Muddy boots

We struggle in the mud of last night’s rain,

While fearing the long dry season to come.

We move in forgotten spaces. In long grass,

Behind corrugated iron sheets brown with rust.

The rumpled mess in the doorway on a congested street.

Would a coin help or hinder? Would it really matter,

When the next drink is as inevitable as the last?

Some keep tip top, topped up by day,

Comatose at night. Absent to loved ones, but resolute.

Denial is a river in India. Oh how we laugh,

Then cry as we hide the bottles under the sink.

We can’t live without it, live with it or live at all.

The choice seems simple, but the path so worn and furrowed,

Leads us, guides us towards the status quo.

We all have to make a choice: whether to run,

Or turn and face life on life’s terms. So come with me,

Let’s get those muddy boots off. The kettle’s on.

AA member survey

AA estimates that it has between 18,000 and 20,000 members and about 1,800 Groups in Australia. AA doesn’t keep records of its members or formal statistics of its membership; however it does conduct surveys from time to time. These surveys provide a picture of how AA is performing, and how it can improve.

Recently I reviewed Dr Joseph Nowinski’s popular science book If You Work It, It Works! The Science Behind 12 Step Recovery (2015). One of the book’s primary sources of data was periodic AA member surveys from the United States, including the years 1977 to 1989, 2007 and 2011.

This data is important because it shows how AA has changed in the United States since 1977. For example, women’s participation has increased to one third, while people reporting drug addiction in addition to alcoholism has increased from 20 percent in 1977 to nearly half in 1989. One of the interesting things Nowinski found was that AA’s method and message has remained remarkably consistent: if you want to get sober go to meetings, join a home group and get a sponsor.

In Australia, the most recent AA member survey was conducted in 2006, which is a bit rubbish really. Prior to this, the surveys were conducted every four years. The results will be published in November, so expect a full wrap-up and some preliminary analysis here on socialdrinking.blog just in time for the silly season.

If you are an AA member in Australia, get your response in quick as the survey closes at the end of March!

Details as follows:

Australian Fellowship Survey

The Australian General Service Conference 2017 has asked that this survey be extended to March 30th, 2018.

Please pass this message on to your AA contacts, who may not have participated in this initiative, and to pass this message on to their own AA contacts.

The survey can be found and completed at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/S26J52S

Notes on a meeting

A couple of guys in white collared shirts are having a laugh and a cigarette on the footpath, the adjacent building casting cool shadows in the early evening summer sun. I walk up, make some small talk and ask how their day is going. I’ve long since quit tobacco, so I don’t linger and head inside.

The group meets for one hour each week in a small room at the back of a local-government administered community facility. There are three core members of the group who have taken on the responsibility of keeping the doors open each week. This requires a number of tasks to be completed, including picking up the keys and opening up, welcoming newcomers and visitors, chairing the meeting, bringing and setting up the tea, coffee, biscuits, literature, collecting donations, putting out the chairs and, later, packing up.

People who attend the meetings always help out where they can, for example washing up coffee cups and stacking chairs. In the old days, the ashtrays had to be emptied too. These are what we call in AA ‘esteemable acts’: actions that build one’s self confidence and self-esteem through being useful to other human beings. Esteemable acts also include smiling and showing interest in other people, rather than ignoring them.

AA understands that when we value ourselves, we are less likely to drink or to behave in ways that are unhealthy to ourselves and others. In short: doing esteemable acts, like saying g’day to someone new and offering to make them a cuppa, helps us stay well. So, that’s what I do.

How do you take it?

White with one thanks.

Biscuit?

Members drift in and out of groups. Sometimes, there are more members of this group than there are service jobs to fill. At other times, such as now, there is little redundancy and therefore more responsibility is needed to be taken on by the three members. In practice, these are simple tasks. But the important thing is that they get done, by someone.

There are other members of the group who have drifted away. Some may have drunk again. Some may have moved to another town, or just to the other side of this one. Some may have even got the shits and developed a resentment against the group. It happens.

It is an open meeting, which means that anyone is welcome to come along and listen. However, only those people who identify as an alcoholic are called on to share. As the group is self-supporting in line with AA’s traditions, only those who identify as alcoholics are asked to give coin donations at the end of the meeting. If a friend or family member comes along in support of a newcomer, for example, it is considered inappropriate for them to contribute a coin to the basket at the close of the meeting.

Usually, no more than 15 people attend this particular meeting, which means that everyone gets a chance to share for a few minutes (going on for more than 5 minutes in a full room is considered poor form).

Some groups take a tougher line than others on asking addicts to share, although most of the addicts that come to this meeting identify primarily as alcoholics and are always called on to share.

We start with introductions, sitting in a circle.

The famous ‘hello I’m … and I’m an alcoholic’.

Some add their length of sobriety in years or months or days. Others mention where their home group is located and when.

This particular meeting starts with a reading from AA literature and then members get to riff on the topic or to share their experience, strength and hope in recovery. Usually it’s a bit of both.

Once everyone has had a chance to share, the meeting is closed with a reminder of AA’s principle of anonymity. The basket is passed and each person throws in a few coins, some gold.

We join hands, as the embodiment of strength in unity, and recite the serenity prayer.*

There are some announcements, including one about an upcoming camping weekend away. Coffee cups are washed, chairs are stacked. Hands are shaken, hugs given, laughs had. Phone numbers are exchanged. Some friends head off for another coffee.

The shadows have lengthened as the butane flames lick paper and tobacco.

I leave feeling better than before. More level. The right size. Just for today.

* ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.’ Personally, I prefer meetings that close with the secular Responsibility Pledge: ‘I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that, I am responsible.’