Newcomers bring up a common question when it comes to meetings. Why do recovered alcoholics still keep going to meetings after many years of sober time?
Doesn’t that imply 12 steps don’t work? If these long-term members still go to meetings, does that indicate that they’re “dependent” on them or aren’t comfortable/secure in their sobriety?
This post attempts to answer the question with the following concepts:
The Meetings Serve as Reminders
If you stick to recovery and build some clean time, you’ll quickly find that you get more “stuff,” financially, materially, and in terms of relationships. When this happens, it’s easy to start to drift away to the foundational recovery activities that helped get you these things.
In other words, a little comfort brings the sense of having been “cured.” You don’t think you need to stay as involved or attend as many meetings. It’s perfectly understandable and a natural step if you decide to attend fewer meetings than your first 90 days. However, the temptation is there to cut down to 1 session a week.
Meetings put “old-timers,” members with considerable sobriety time, in contact with newcomers. We were all newcomers at one point, with all the attendant problems that we bring after years of drunkenness. We also can end up back there again if we pick up the drink. We are cucumbers in the sense that we cannot go back to sane drinking once we’ve become alcoholics.
Therefore, the meetings and the stories of newcomers are a central reminder about our roots. Newcomers, in this sense, also includes people who have recently relapsed. The recent relapsers often share some of the most educational stories of anyone because they hit close to home and may remind us of similarities in our recovery. The examples include putting other things ahead of their recoveries, such as a marriage, a job, money, or hobby. As a result, they participated less in meetings and the 12 steps. The decreasing participation brought about subtle temptations to drink again.
Meetings Provide an Easy Way to Give Back
Along the same lines that meetings are reminders, they also provide members a ready way to provide service to the group that freely gave them happy sobriety. For instance, when I gained long-term peace of mind and built a respectable life in my work and play, the feeling of gratitude was overwhelming for the guys who showed up for me and gave their time and experience with no ask for repayment.
The only thing my sponsor asked was that I pass on the message as well to new folks.
The best way to pass on that message was at meetings by sharing and being there for new people. The meetings are foremost a regular time and place newcomers can find us. It’s vitally important that members who have an excellent message to share and substantial recovery show up at them as the bedrock for passing on the 12 steps.
Ultimately, it would be selfish to gain recovery tools, hoard them for yourself, and not give back the fruits you found.
The meetings are places for newcomers.
As mentioned, even since AA started, the meetings’ role was to give newcomers a venue to learn about Twelve Step recovery. They wouldn’t serve much good if only newcomers showed up without the knowledge of walking the walk.
Old members are the bedrock of the meetings, even if they wouldn’t say so or laud it over the newcomers in that way. They make sure the meetings share a healthy message rather than devolve into an unhelpful group therapy session.
Recovered attendees soon realize the crucial role they play and fall into it. Sure, they may bring their problems to meetings and only want to listen, but the newcomers usually depend on them to give insight day in and day out.
This role is another way the program removes our selfishness. It gets us out of our heads when we realize that we’re at the meeting for other people and not just to see what we can get out of it.
Alcoholism is subtle and cunning.
It sounds scary to describe alcoholism in personified terms, but they strike close to the true nature of the disease. As mentioned, a consistent pattern of alcoholism is that it wants to get you isolated from others and self-absorbed. This way, it plants a seed in our minds that we no longer need that early “kindergarten level” recovery actions. We get on a high horse, so to speak, where we think of ourselves as immensely important.
It takes a considerable degree of humility to attend and participate day in and day out, even when we hear some of the same trite slogans and stores from other members over and over. We find, however, that more good things gradually appear in our lives the longer we stick with the recovery lifestyle.
As time-outs to stave off the tempting comfort and draw to become self-absorbed, the meetings give an hour or so in the day where we step out of ourselves and hear the stories of others. Usually, for me, it’s a slap in the face about how I spent most of the day dwelling on myself and my problems and anxieties. I feel better by the end of the meeting.
Habits Build Your Character
You’ve probably heard the research that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. This behavior phycologist found it’s closer to 66 days.
However long it scientifically takes, the meetings are highly available and an excellent venue for building that habit. Imagine attending a forum for an hour a day for a voluntary dollar rather than spending it at a bar and blowing $60 on cocktails. Then imagine doing this a few years. I can attest that the results of changing that single habit are astounding.
We find that the shift in habits we make is necessary for happy and practical sobriety. Twelve-step programs offer low-cost methods to being new life-changing habits.
Attending meetings on a regular schedule that works for you help keep a balance in life as part of becoming your new habit. There are other ways to engage in the program, but meetings are just there and always available.
Old-time members say going to meetings is “what they do.” Reading between the lines, you will see the meaning that meetings have been an integral part of their lives, like morning coffee or working out.
In the end, we see that attending meetings over the long haul isn’t a weakness or insecurity with being sober. Instead, they’re a foundation for a good life, good balance, and good habits.
Non-alcoholic family and friends may suggest, “Can’t you skip the meeting today? You’ve been sober for so long. Why can’t you hang out with me instead? Don’t you care about me?”
You have to understand that you have a lifestyle that may not make sense to ordinary people but works for building the life you’ve created. Unfortunately, if they are unwilling to listen or make space for your sobriety, it could be best to ignore their guilt-tripping.
Their protests make sense to you if you make an effort at seeing things from their shoes. But their unwillingness to do the same for you shouldn’t make you give up habits that work for you.