The future of our fellowship

From that ten-cent phone call and a cup of coffee to AA's General Service Office. What's your take on service?

The future of our fellowship

Postby J?? » Wed Aug 18, 2004 11:07 pm

I received this in an email & wanted to share it.

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For all those interested in the future of our fellowship:

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What Happened?

That question is being asked by a lot of alcoholics lately. What happened to our high success rate? 30 & 40 years ago, we were keeping 75% or more of the alcoholics who came to us for help. Today, we aren’t keeping even 5%. What happened?

What happened to that wonderful A.A. Group that was around for 20, 30 or 40 years? There used
to be 50, 75, 100 or more at every meeting. It is now a matter of history; gone! More and more groups are folding every day. What happened?
We hear a lot of ideas, opinions and excuses as to what happened but things are not improving.
They continue to get worse. What is happening?

Bill W. wrote,
“In the years ahead A.A. will, of course, make mistakes. Experience has taught us that we need
have no fear of doing this, providing that we always remain willing to admit our faults and to correct them promptly. Our growth as individuals has depended upon this healthy process of trial and error. So will our growth as a fellowship.
Let us always remember that any society of men and women that cannot freely correct its own faults must surely fall into decay if not into collapse. Such is the universal penalty for the failure to go on growing. Just as each A.A. must continue to take his moral inventory and act upon it, so must our whole Society if we are to survive and if we are to serve usefully and well.” (A.A. Comes of Age, pg 231)
With so very few finding lasting sobriety and the continued demise of AA groups, it is obvious that
we have not remained willing to admit our faults and to correct them promptly.
Seems to me that the Delegate of the Northeast Ohio Area, Bob Bacon, identified our mistakes and
our faults when he talked to a group of AA’s in 1976. He said, in essence, we are no longer showing the newcomer that we have a solution for alcoholism. We are not telling them about the Big Book and how very important that Book is to our long term sobriety. We are not telling them about our Traditions and how very important they are to the individual groups and to Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole. Rather, we are using our meeting time for drunkalogs, a discussion of our problems, ideas and opinions or “my day” or “my way”.
Having been around for a few years, and reflecting on what Bob Bacon had to say, it would appear
that we have permitted newcomers to convince the old-timers that they had a better idea. They had just spent 30 or more days in a treatment facility where they had been impressed with the need to talk about their problems in Group Therapy Sessions. They had been told that it didn’t make any difference what their real problem was, A.A. had the “best program”. They were told that they should go to an A.A. meeting every day for the 1st 90 days out of treatment. They were told that they shouldn’t make any major decisions for the 1st year of their sobriety. And what they were told goes on and on, most of which are contrary to the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous!
Apparently, what they were told sounded pretty good to the A.A. members who were here when the TC clients started showing up at our meetings. And a lot of the A.A. members liked the idea of the
treatment centers because the centers provided a place where they could drop off a serious drinker, if he/she had insurance. That eliminated some of the inconveniences we had been plagued with before; having to pour orange juice and honey or a shot of booze down a vibrating alky to help them “de-tox”.
When A.A. was very successful, the folks who did the talking in meetings were recovered
alcoholics. The suffering and untreated alcoholics listened. After hearing what it takes to recover, the newcomer was faced with a decision; “Are you going to take the Steps and recover or are you going to get back out there and finish the job?”. If they said they “were willing to go to any length”, they were given a sponsor, a Big Book and began the process of recovery by taking the Steps and experiencing the Promises that result from that course of action. This process kept the newcomer involved in working with others and continued the growth of our Fellowship. Our growth rate was approximately 7% and the number of sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous doubled every 10 years.
With the advent of the rapid growth of the Treatment Industry, the acceptance of our success with alcoholics by the judicial system and endorsement of physicians, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc. all kinds of people were pouring into A.A. at a rate greater than we had ever dreamed possible. Almost without realizing what was happening, our meetings began changing from ones that focused on recovery from alcoholism to “discussion or participation” types of meetings that invited everyone to talk about whatever
