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During my years in recovery, I’ve visited AA, NA, SA, SAnon, SAA, SLAA, and AlAnon meetings. My first fellowship changed after a dozen years, and so now I am working a new program in a new fellowship. Every society — every meeting — is different. And, at the same time, every society and every meeting are the same.

For instance, every 12-step / 12-tradition meeting will have a liturgy that is somewhat familiar, and in every meeting, everyone introduces themselves. Though you may be anonymous, you cannot be unknown. 

In AlAnon, and other groups for the families and friends of addicts and alcoholics (For example: ACA, SAnon, NarAnon) attendees introduce themselves, rather than naming an addiction (of the person they love who struggles addiction).

After the liturgy and introductions typically the secretary of the meeting (a rotating position) will introduce a topic, that she or he has been thinking about, wrestling with, or found success through incorporating it into their life. Usually people “lead with their weakness,” or share their current struggles. After leading with their weakness, often they share part of their experience and give their reason for continuing to hope. When they finish, they open the meeting for sharing. Sometimes, they might call on people to either “share on the topic,” or “get current,” which means, sharing the things with which they are now wrestling — maybe they picked up, or used, or came close to doing so…

In most meetings, you will hear people that are ahead of you on the recovery journey. You will also hear stories of people that are strangely similar to you. And, finally, you will hear stories of people who are struggling to stay sober or get sober. Most “Old timers” will tell you that a good meeting needs all three. We need the hope of the people ahead of us. We need the fellowship of the people walking with us, and we need the reminder of the pain which radiates from the people behind us. For most of us, our addiction is, at the very least, a disease of forgetfulness.

In 12-step/12-tradition meetings, power is turned on its head. Anonymity means that there is neither Jew or Gentile, Slave nor free, nor male or female. Everyone meets at the point of their shared brokenness and need. Leadership, as understood by Western corporate power and authority systems is shunned. Old timers know that it is only through their service that they stay sober. Because of this, they are often found setting up and putting away chairs; making or cleaning up coffee, or sweeping the floor after a meeting.

Old timers do not  search out and take newcomers under their wing to “disciple them.” Instead, newcomers are encouraged to find someone who has, “what they want,” and ask them to be their sponsor. I want to say that sponsors aren’t, “authority figures.” However, some are. This is particularly the case in NA. It is easy to see why NA sponsors of newcomers are such hardasses. They need to be. As time goes on, and the newcomer gets clean time, the nature of the relationship to their sponsor changes and softens. All any sponsor has to pass on is, “What they have been given by those that went before them.” Additionally, they will tell you, that they only way they get to keep what they’ve been given, is to pass it on. These are some of the wonders of the upside-down recovery world:

  • “You only keep that which you give away.”
  • “You only find life by giving up.”
  • “You only have to change one thing — everything.”
  • “You only lead through serving.”
  • “The message every addict needs to remember is from the mouth of the newcomer. I can’t forget from whence I came.”

Much of this sounds eerily biblical. That is because recovery’s roots are found in a Christian movement called the Oxford Group. While the recovery world refuses to name a Higher Power, to allow everyone unfettered access to the 12 steps, it is rooted in the written word of God and structures created by missional Christ-followers. This inescapable fact makes many people in and out of the church and recovery very uncomfortable.

This is not to say that all recovery is “Christ-focused” Clearly it is not. But Kingdom truth is Kingdom truth whether it is uttered by Balaam’s ass or St Peter or Paul. The Spirit refuses to limit himself to particular vehicles to convey life and truth to his creation.

I fear that too often we limit God, and so we miss hearing what he has to say because he could not possibly use such an unclean vessel to speak to me. If you are struggling with addiction, and you hold the 10 commandsposition that God speaks primarily through His Written Word as understood through the lens of a particular hermeneutic; it might be, that the root of your struggle is that the god of your understanding is too limited and too small. You probably need to think some more about this. I had to discover that my God’s name was spelled with a capital “G” and that he was not nearly as limited as I feared him to be.

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