Subjects Every A.A. or Other 12-Step Newcomer Should Learn from the Start
By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved
Catching the Newcomer as He Enters the Rooms, No Matter How He Enters
There are many ways a newcomer enters or might enter recovery in a 12-Step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It could be in a jail or prison. Or by referral from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, clergyman, family member, friend, counselor, therapist, interventionist, detox, treatment program, hospital, judge, probation officer, sober living house, rescue mission, Salvation Army program, or other way. Any one of these ports of entry can and should concern itself with informing the newcomer from the start instead of condoning “relationships,” ignoring self-centered whining, encouraging mere attendance at meetings, fostering uninformed listening, providing a forum for opinionated talkers, settling for mere court card-signing, and handing down “authoritative” statements.
Short-changing the Newcomer
In many ways today, a newcomer’s first contact, first sponsor, first counselor, first group, first meeting, first conference, etc., often simply doesn’t have a “to do” list. Therefore, the newcomer usually gets short-changed by hearing rumors and guesses and opinions from 12-Step members and other people sharing in the rooms of the various 12-Step programs such as A.A. He also doesn’t usually have experienced or studied people to guide him. In early A.A.—particularly as seen in A.A.’s first group, “Akron Number One”—newcomers were taught, in large part, by highly educated non-alcoholic people who could organize and conduct a meeting, and who could teach—from the Bible, about prayer, about Quiet Time, about literature, and about surrenders. Today, the newcomer should attend an informative and instructive Beginner’s Meeting or Orientation Meeting that will launch him on the path to recovery by knowing his fellowship.
Some Real Newcomer Needs Today
Newcomers today need mentors or sponsors who are well-prepared before they instruct. In addition, the newcomer needs an orientation meeting; and a beginner’s meeting (whether in treatment, in a series of meetings, from a counselor, from an intervention, or even from speakers). Far too often, an ill-prepared, though well-intentioned guide or sponsor doesn’t explain important points such as:
1. Why and for what reason (if any) “meetings” have assumed such importance in today’s recovery scene and how they contrast with the simplicity of “old school” A.A.;
2. What to look for in the meetings—hearing from those who talk about or teach; e.g.:
a. The 12 Steps;
b. The Big Book;
c. Conference-approved literature; and
3. Why so little organization exists in meeting content versus what could be accomplished;
4. Why he should learn key points about A.A. history; e.g.:
a. How the first three AAs (cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and A.A. #3 Bill D.) got sober;
b. What the original Akron A.A. Group Number One—a Christian Fellowship program–did;
c. What the supposed “Six Steps” story is all about and how the content is unsettled and of little improtance;
d. What the “Four Absolutes” are; and how used as “yardsticks” and in inventories;
e. What A.A.’s cofounders brought to the table from their younger days and upbringing;
f. Why the Big Book has personal stories—the importance of restoring them;
g. What the stories can teach;
h. Where the 12 Steps came from—the 3 identified sources and other influences;
i. The importance of the first (1939) edition of the Big Book; and the value and economy in using Alcoholics Anonymous The Original 1939 Edition, With a 23-Page Introduction by Dick B., published by Dover Publications, Inc.
j. Who provided what to the A.A. program and at what time;
k. Where the Bible, the Oxford Group, Quiet Time, a vital religious experience, Dr. William Silkworth, Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, Dr. Carl Jung, Professor William James, surrender, and conversion fit in the picture;
l. The significance of the Four Absolutes;
m. The relevance, if any, of prayer and meditation, “powerless,” “higher power,” self-made religion, half-baked prayers, nonsense gods, and changes in the Steps and Big Book in 1939;
5. Whether “an informed group conscience,” a “loving God as He may express Himself in a Group conscience,” and so-called “spirituality” do or do not make up a useful element of recovery;
6. What is the meaning and purpose of such expressions as “spiritual, but not religious”;
7. What forms of behavior have no place in recovery meetings—things like outbursts, criticisms, intolerance, vulgarity, intimidation, and “governance”; and
8. Where all the foregoing suggestions do or do not produce a rewarding result for the newcomer.
The Temptation Problems
Today’s recovery mentors or sponsors need to be aware that temptation is a major trap. And that it is well explained in the first chapter of the Book of James, which was a favorite of early AAs. Expressions like “Don’t go to slippery places or hang out with slippery people” are related to the “old ideas” AAs often don’t like to give up. But there are endless temptations, based on the offers of liquor, the presence of dealers, pressure from friends and peers, parties, sports events, spontaneous urges, and the little-understood “too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.” My own experience with these last four is that loneliness, isolation, fear, and invitations to join are directly related to isolation and temptation, and warrant caution.
Sponsorship and Working With Others
Then, someone needs to teach the newcomer what he should look for in, and receive from, a sponsor. And to provide an introduction to what a sponsor should do with the newcomer—to prepare the newcomer for effectively helping others. The absolute necessity for helping others, and working with others, and starting sponsorship as soon as possible.
The Importance of Communicating and Avoiding Isolation
Someone needs to be teaching the newcomer the importance of communication—phone calls, “the meeting after the meeting,” “coming early and leaving late,” exchanging names and numbers, giving rides and riding with others, and reaching out to others in meetings.