was on their mind. The meetings evolved from a program of spiritual development to the group therapy type of meeting where we heard more and more about “our problems” and less and less about the Program of Recovery by the Big Book and the preservation of our Fellowship by adhering to our Traditions.
What has been the result of all this? Well, never have we had so many coming to us for help. But
never have we had such a slow growth rate which has now started to decline. For the first time in our history, Alcoholics Anonymous is losing members faster than they are coming in and our success rate is unbelievably low. (Statistics from the Inter-Group Office of some major cities indicate less than 5% of those expressing a desire to stop drinking are successful for more than 5 years; a far cry form the 75% reported by Bill W. in the Forward to Second Edition). The change in the content of our meetings is proving to be death-traps for the newcomer and in turn, death-traps for the groups that depend on the
“discussion or participation” type meetings.
Why is this? The answer is very simple. When meetings were opened so that untreated alcoholics
& non-alcoholics were given the opportunity to express their ideas, their opinions, air their problems and tell how they were told to do it where they came from, the confused newcomer became more confused with the diversity of information that was being presented. More and more they were encouraged to “just go to meetings and don’t drink” or worse yet, “go to 90 meetings in 90 days”. The newcomer no longer was told to take the Steps or get back out there and finish the job. In fact, they are often told, “Don’t rush into taking the Steps. Take your time.” The alcoholics who participated in the writing of the Big Book
didn’t wait. They took the Steps in the first few days following their last drink Thank God, there are those in our Fellowship, like Joe & Charlie, Wally, etc., who have recognized the problem and have started doing something about it. They are placing the focus back on the Big Book.
There have always been a few groups that would not yield to the group therapy trend. They stayed firm to their commitment to try to carry a single message to the suffering alcoholic. That is to tell the newcomer that “we have had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps and if you want to recover, we will see that you have a sponsor who has recovered and will lead you along the path the 1st 100 laid down for us”.
Recovered alcoholics have begun founding groups that have a single purpose and inform the newcomer
that until they have taken the steps and recovered, they will not be permitted to say anything in meetings.
They will listen to recovered alcoholics, they will take the Steps, they will recover and then they will try to pass their experience and knowledge on to the ones who are seeking the kind of help we provide in Alcoholics Anonymous. As this movement spreads, as it is beginning to, Alcoholics Anonymous will again be very successful in doing the one thing God intended for us to do and that is to help the suffering alcoholic recover, if he has decided he wants what we have and is willing to go to any length to recover, to
take and apply our Twelve Steps to our lives and protect our Fellowship by honoring our Twelve
Traditions.
There is a tendency to want to place the blame for our predicament on the treatment industry and
professionals. They do what they do and it has nothing to do with what we in Alcoholics Anonymous do.
That is their business. That is not where to place the blame and also is in violation of our Tenth Tradition.
The real problem is that the members of Alcoholics Anonymous, who were here when the “clients” began
coming to our Fellowship did not help the “clients” understand that our Program had been firmly established since April 1939. And that the guidelines for the preservation and growth of our Fellowship were adopted in 1950. That they must get rid of their new “old ideas” and start practicing the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous as it was given to us. That until they had taken the Steps and recovered, they had nothing to say that needed to be heard except by their sponsor. But that didn’t happen.
To the contrary, the old timers failed in their responsibility to the newcomer to remind them of a vital truth, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.” We have permitted untreated alcoholics and non-alcoholics to sit in our meetings and lay out their problems, ideas and opinions. We have gone from, “Rarely have we seen a person fail” to “Seldom do we see a person recover”.
So there we are. We have had 30 years of unbelievable success by following the directions in the Big Book. We have had 30 years of disappointing failure by wanting to hear from everyone. We now have something to compare.
We now know what the problem is and we know what the solution is. Unfortunately, we have not
been prompt to correct the faults and mistakes which have been created by what would appear to be large doses of apathy and complacency. The problem we are trying to live with is needlessly killing alcoholics.
The Solution? The Power, greater than ourselves, that we find through our Twelve Steps promises
recovery for those who are willing to follow the clear-cut directions in the Big Book.
Do you want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution? Simple, but not easy; A price has
to be paid.

