Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cliques in recovery?

Last night after the meeting a group of us went out to get ice cream.  We talked about Haiti and some non meeting stuff but eventually we got around to talking about the meeting. The "ice cream" group likes to talk about all kinds of stuff, but meeting stuff seems to be one of the favorite topics.  And sometimes it becomes a bit of a gripe session.

Last night, we were musing over the format of sharing. This is a large meeting with sometimes 40 people.  And the format has been one of going around the room.  So sometimes those to the left of the person who has the topic get to share and sometimes those to the right. This is the only meeting that I attend in which there is a "go around" way of sharing.  In the others, people share when they feel like it (or God directs them).

Because the meeting is so large, the chair always asks that people limit their sharing to 3 minutes. Well, that doesn't happen most of the time.  As was mentioned last night, there are "repeat offenders" who share for 15 minutes. In some cases, those who share longer really need the time because there is something heavy going on. In other cases, there is just talk and some of it is not really relevant to recovery.

I don't let this drive me crazy (see Mr. Sponsor Pants great post) because I realized a long time ago that not everyone will get to share anyway with such a large crowd.  But I guess I also believe that one's share needs to come from the heart and not just because it's your turn in the line up. I like the idea of saying "ditto" to what so-and-so said when I'm next in line unless I have a rare original thought after 20 shares.  

I enjoy the ice cream group, but I also don't want it to become an opportunity for bashing meetings or people. That starts to feel a bit like a clique or even a trial without a jury.  I had enough of the clique stuff when I was in high school. Plus, it doesn't seem to be placing principles above personalities (you're probably already got me pegged for a clique). 

What I like about Al-Anon is we all have some kind of deep seated wounding that has occurred because of alcoholism.  We pretty much all have this.  And we are doing what we can to offer help, kindness, a smile and a phone number to anyone who needs it.  We also have a bunch of character defects that are bubbling right under the surface. And those may cause us to partition ourselves into little cliques.

So here are some of the ones that I have noticed in Al-Anon:
  • The Traditionalists--I qualify as one of these--you probably guessed that.  I feel a bit of incredulity when someone reads from the Big Book or other non-conference approved literature, introduces themselves as "Hi, I'm Joe and I'm an alcoholic", or cross talks all over the place. 
  • The Experts who haven't worked a single step but lead step studies or who have a thousand years in the program but still struggle with Step One. 
  • The Sufferers who beat up on themselves at every meeting and want to compare their suffering with others. They share their pain with each other after the meeting. They often refuse to get a sponsor or work the steps. 
  • The Uber-religious who raise their eyebrows at curse words, references to confusion about God or faith, and who often quote the Bible. 
  • The Gossipers who are immediately on the phone to chat about what was said, who was there, and what a mess they are.
I've heard about cliques in other programs as well.  We are unique from AA in that Al-Anon doesn't seem to have a 13th Stepper Clique who ogle.  Our sly sidelong glances are not directed at other "available members" but are usually coming from the Traditionalists who sense that something is amiss in the meeting.

Maybe it's just natural that when a group of people get together there is going to be a herd mentality.  I have a train wreck curiosity about some of this.  But mostly I just go for the ice cream.

PS: I just realized that this is my 1000th post. Not a particularly auspicious one but I just didn't feel very auspicious today.


  1. Ohhh Syd - - - - Loved this bitchy blog! Still chuckling.

    Anonymous #1

  2. Happy 1000th! I guess I would fall into the Traditionalist group since I'm very self-ish about passing on what I got and what I got was based on the Steps, Traditions, and Concepts as explained in all our CAL. I personally use the BB but keep it out of the meetings. In our groups, we support the chairperson's right to keep the meeting on topic, and sometimes that means gently reminding those who know better that maybe they would benefit from some one on one sharing after the meeting. We do give newcomers whatever time they need, even if it is the whole meeting. It can be like high school, no doubt about that. That is the same way here too.

    principals..principals..principals..not always easy


  3. You're just having birthdays left and right aren't you, Syd? :)

    Most of the meetings I've attended use a timer that warns someone when their 3 minutes is up. It seems to work.

  4. We use timers at our meetings so when the buzzer goes off, the person speaking picks the next person out of the people with hands up. You are right though with that amount in a meeting not all who want to will have a turn to share. The person who is leading the group at our meetings reminds someone if they keep going after the buzzer. It can get touchy if some people are sticklers for the minute the buzzer sounds the floor has to go to a different person. These are things we all work on and are actually gauges to our recovery.

  5. We split into groups too. Ultimately it is the job of the chairperson to "move things along." I have attended meetings where a timer is used too, but nine times out of ten had no effect on the speaker! LOL.

