsorship, complying with the Traditions, and other matters ranging from the trivial to the significant. There are tools provided by the program for handling these disagreements, the main tool being the first part of the Second Tradition: "For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—A loving god as he may express himself in our group conscience." In other words, if there is a disagreement, we vote on it. This works really great as long as we all agree to abide by the group conscience. For some, however, the Second Tradition is sacred as long as the decisions go their way. When the group conscience goes against what they want, however, it is obviously wrong and must be countermanded through other means.

One of these "other means," is to employ the same attitudes used in the world of disagreement outside the program. In other words, if the group conscience goes against what I want, then those voting "the wrong way" are obviously "evil, non-program, brainless, sick, and harbingers of the total destruction of the universe of recovery." This frequently is all the permission some folks need to employ means outside the Second Tradition to correct the error. Over the past couple of decades, I have seen many examples: Purposefully disrupting meetings disapproved of by the disruptors, character assassination, organized gossip, and "missionaries" who show up regularly at meetings to lecture the members at the meeting on how they ought to be running their meetings and their individual programs.

The results of all of this enthusiasm: Shut down meetings, disintegrating service structures, and old-timers and newcomers alike chased away from the meetings.
Here are some things I was told when I was brand new in recovery:

· It's an individual program. From everything you hear and witness in and outside the meetings, you have to piece together what's going to work for you.
· The First Tradition says that our personal recovery depends upon program unity—not uniformity.
· The sickest person in the room is the one who is focused on someone else's program.
· Addiction is slavery. Recovery is freedom—not exchanging one slave master for another.
· When you sit down, shut up, and listen, don't forget to shut up and listen.

Old-timer or newcomer, don't let control freaks and other well-meaning assholes chase you away from the meetings. Trust the Traditions. Call a business meeting, have a group conscience, vote on it, abide by the results, and everything will work out just the way it's supposed to.

Barry B. Longyear

You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. —Doug Floyd

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