Memorable words from sponsors August 2, 2009Posted by Dave in AA speakers, advice, sponsors.
I couldn’t count the number of AA leads I have heard over the years, either by hearing them live at meetings or conferences or by listening to tapes. Sometimes the talk is less than inspiring, but in general speaker meetings have been a tremendous help to me. They have inspired me to work the program, helped me gain new insights, and made me laugh.
Many of the most memorable parts of leads have been conversations between the speakers and their sponsors. I have often heard these conversations as if I were speaking with my own sponsor and getting valuable advice or, as in the cases I’ll note below, clarifications.
Here are two examples I remember from speakers I heard early on in my recovery. I would love to hear your examples, so please post them.
Cliff R. made the mistake of repeatedly pointing out to his sponsor how “sensitive” he was, that this was the source of many of his conflicts, etc. The sponsor replied, “Cliff, you are not sensitive. You are an immature son of a bitch.” Cliff’s talks are hilarious, and this got a big laugh, but it made a real impact on me. I began to see my own tendency to try to euphemise my character defects, to give them an appealing label that lets me look upon them as assets. Terms like “people pleaser” started to seem a bit too gentle to me. The term “people pleaser” connotes genuine concern for others. I was really so desperate for you to like me that I was willing to lie to you or betray my own standards to make it happen.
Another great moment was when Jon A. shared his sponsor’s advice on the amends process: “The reason you feel so guilty is because you’re guilty.” It can sometimes be too easy to think that the only harm I did was to myself, and when I got sober there was a lot of “screw guilt” talk floating around self-help circles, as though feelings of guilt were always externally generated. The real problem with guilt, the thinking ran, was that it lowered your self-esteem. To be able to move forward with the program, I needed to accept that my behavior had actually been harmful and that I wasn’t the only person I had harmed.
I could go on and on with the examples, because there are so many. Perhaps one of the reasons why I have been able to get a lot out of listening to speakers is that sometimes it seems easier to take advice when it isn’t directed at me.
Opinions? July 6, 2009Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, newcomers.
Recently, I attended the Heart of the Ozarks (HOTO) convention, a great small annual convention in Springfield Missouri. I had a great time, and I was particularly impressed by one speaker, Bill C. from Torrance, CA. Bill gave a great and moving talk on Friday night and then a terrific workshop on sponsorship on Saturday afternoon. Bill had many, many interesting and moving stories, a great sense of humor, and, for me, some profound insights into alcoholism and recovery.
I would like, however, in this post, to concentrate on one tiny segment of Bill’s lead which may be a bit controversial. Describing his early sobriety, Bill said:
I got real lucky; I fell in with a group of people that were not afraid to give me their opinion. My sponsor told me one time, he said “My job is to guide you through the process of the twelve steps. I would be glad to sit here and talk to you about what you think your problems are, so that you will not share about them in the meetings. The meetings are for recovery from alcoholism, not about how your day went.” So I immediately reported to him that “down there at the Alano club, they’re breaking that rule right and left. Should we go tell them?” ….He said “AA is a safe place. You can go there and do whatever you want. I’m just telling you about my AA. This is my opinion.”
Don’t be afraid to give people your opinion. Don’t buy into this thing that we don’t state our opinions and we don’t give advice. If we didn’t give opinions and advice, we wouldn’t have a damn thing to say to each other… I needed some real practical help when I was new, I mean real practical help. Somebody needed to tell me.
There is, of course, another line of thought in AA which argues that we shold ONLY share our experience, not our opinions. At first, there seems to be an honesty and humility in this approach: “I am only telling you what happened to me, and you can then decide what you want to do for yourself.” This was the philosophy by which I was brought into AA, but the more I think of it, the less genuine it feels. I think there was often quite a lot of opinion giving going on subtly, or not so subtly, hidden behind the facade of “just sharing my experience.” Some, that argue this way, will quote the big book: “Our stories disclose what it used to be like, what happened, and what it is like now.” This is true, but does it mean that all we have is our stories? Are our stories the only things we should share? When someone is speaking from the podium, or in a meeting, or to a sponsee is there a problem with giving advice and sharing opinions?
Obviously, we shold be careful to qualify our opinions. It is a sad fact that too often AA members, without any training, give others medical advice. In my opinion, this is a real problem.
But what about other kinds of advice or opinions? What do you think? Can your experience with alcoholism and recovery be transformed into direct advice or opinion (especially directed at the newcomer)? Does this kind of rhetoric have a place in AA stories?
(BTW, this particular talk of Bill C’s can be purchased from Sooner Cassette. I am sure there are lots of other talks by Bill available from other locations.)
Favorite Story February 28, 2008Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, narratives, stories.
Do you have a favorite AA speaker (or specific lead)? Is he or she available on tape?
Personally, there is a little known old-timer named Eddie R. who blows me away. Eddie has a story about the story he heard at his first AA meeting and how he identified with it and consequently became a member of A.A. This story is not to be missed. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Eddie is (I believe) long gone, but he was one of the greats.
Preparation for Speaking February 28, 2008Posted by Bill G. in AA speakers, alcoholics anonymous, narratives, preparation, speaking, stories, taboo.
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This question is addressed to AA members who have given their leads at “speaker meetings.” How do you prepare? Has anyone ever given you any instruction about what you should talk about when you speak at a speaker meeting? What are you trying to accomplish at one of these meetings?