Thursday, August 29, 2013

What about speaking at open AA meetings?

Another blogger recently posted about her experience and opinion on sharing at open AA meetings.  I thought that this was a great topic because many Al-Anon's do attend open meetings and sometimes aren't sure what to expect or to do.  So I thought that I would give some of my thoughts here.

I have attended open AA meetings since I began Al-Anon.  I was encouraged by my sponsor to go to open meetings to hear the stories of alcoholics and to better understand the disease.  These open meetings remind me that hope never dies; that sobriety is possible; and that in many ways, we share the same fears. And every single speaker I hear says they wanted recovery for themselves, not because they were being nagged by a family member.

The two programs were closely allied in their origins and are naturally drawn together by their family ties. Yet the Twelve Traditions emphasize that each works more effectively if it remains separate. Thus, there can be no combining, joining, or uniting which would result in the loss of identity of either fellowship. Separateness rules out affiliation or merging, but it does not exclude cooperation with AA or acting together for mutual benefit. And I totally agree that there are so many mutual benefits gained by going to open meetings.

Some of the open AA meetings I attend are speaker meetings where I get to hear someone's "story" of what it was like, what happened and what it is like now.  The first open AA meeting I attended was a speaker meeting.  I was so moved by what I heard that I developed a great awe for the miracles that can occur in recovery.  I was moved in that meeting to tears.  There was no blaming of the family, just a focus on their recovery through the steps.  I realized then the power of those steps because if they could help someone who was in such dire circumstances with alcoholism, then they surely could help me.

I also go to an open Big Book study and some open discussion meetings when I can.  I will say my name and state that I'm there to listen.  I learned from going to those meetings that I don't share at open AA meetings because of AA's primary purpose which is for alcoholics to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.  I can't do that from my non-alcoholic perspective.  It would be equally inappropriate for an alcoholic who isn't affected by someone else's drinking to share at an Al-Anon meeting. Or for a friend, who is along to just lend moral support, to share.

I have been asked to share a few times. The most memorable for me occurred during my first year in Al-Anon.  I was out of town at a work conference.  I was having a tough time--I was away from home, screwed up in the head, and an  unmanageable mess.  I couldn't find an Al-Anon meeting to attend, so I went to an open AA meeting within walking distance of the hotel.

I walked into that mid-day meeting and introduced myself to an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. I told him that I was in Al-Anon but needed to be at a meeting.  I think he could tell that I was a mess.   He asked me to chair the meeting which I declined because I told him that I was Al-Anon.   He then told me that it would be okay and would help the other alcoholics.  I felt unsure about this,  but decided that if I was being asked to do something then I needed to go ahead with it.  God knows, I needed to be at that meeting. For some reason, I felt that I was being guided to do this and just trusted that it would all be okay.

So I read How It Works and then he asked me to tell my story.  So I gave about a 15 minute share about what I was feeling and how I had gotten into Al-Anon for help in my own recovery. There were about 10 people present at the meeting and each one who shared indicated that my story reminded them of why they needed to stay sober and of the pain that they had caused others. One fellow said that he had committed crimes on a daily basis during his years of alcohol and drugs, had been to thousands of AA meetings but had never heard an Al-Anon speak.  He said that the honesty and courage that I expressed were to be commended.  These people made me feel welcome.  I left that meeting with a sense of well-being that put me at peace.  My sharing may not have been the best thing for a beginner in Al-Anon to do, but I appreciate that the elderly man in the wheelchair recognized a fellow lost soul and reached out to help.

I have also been asked to share at conventions and round-ups.  But in general, unless I am asked, I don't share. I am mindful of Tradition 3 in AA which states the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. I'm not a member.  And I need to allow those who are members their time to share.

I find that the same logic applied in Al-Anon where I hear people say, "Please share from the Al-Anon perspective only".  I take that as meaning at Al-Anon meetings, even if one is an addict/alcoholic or in other programs, they should speak as an Al-Anon person (not as an alcoholic/addict). I do have a great deal of respect for the primary purpose of 12 step meetings.  Here is the position of Al-Anon about attending AA meetings.

