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.