I have been thinking recently about the meetings I used to go when I was new, 20 years ago. At the time, there were 550 groups in London. Now there are around 800. The meetings are packed now. The meetings were packed then. Yet there are not many people with 20 years' sobriety attending meetings in AA. Why?
Over the last 20 years, I have attended AA generally in central London or the innermost suburbs. A lot of people living in these areas will be here only for a few years before moving on, and this transient population is also relatively young; a lot of people move to outer suburbs or out of London altogether in their 40s and 50s. I know a fair number of people who attended AA in 1993 who now live in other countries or outside London. Also, quite a number of people have died sober. This leaves a large number of people unaccounted for, however.
Another cohort comprises people who were sober around the early nineties but drank again and are back in AA. A very small number had a brief encounter with alcohol; all the rest went to the gates of hell before returning to AA.
Obviously, tracing the fate of those who are now entirely absent from AA is hard by dint of the fact they remain largely out of sight. The only basis on which to proceed is to examine the cases of those one has encountered or whom close friends have encountered over the years.
I have been to thousands of meetings and known large numbers of people in AA. Of all those whom I have encountered who stopped going to AA, I know for sure of only one who is still sober (and, interestingly, he is in a relationship with someone in AA and has a life profoundly devoted to service to others). All the rest are dead, drinking alcoholically, or very unwell psychologically and highly medicated.
What makes this chilling is looking at the current cohort in AA and extrapolating into the future: where will these people be in 20 years' time? The question is rhetorical, and the answer need not be made explicit.
Save to say this: I was given an orthodox start in AA, and encountered hostility and no small degree of unpopularity because of it. The bottom line, however, is that it worked. I'm now probably even more orthodox in my approach to AA than ever, and I might say this: it is lucky that staying sober is not the outcome of a popularity contest.
On the upside, there are indeed people sober long term in AA in London who were sober when I had my last drink in 1993. The majority of those are enviable in the quality of their lives and 'spiritual conditions', and they have a great many features in common in terms of their approach to AA.
Here is the boiled-down version of what I consider to be what has kept me and will continue to keep me sober:
(1) Be absolutely, unquestionably committed to all three sides of the AA triangle: recovery, service, fellowship. (28:2, 59:1)
(2) Rely on God, not on individuals, but recognise that God also works through individuals. (98:1, 68:2)
(3) Have a sponsor and continue to sponsor whomever asks. (63:3, 80:1, Chapter 7)
(4) Seek outside practical, psychological, and spiritual help where necessary but 'in addition to', not 'instead of' AA. (133:2)
(5) Beware tricks, fads, quick fixes, special paths, or any other form of bypass or separateness. (25:3)
(6) Do not despair of AA because God has not yet solved a particular problem. He will. Just not on your schedule. (15:2, 123:2, 84:0, 104:4, 153:1)
So, the answer was in the Book all along.