  6. My favorite mtg happens to be a timer meeting but also it's CoDA so it's boundaries, boundaries. How about another sub-group, the ones that you see several times a year who always open their share with 'I really should come more often . . .' year after year it's a bit much.

  7. I've seen people come in at the tail end of the meeting just to go for the ice cream....personally, I like the 5 minutes before a meeting and the 10-15 minutes after to talk to those that moved me...

  8. Ditto to Anonymous #1 and Congrats on your 1000th. Keep coming!

  9. I have read a lot of those 1,000 posts. Thanks.

  10. Happy 1 000 Posts Day!

    At AA meetings here we have a yellow card that reads "What you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here' and I am one of the spoilsports who discourages any gossip about meetings at all. We talk about our own lives, plans for the weekends, books we are reading, children, work. Never AA meetings or members.

  11. i also prefer the share if you feel the need to principle. The sharing is usually more meaningful.
    well done on the blog

  12. Yikes. I guess it's good to give people an event that takes all the focus off the alcoholic for a moment and puts it squarely on all the other screwed up people living with alcoholics.

  13. Syd, I am grateful to have "met" you online here... I read alot of love and wisdom in your writing and I really look forward to your posts.

    Thanks again for another great read this morning and wow 1000 posts, that's alot for sure!

    For me, if I had to choose on of your cliques, I see me on the Traditionalist side to an extent... But I don't have a problem with non-conference approved literature, only because I have gotten so much good from so much good writing outside the program.

  14. 100 already. amazing. time flies.
    i can't remember the last time I heard someone talk for 15 minutes. that sounds pretty tough. meetings are so busy near me that you will pi** off a lot!! of scary alcoholics if you do that, so people don't dare generally :)
    I can get very weary of what I see in meetings but thats usually due to having to watch people fall apart and die more often than i would like to. I know so many people in aa now, that when I go there it is often like a ? class reunion or something as i often meet people from my old home group, or affiliated to it through sponsorship. If i didnt focus on the people that get well, all the relapse, sickness and death would be too depressing.
    but yes i would be the first to admit that meetings do test your patience. but i am glad they do as it takes a LOT to pi** me off now as I am so used to mad alcoholic people saying very antisocial things :)

  15. yahooo on the 1000!
    At my home group we announce that if you go over 5 minutes you will be asked to stop....and you guessed it...there are a few who bring stop watches just to time the people they don't like to hear. And hey, we have the same cliques

  16. Happy 1000th post. I am so glad you are here.

  17. Congrats on 1,000, Syd! Keep them coming, buddy.

    Love, SB.

  18. Congrats on 1000 - and I very much look forward to the next 1000.

    I'm guilty of all the cliquey problems you cited - sometimes all in one meeting! Good reminder for me.

    Blessings and aloha...

  19. Congratulations on the 1000 post. I dont like the cliques and tend to be a bit of a loner in AA, sticking around a small number of trusted friends, which I guess is a clique in itself. The worst cliques are the the ones with a recovery couple at the centre who then dispense fountains of wisdom to a chosen few. Few of the chosen ones maintain sobriety unless they break free.

  20. Happy 1000th post! Yours was one of the first recovery blogs I turned to and remains one of my favorites.

  21. Congratulations on your 1000th post, Syd, and thanks for this reminder. I'm a Traditionalist, and laughed at your description - I will remember this post next time I'm grumping away to myself inside my head about someone talking for "too long."

  22. I loved this post and love ice cream. Happy 1000th and keep throwing them at us:)

  23. If there is more than 8 people (and there always is) we break up into tables. We always have a step table, a newcomer table, a table that picks a reading, and lately a Forum table to increase interest in the Forum magazine (which is in danger of being discontinued due to lack of interest).

    It seems that many people sharing could really drag on;)

  24. Wow!!!!! 1000 posts, I just made 100 and thought, phew what an accomplishment...LOL!

    This is a wise post and very true, sadly the cliches are everywhere, and sadly once I left high school I thought they would stop, but did not...there are many cliches in our AA groups here, I pretty much avoid most, I have singular friends in AA, once in a spell we do something together, that's about it for me...Cliches in my life have hurt people, I don't like to do that...

    thank you for the mindful reminder.


  25. HAPPY MILLENNIUM Post to you - one that certainly made me chuckle.

    My meeting is tiny compared to yours. Recently there have been as few as four or five people - once only two of us. The two of us didn't have a formal meeting that night, but chatted about our lives for 90mins. I find sharing one of the hardest parts of my life/going to AlAnon, and I think that my Higher Power must have meant for that to happen as I found it such a valuable experience - and one I would have avoided at all costs if I had know in advance. The contrast in meetings is interesting.


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