Wednesday, 11 May 2016

How to choose a meeting

Most people judge which meetings to go to by how they feel. If they feel companionship, camaraderie, comfort, and other lovely things, it must be a good meeting. If they feel inadequate, cowed, intimidated, resentful, envious, or jealous, it must be a bad meeting.

Unfortunately, in quizzing one's own emotions, one is asking the person whose actions, for years, and not just in relation to alcohol, were apparently not in his or her own best interests.

I am therefore very suspicious of choosing which meetings to go do based on feeling.

A good meeting provides three things: identification, inspiration, and instruction. You need to know that the people there used to have or still have the problems you have had or currently have. You need to be inspired by people who have actually solved these problems. And you need to be instructed about how to get from A to B.

It is no good having just two of these:
If identification is lacking, hope is hard to hold onto, because there is no reason on earth that their solution would also work for you.
If inspiration is lacking, again, hope is hard to hold onto, because there is no evidence that the instructions given will actually work.
If instruction is lacking, the meeting is all fur coat and no knickers: carrying the message necessitates teaching through example precisely what to do to get well.

A good approach to judging which meetings to go to is to assess whether the meeting provides these three 'i's.

Sometimes good meetings are very uncomfortable to be in. When I have been very sick, I have been suspicious, cynical, and envious of people who are well. I did not feel 'part of' their little groups, because I was so far away from where they were spiritually. I therefore felt excluded even though these people were overtly welcoming me. I did not identify with their positivity so thought it was feigned. In short, I often felt terrible at good meetings, at precisely the meetings I needed to go to in order to learn how to apply the programme.

Conversely, meetings where people were as sick as me were exceedingly comfortable. There was no one doing well enough to show me up, and I felt temporary comfort because I did not feel as alone; perhaps being as miserable, resentful, and frightened as I felt was universal, normal, and not actually a problem to be addressed. Perhaps all I had to do was go and share how difficult I found life with people who were just as depressed, with the result that we would all get a tiny little bit of relief, but not actually have to lift a finger to do anything about the problem.

There have also been meetings over the years that have been huge fun. The people were attractive socially, they shared eloquently and interestingly, and we all got on like a house on fire, during and after the meeting. Beneath the shine, though, nothing was changing; no work was being done.

With any luck at all, the good meeting, the one providing identification, inspiration, and instruction, will also be the one that is jolly and that my friends go to. Of course, a strong meeting will be one where the people know each other very well. It is going to take months of consistently turning up, doing service, and joining the others for fellowship afterwards before I feel part of the club. There is no such thing as genuine instant intimacy. If I go for six months and still feel estranged, time, perhaps, to find a new meeting, but I've got to have given it a really good go to know for sure that the people are just not my cup of tea, and that the problem is not my own hostility and tendency towards mental separation from others.

I go to a Big Book meeting every week, and a Step meeting. I suggest sponsees do likewise. If they don't feel camaraderie at the Big Book meeting and Step meeting they're going to, they're of course at liberty to go to as many other meetings as they wish, so that all of the bases are covered. The jolly meetings are not a substitute for the nutritious meetings, however. You need spinach as well as Turkish delight.

To sum up: it is the substance that counts, not the shine, and the purpose of going to meetings is to recover from alcoholism and to help others recover. The question is not: 'how do I feel?' but 'does this serve my primary purpose?'

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