I don't forget the kindness I have been shown by the AA fellowship at their meetings.  I know that I am welcome.


  1. i have attended quite a few meetings with others who needed someone to get them there and have shared when asked with my own experience which is once more removed than you....i can see where your story would def help is perspective....

  2. In a way, it's like a huge family, the common blood being, of course, the disease of alcoholism. But the lines can't be blurred, can they?
    I respect your practice in Al-anon so much, Syd. It IS a practice and you are diligent in yours and I always feel that you want to reach out to help ease the suffering of others and in helping others, we so very much help ourselves, no matter what.
    And that's a good thing to remember too.

  3. Hi Syd,

    This was a great description of our 'recovery connection' with those who are trying to recover from a chemical addiction (alcohol/drugs/whatever).

    Brings to mind an Al-Anon pamphlet 'Three Views of Al-Anon' - - - one being a heart-rending letter from a recovering alcoholic to the family, expressing all the fears and desires to be a normal part of the family and to NOT have that damnable disease. I have not heard anyone express that they enjoyed the problem; only heartache that they had trouble succeeding.

    I have listened to many in both fellowships; but, particularly - in hearing most Al-Anon's express their own E-S-H - - - that they LOVE an alcoholic. That is my situation; my 'qualifier' was fairly gentle - - - but I was the typical Al-Anon shrew - shreiking, controlling, and my poor children sympathized with him over me, since he was peacefully sleeping after too much to drink, and I was ranting and raving the 'poor me's.' Of course, they (5 of 'em, too) - figured Mom was the crazy one; all Dad did was drink too much and go to sleep.

    Any way, I realize there are many many stories, each the same, though different all at once, and we each are affected in a different way than others. Our pain, however, is the same.

    Yes, I have learned much from alcoholics, and from AA. Today, I still declare my gratitude for being connected to my alcoholic husband, because through his recovery, I was able to find my own recovery in the fellowship of Al-Anon, learning that the one finger that pointed at him, had 3 pointing back at me. I learned through the steps and traditions just WHO I was and what made me tick, and he had absolutely nothing to do with my dysfunction; I brought all my own personal baggage with me into our marriage, and I did not grow up in alcoholism.

    Hmmm, this is rather wordy; but, somehow, I needed to dust off the mental shelves and get my mind back to work here.

    Thank you for the wonderful sharing, and for allowing me to tag on to your coattails.

    Anonymous #1

  4. I am quiet when I go to open AA meetings. I love those meetings. But I do the same, "I am here to listen." And I like not having to share. I feel like a taker....but for one night, I can let myself just be a taker! lol I love the story about the man in the wheelchair and you sharing and the impact that had...that sounds like a God thing to me.

  5. I have gone to AA, Al-Anon, and NA meetings. There are no more supportive people in the world.

  6. In the larger centres out here in South Africa, Syd, it is quite common for Al-Anon members to be invited to speak at open AA meetings and for AA members to speak at Al-Anon meetings. It's a family illness and co-operation is needed for greater understanding of how we can all recover together

    Great post.

  7. Syd, thanks so much for posting this. As in all things, there are exceptions to every "rule," such as the meeting you went to when out of town. But I have also been to groups who have been overrun with people who didn't actually belong in AA, and believe me, that makes for a very dysfunctional group!

    When I was new in sobriety, I would attend Alanon meetings and get defensive and share accordingly. Someone finally told me to check my alcoholism at the door of an alanon meeting. I find that very difficult. But when I was dying from loving one or two alcoholics, I was able to bring that desperation to Alanon and just be there as someone who desperately needed help.

  8. Good post, Syd. As a member of AA I now attend 3 meetings a week, my Home Group and one other closed AA mtg. and then an open 11th Step meeting on Sundays at 11 am. We have a large contingent of Al-anons that go to that meeting and usually they listen ... but they are welcome to speak and every once in awhile someone will share and I've always found it helpful.

  9. Beautiful share, Syd.I needed to hear this today, the bit about different fellowships needing to retain their identities. I tend to see the similarities between us all!

    Best, Smitty


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