Written by Cliff B.

<small>[ 09-06-2004, 07:42 AM: Message edited by: Leonard(o), Puerto Rico ]</small>
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Blue Moon » Thu Aug 19, 2004 4:47 am

Not convinced the recovery rates were that good for those who approached AA fellowship. But they were certainly better. Today we have people "sentenced" to AA, it was never intended for that. Our members also become complacent with 12th Step work due to the treatment industry, forgetting that 12th Step work is what can keep them sober.

What's going to change? Nothing, from my perspective. I was recently in a district meeting where one old-timer announced that as AA has worked so well for 70 years we shouldn't change it ... it's already changed over that time.

But consider the fact that AA also has become available to so many who have not become so ill physically. The emphasis of Step 1 has changed, because in AA's early days only "low-bottom" drunks came in when all else had failed. On that basis, a higher turn-around seems almost inevitable because it's not so clear-cut "do or die" at the time.
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby ArtK » Thu Aug 19, 2004 7:47 am

The letter makes some good points. Although I don't see 90 meetings in 90 days as a bad thing, the advice being given to new people to wait with doing the Steps is very damaging, especially when it is from a sponsor. If a person is hurting there is even more reason to be doing them. The idea of waiting a while before approaching them seems to be quite prevalent.
In addition, the Health Professionals are very often recommending to people like us their new and improved "Happy Pills". I've been to a number of meetings in my area where people were sharing how they were taking a Doctor prescribed pill that made it a lot easier for them to cope. Using the Steps and praying to a Higher Power is a little more effort than dropping a little pill everyday. Many of the symptons that these people had were symptoms common to most alcoholics, but the Dr. were giving them diagnosis's of ADD and Bi-Polar and a few others I don't remember.
Being that we always like to take the easier softer way, it's not really surprising. I don't think the dropping success rate of AA is totally because of the changes in the last 70 years. There are simply a lot more options for "recovery" these days.
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Clark » Thu Aug 19, 2004 11:24 am

It occurs to me, (based on observations), that many people come to AA for reasons other than alcoholism.

Could be that these are the persons who leave AA.
(Perhaps they weren't alcoholic to begin with.)

In many circles, membership in AA is now status symbol.

Also it provides a meeting place for lonely hearts.

This may sound a tad cynical, but it's the way I see it.
:confused:
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby curtis s » Sat Aug 21, 2004 5:32 pm

Today as of 5 a.m. I have been sober for 22 years. My home group has quite a few feople in it with double digit recovery. So it still happens and something still is working....... A.A. has worked just fine for me although to get the rest of my life to work I have also needed therapy.

For 22 years I have been hearing about the good old days of old time A.A. I suspect that at least some of that is just nostalgia for our youth, and I question those statistics about 75% success. I have also become aware that a lot (not all) of the folks who talk about how it used to be so much "stricter" for want of a better word are also the folks who made the biggest mess of their first 10 years of recovery. All this is a way of saying that I view topics like this with a certain amount of skepticism.

That being said, I do think that in some meetings we talk about where we are at to the point where we get away from both the steps and the basic "how to" of avoiding taking the first drink. When I came in they told me that if I didn't pick up the first drink that I would not get drunk but I could not figure out how to not pick up the first drink. Something changed and 22 years later I still don't understand that and have just come to accept it as a miracle.

A few ideas here I take real exception to. Newcomers may in fact need to say something from time to time, even if it is just to admit to being an alcoholic in front of a group. Also, although I more or less did the first three steps the first time I raised my hand and said that I was an alcoholic, I don't think anyone should immediately rush into the 4th step.

If I had to point to one thing bringing our success rate down, in my experience it is all the court stipulated folks. We have a lot of them in my group and very few of them stay with it once they don't need their paper signed. But some of them do, so I can't see the point of excluding them. The other thing that has changed is that many people have a much higher bottom, although again in my home group that is not true, there are some truly gruesome stories about things like living in dumpsters. That high bottom can lead to more research.

I have also noticed that things tend to go in cycles. When I came in it was at the crest of a wave of recovery and it had gotten pretty fashionable to be in A.A. In the mid 90's a similar thing happened with N.A. Crack was like a biblical plague and as a result membership in N.A. zoomed upwards. A few years later crack got to be a bit less of a problem and the amount of newcomers lessened. Meanwhile the folks who had been new and were doing 90 and 90 or 180 and 90 now had several years recovery and had reentered society. Now they were going to 2 or 3 meetings a week and as a result membership seemed to diminish. Not to mention all the folks (and this is heresy in some circles) who just got sober, stopped going to meetings, and stayed sober. As a result a lot of the new meetings that had sprung up died.

Statistics are a funny thing. I think that we need to be real careful how we use them.

I do think that this is a good topic. I sometimes think what would it be like if all alcoholics went to A.A. and we became as widespread as major religions do. I imagine that at that point we would discover that we had acquired most of their problems as well

Curt

<small>[ 08-21-2004, 05:51 PM: Message edited by: curt ]</small>
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Clark » Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:51 am

Curt

Best wishes on your 22nd AA anniversary.
May you enjoy many more.
:linewave:

Love & Peace,

<small>[ 08-22-2004, 07:57 AM: Message edited by: Clark ]</small>
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Blue Moon » Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:26 am

Congratulations on your 22 years, Curt!

Some interesting things are coming out of this discussion. Like others, I would agree with some ideas and disagree with others.