The Frequent Mention of God (Creator) in Today’s Conference-approved Literature
And someone needs to be informing the newcomer of the place “God” occupies in the Big Book, where that word occurs 235 times in pages 1-164 of the current (fourth—2001) edition.
The Growing Trend or Risk in Ignoring God and Talking About “Nonsense gods”
Someone needs to be teaching newcomers that there is a big difference between: (1) the recent emphasis in some quarters of the recovery scene which assert that it is acceptable to believe in “nothing at all” as “the Solution” to becoming and staying clean and sober; and (2) the highly-successful, early Akron A.A. program which stressed dependence upon, reliance upon, and prayer to the Creator as “the Solution” (See page 25 of the 4th edition of Alcoholics Anonymous) to the problem of how to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction. The first emphasis just mentioned—relying on “Somebody,” a light bulb, or “nothing at all” is being seen more and more often in modern recovery writings and secular 12 Step trends. The second emphasis—for which Alcoholics Anonymous claims a 75% success rate among “seemingly-hopeless,” “medically-incurable, “last-gasp-case,” “real” alcoholics in the current edition of the Big Book—is seen with frequency in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature such as:
1. Alcoholics Anonymous [“the Big Book”—particularly in the “Personal Stories” section of the original (1939) edition];
2. The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet (Item # P-53);
3. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age;
4. DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; and
5. ‘Pass It On.’
What God Can Do For Us If We Seek Him
The newcomer misses the real spiritual elements of early A.A. when he doesn’t learn, and isn’t armed with facts about, how God’s forgiveness, guidance, love, power, healing, and help played a major role in helping the early A.A. pioneers—who set the standard for success in recovery—which is to get well, stay well, and seek a life of prosperity and health, relying on God.
The Basic Ideas for A.A. and the Steps Came From the Efforts, Studies, and Teachings From the Bible
Informed mentors or sponsors need to share with newcomers why early AAs placed particular emphasis on studying the Bible itself—in particular, the Book of James, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), and 1 Corinthians 13–as stated on page 13 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks. The Book of James was the favorite among early AAs. Both A.A. cofounders Bill and Dr. Bob stated that Jesus’s Sermon on the Mountain contained the spiritual philosophy of A.A. And Dr. Bob strongly emphasized reading Henry Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World—a study of 1 Corinthians 13.
All of this with great success before there were any Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, Big Books, war stories, or meetings like those we know today.
Showing the Newcomer the Traps to Avoid and the Privileges He or She Have
Today’s mentors or sponsors need to inform newcomers that no one can learn too much about such points as:
1. The fact that no 12 Step program has any bosses, governors, presidents, rule-makers, sanctions, punishments, or evictions;
2. Why leaders are, at most, called servants
3. The fact that any individual or group or meeting has the freedom to read what they wish, believe what they wish, say what they wish, and use whatever literature will be helpful for recovery so long as:
a. A distinction is made between A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature, and all other literature (like that which early AAs have long read freely); and
b. Objections or disputes are resolved by informed group consciences (after a loving God is called upon to express Himself), and are measured by what A.A. has long done and approved.
c. See Dick B. and Ken B., “Stick with the Winners!”
Laughing and Fun Go With the Territory
Someone needs to instruct today’s newcomers as to why the expression “We are not a glum lot” is important to recovery; and why laughter, smiles, humor, recreation, sports, movies, plays, music, camping, hiking, rafting, and other pleasant group and individual pursuits are vital.
A Solid Understanding of What Meetings are For and Can Do
Newcomers need to be taught that their mentor or sponsor will send them to, and will attend with them, quality talks, meetings, and conferences. They need to be introduced to winners. They need speaker meetings where the foregoing concepts are presented. They need Big Book studies which are conducted by informed teachers, rather than being based on audience reflections. They need to study Steps for which guides are provided. They need to learn:
1. The elements and Big Book suggestions involved in taking each Step;
2. The Solution as defined on page 25 of the Big Book;
3. How to sort out the mixture of “religious experience, spiritual experience, spiritual awakening, God-consciousness, and ‘awareness.’” With respect to these, the newcomer needs explanations of the Big Book, Steps, and A.A. history; and only the content of a successful “experience” should be framed and passed along. See Dick B. and Ken B., Pioneer Stories in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The topics suggested in this article may sound like a big order for today’s mentors and sponsors. Meetings abound with welcomes for the newcomer, with statements that he is the most important person in the room, and with a stated primary purpose of helping the person who still suffers. All true. Alcoholism and most addictions are life-and-death matters. But purposeless and diversionary dating and “relationship” pursuits and problems, war stories, drunkalogs, pointless discussion meetings, and ill-prepared Big Book, Step, literature, Beginner, Bible, and speaker meetings, and literature, do not make for success.
Getting the “Message” Straight
Let’s be mentors or sponsors who are actually carrying an accurate, effective message to those who still suffer. Bill’s “sponsor” Ebby Thacher was the first person to carry the message that God can and will do for you what you could not do for yourself.
Holding Orientation, Indoctrination, Information Beginners Talks or Meetings
Many a newcomer walks in the rooms of A.A. and learns little or nothing about the program, its origins, its history, and the path the newcomer should follow for recovery. The foregoing are points to make clear to him.