Active Leadership and Your Recovery

It may seem incredible that these men are to become happy, respected, and useful once more. How can they rise out of such misery, bad repute and hopelessness? The practical answer is that since these things have happened among us, they can happen with you. Should you wish them above all else, and be willing to make use of our experience, we are sure they will come. The age of miracles is still with us. Our own recovery proves that!
Our hope is that when this chip of a book is launched on the world tide of alcoholism, defeated drinkers will seize upon it, to follow its suggestions.  Many, we are sure, will rise to their feet and march on. They will approach still other sick ones and fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet, havens for those who must find a way out.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 153)

A HUGE part of the process of recovery is the approaching sill other addicts and alcoholics.  But, then there is the statement “fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet, havens for those who must find a way out.”  I would like to explore that a bit more on this post.

After the book appeared we all became very busy in our efforts to save all and sundry, but I was still actually on the fringes of A.A. While I went along with all that was done and attended the meetings, I never took an active job of leadership until February 1940.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 229-230)

Here is a big challenge many have in recovery.  There are many who are convinced that recovery comes from simply being in the right place and trying to stay away from non-recovery people and things.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a great place to start, but in actuality it is a very small step on a very long journey.

In a previous post named “Intensive Work…Making Coffee???” I spoke on the importance of working with others.  Here, in the story of one of the pioneers and founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous (the start of all things Twelve Step) there is something described as an “active job of leadership” that was apparently very important to the early membership.  Apparently, it was possible to take “jobs of leadership” with the people that were already working together in recovery and also in places where there were not yet groups (“They will approach still other sick ones and fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet”)

Let’s take a second to look at how all of this was tied to recovery of the founding member who I just quoted:

…I never took an active job of leadership until February 1940. Then I got a very good position in Philadelphia and quickly found I would need a few fellow alcoholics around me if I was to stay sober. Thus I found myself in the middle of a brand new group. When I started to tell the boys how we did it in New York and all about the spiritual part of the program, I found they would not believe me unless I was practicing what I preached. Then I found that as I gave in to this spiritual or personality change I was getting a little more serenity. In telling newcomers how to change their lives and attitudes, all of a sudden I found I was doing a little changing myself. I had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory, but I discovered in pointing out to the new man his wrong attitudes and actions that I was really taking my own inventory, and that if I expected him to change I would have to work on myself too. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 230)

This person found himself in a place where he could not get the support he needed in recovery that we call fellowship.  For some of us this may be because of proximity like this man who moved to Philadelphia where there were not yet any groups of this nature.  But, for some of us we may be in a place where there are plenty of recovery groups for whatever we are in recovery for,
the problem may be that the groups in your area may not be organized in a way that you can get what you need from them (before I go any further I feel it is important to note that there is a chance in this situation that you may just be resistant and trying to find an excuse not to participate as another option).  If there are no groups or no groups that seem to give you what you need in recovery you may find that as you work with others, they will need something they cannot find nearby also.

In the case of the man we were just reading about, he knew he desperately needed something that was not available.  Here is the concept:  If you can’t find it make it!  

This person was on the fringes (a member but not really an active participant in A.A.), who had not truly done the Steps (“I had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory”) and who knew the details of the information yet did not do the things he knew (practicing what I preached).  He was just hanging around a group talking recovery stuff. 

When he started working with others and started his new recovery group, just hanging around talking recovery backfired.  The people he was working with immediately realized that he was asking them to do something he wasn’t doing himself.  The newcomers he had started in the recovery process were able to do something that the rest of the founding membership of Alcoholics Anonymous could not accomplish:  They somehow managed to get him to start working the steps fully.

As an example, he states that he “had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory” in modern Twelve Step terms he is saying bluntly that he had not worked Steps Four and Eight because he didn’t feel he needed to.  Without Steps Four and Eight the whole Twelve Step process stops at three (which if you read the whole story is where he was stuck: working Step 3). 

It was not until he started working with others that the clarity of where he was in his own recovery became clear.  The fact that he describes himself on page 230 as “on the fringes” let’s you know that the others probably had a pretty good idea as to where he was at in working his recovery in spite of the fact he attended meetings and talked recovery language.  Even the newcomers he was starting with knew where he was really at in his recovery.  Everyone but him knew. Suddenly, when working with others it became clear.

This may run contrary to many people’s ideas as to how sponsorship works, but everyone knew he was on shaky ground and had done very little toward recovery.  Everyone knew he was “self-sufficient” which means he really didn’t even buy Step One and would have seemed like the most unlikely person to lead anyone to recovery.  The truth is, not only is he one of the founding members of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Pennsylvania, but he could not even grasp recovery until he started working with others.

There are two huge points I want to want to convey through this founding member’s story:

  1. We all need to be working with others in recovery (even if just assisting another who is more advanced to work with somebody else)
  2. If you do not have a fellowship that is actually growing you in the process of recovery, you either need to find one or start one.

No matter what you took out of this post, I again return to one basic idea:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Intensive Work…Making Coffee???

 Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

I was speaking to some folks about working with others in recovery recently and had a whole group of people copout at once.  It was the scariest thing I have seen in a while.  They said things like “I’ll just serve coffee” or “why do I have to do that” or even “I’ll never do that” and things like this. 

The scary part was that this was not a group of people new to recovery.  Some of the group had been through recovery several times.  I was reacquainted with something I had forgotten:  The little things that were originally put in place to help a person get a little taste of what it might look like and to assist in the growth of the “humility” spoken of as being “foundation principle of each” of the Twelve Steps (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70) have somehow become a replacement for “intensive work”.  In other cases, the idea of work with others was just written off and was replaced with checkboxes.

By checkboxes I mean that it is as if people are convinced that if I can say I did each Step (even if not done correctly) somehow I will magically remain sober.  Saying you did the Steps and doing a “minimum to get by” effort at working the Steps is far different than really working the Steps.

Later in the same paragraph, in describing what the focal point of Step Twelve is and in describing what the whole chapter is about to teach us how to do it says:

This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Your addiction might be drugs, overeating, gambling or whatever, but the Twelfth Step has a major focal point that way too many people miss:  “Carry the message” and “Intensive work”!  Here is another key part that is often missed:  “It works when other activities fail.”

How much more direct are we expecting them to be:  “nothing will so much insure immunity”.  I’m not saying don’t serve coffee or chair meetings, but I am saying that that does not fit what is stated in this one paragraph. 

Here is my point to all of this:  If you are not Intensively working with others, you did not get out of your Twelve Step program what you were supposed to.  This is the focus point of your Step Twelve because the authors of the Twelve Steps felt that when all of the other stuff you do or have learned fails you, this is the only thing that will work to keep your sobriety.

This is the weapon to end all weapons, the greatest tool that they offered you in recovery and most ignore it and some do something kinda similar, but few even have any inkling to do this.

Let me help you with clarity:  THIS IS SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO DO IF YOU WANT TO GET SOBRIETY OUT OF THE TWELVE STEPS.  This is one of the keys to twelve Step culture and it is impossible to have worked the Twelve Steps if you skip the most important part of the Twelfth one.

Please Twelve Steppers, go out and find someone to work intensively with.  If that person doesn’t make it find another and another.  If you do not know how to “intensively work” with others, look around until you find that rare Twelve Step “diamond in the rough” and have that person teach you how to “intensively work” with others (and possibly have that person take you on as a sponsee). 

So go chair your meetings, make the coffee, and so on, but more importantly, INTENSIVELY WORK WITH OTHERS!

Wade H.