Like stats themselves, such ideas are often subject to "interpretation". For example, there is the "group therapy" of a newcomer discussing their alcoholism, then there is the "group therapy" of a newcomer (or, sometimes worse, old-timers) hogging 20 minutes discussing all their life problems except where alcoholism comes in.

Then there are the social circles, etc. I can no more relate to a crack fiend discussing his run-ins with drug barons than I can to a woman sober 25+ years sharing photos of her grandkids. I've been in AA meetings with both, yet many members seem inconsistently more tolerant of one than the other.

Then comes the discussion about a Step timetable. If someone spends a year or more on nothing but Step 1, I tend to question their alcoholism in the first place. If I could stay sober a year without working a program, why would I have been in AA? It used to really annoy me how people would read out the first page of "How it works", then share how they completely bypassed all the suggestions on that page! In my mind, "rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path"..."we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start" do not compute with something like working 1 Step a year.

I don't know of any who committed to 90/90 who recovered, so am not sure why that suggestion is so rated. Meeting attendance is not written in the book, although it can be a very good way to work Step 12... 90/90 is not Step 12, it's more about Steps 1 thru 3.

But AA has improved over time as well. In its founder days, AA was hugely pious, therefore not available to the mentality of anyone but those who literally had nothing else to lose. UIn later years, Bill W himself admitted to having been pious when the book was written, so this isn't just my opinion.
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby curtis s » Tue Aug 24, 2004 7:02 pm

Thanks guys..........

I like a lot of Blue moons comments. Lots of food for thought. Interesting to remember that in it's very early infancy A.A. was limited to men and when the first woman alcoholic appeared a number of men claimed that they could not get sober with a woman in the room.

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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Blue Moon » Tue Aug 24, 2004 7:30 pm

Originally posted by curt:
Interesting to remember that in it's very early infancy A.A. was limited to men and when the first woman alcoholic appeared a number of men claimed that they could not get sober with a woman in the room.
I understand they sent her out on all the 12th Step calls, so she stayed sober whilst most of the others ended up drunk.
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Blue Moon » Sun Sep 05, 2004 10:04 am

For a few months I was a regular at a men's discussion meeting where talk of alcohol, drugs and codependency issues were actively endorsed. "Using" was a far more frequent word than "drinking".

I eventually left, having concluded that it is not an AA group. Doesn't matter if people say it is, the fact remains that it isn't. An AA group is 2 or more people gathered together for sobriety (from alcohol) and, as a group, have no other affiliation. Other drugs, CODA, alanon etc. are other affiliations at group level, and are therefore outside the definition of an AA group.

That can be very different from an individual sharing about his / her addictions, relationships etc. in relation to their alcoholism.
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby lassie » Sun Sep 05, 2004 10:29 am

I am one of those people who came into AA and stayed sober for over 4yrs without a sponser, working the programme, and doing the steps. I stayed at step1 for over 4yrs. I admitted I was alcoholic and that my life was unmanageable at every meeting I went to, I am definately alcoholic, I could identify with what members were saying, the emotions, madness, not being able to stop at the first drink, I stayed long enough to learn that I didnt just pass out, like I thought, I was having blackouts, I couldnt remember things, does a normal mother leave a 3month old baby, to go out for one drink and not come home until in a drunken, half undressed state? I did. When people shared, I said to myself gosh, I did that, I felt like that. I look on it today, that, I wasnt ready to do the programme, I needed to do what I did, to get to were I am today. I love my life today, I found e-AA, got myself a wonderful sponser who has helped me on to the road of recoverey, who has encouraged and shared with me. What I did when I came into AA, many think of as taking up a seat, I hold my hands up, I did, but, boy, am I glad I did, for me. Im coming up to my 5th AA bithday, I have did more work on Norma, in the short time Ive been a member of e-AA, I am proud to say that in nearly 5yrs, no matter what has happened to me, I never lifted a drink. I would not recommend to any one, at all, the way that I have did things since I got sober, its the way it was for me, and maybe, just maybe, for some others also. I dont know if any of this makes sense, Im not sure why I have written this at all. All I know is I am alcoholic, proud to be a member of e-AA, who wants to be part of this wonderful fellowship. Thanks for letting me share, Norma
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby PamW » Mon Sep 06, 2004 3:50 pm

Hi all,
Norma your share was wonderful. You stated clearly and exactly why we are all here. To make our lives get better. To believe that there is something out there besides alcohol.

I am old school AA. My DOS is 6/18/73. I have to say, nobody bossed me around when I joined AA. Nobody said nasty things to me or called me awful names or demeaned me in anyway. Mostly people were helpful and made suggestions and dragged me with them where ever they went so that I was invloved in a running discussion about AA.

Specific statistics or not we are still the only organization that has an ongoing success rate when it comes to getting and keeping drunks sober. Now that does not include outside issues, coda, NA, OA, GA, etc. I am just talking about AA.

We get people from jails and rehabs, all bringing with them a friendly but misinformed Psychologists opinion about AA. New people, spit out by jails and rehabs, bring these misinformed opinions into our meetings and thats how things start to change or get muddied as I like to call it. (Mind you I am a psychology major so I have a right to pick on them, LOL, they mean well.)
IT IS OUR JOB TO STOP THEM.

This all brings me to our "Singleness of Purpose."
If we stick to the "Singleness of Purpose" all other arguments are mute. We then have a right to ask that in AA meetings we try to keep our conversations to the topic of alcohol and alcoholism. It really explains away all other problems. We are alcoholics, even if we have other diseases, when we are in AA our objective is to address our recovery from alcoholism and to take other topics to the appropriate groups.

This doesn't have to be done in anger or with nasty words or meanness. It can be pointed out that NA (or any other group) is being slighted by their lack of attendance. Maybe if the people who are "sort of hiding out" in AA when they belong in other meetings could see that the other groups need them. That NA (or other groups) would florish with their added assistance, just like AA did in the beginning, we wouldn't have to have so many discussions about what is happening in AA.

I think, in time, we will be just fine.
It's just another growing pain.
And Lawdy we have to remember that if we do not grow, "we go."
I don't know about you all but to this day I can't afford to "go."
PamW

<small>[ 09-06-2004, 03:54 PM: Message edited by: PamW ]</small>
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby jvboden » Tue Sep 07, 2004 11:50 am

Thanks Jade, for sharing this great letter
Some thoughts:
Today I go to a meeting at 7AM where almost daily there are 100 people, and this is not a big town! So AA is alive and well here at least. Lots of long term sobriety, lots of newcomers, some court sentenced people, some treatment center grads. Some of these latter folks get sober and stay around, others don't. Some of our members share straight ahead AA, right from the BB, God bless 'em. I also hear a lot of personal stuff at the meetings. It does seem like it does an alkie good to get something really heavy off their chest at a meeting and get responses and love from others who have gone thru something similar in sobriety. I usually don't think there is anything terribly wrong with that when it is genuinely needed.
But this letter has opened my eyes, I will read it a few more times and try to remember it when I share. Am I spreading the real message of AA, or something else I picked up along the way that seems to fit? I have done that, I know. I won't be so quick to do it again.
I came into a real hard core men's meeting when I hit bottom, the kind where if you said, "gee, I felt like drinking today", the suggestion was that we take up a collection for you so you could go to the nearest bar and get it on, because you weren't done yet. Real "old school", our fearless leader had gotten sober in rooms with Dr. Bob. It may sound harsh, but I know the overwhelming majority of the guys from that meeting are still sober today.
On the other hand, I had stuck my nose into AA before I hit bottom, and knew there was help here. It also really messed up my drinking! So maybe our lower recovery rate isn't the ultimate barometer. A lot more people are coming in today than back in the old days, and we can't stop them! ;)
After reading this letter it strikes me that as long as I am carrying the authentic message of AA, then the rest is in God's hands.
The Big Book and AA are gifts from God, so I must pray I don't try to make any improvements or modifications on either one. Back to basics for this grateful recovered alcoholic.
Thanks again for a real eye opener! Wow!
Keep comin' back!
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Re: The future of our fellowship

Postby Dean C » Tue Sep 07, 2004 4:40 pm

There is no evidence that the recovery rate is any different today than in "the good old days" (LOL). None.

"Rarely have we seen a person fail. ..." etc. Same thing today.

All of the whining, especially in that quoted letter (and I've heard that fellow whine on and on and on for years now) is opinion about the fellowship of AA and has nothing to do with the program of AA -- the 12 Steps -- which have not changed since the publication of the Big Book. Repeat: The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has not changed.

My purpose is not to get anyone sober -- and a statement to the effect that I have any -- any -- power to get anyone sober is ludicrious, regardless of my personal style in approaching a prospect. All I can do is carry the message. I'm a messenger, not a Messiah, as some of these complainers wish to be.

To paraphrase: "You can give a newcomer a Big Book, but you can't make him read it." And you certainly can't cause or force a single person to work a single Step, including Step One.
"Whatever can be said can be said clearly."
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