Note: There is a shorter version of this article here.

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"Full-Strength" Recovery

Maybe it’s just me, but lately it seems like the message of AA is getting watered down in some of the Zoom meetings I’m attending. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for Zoom. It allows me to stay connected with the Fellowship. But I like my recovery the same way I liked my booze: straight up and strong, 100-proof or better.

So, just what do I mean by “watered down?” By what? In a word: Ego… Easing God Out.

Despite a full year of Zoom experience, some AA meetings are still a little like the Wild West: anything goes, without a lot of structure or guidance.

Have you noticed that many drunks dislike silence? It makes us nervous. So, in the 10-15 minutes leading up to the meeting, we just start talking – offering expert opinions on just about anything, on any topic.

I mostly go to men’s meetings and we roosters do like to strut! Before Zoom, if you didn’t care for the conversation you were in, you could leave that circle and join another. But with Zoom, we’re all trapped in an episode of Hollywood Squares, forced to listen to the guy who thinks he’s another Paul Linde.

eatingLike other Zoom meetings, AA meetings are not exempt from the various problems of Zoom “intimacy” when people sit in the comfort of their own homes and forget that everyone is still watching. With Zoom, we can and do show up in various states of undress, share unfortunate close-ups of chowing down food, and my personal favorite, multi-tasking: taking part in an AA meeting while also working out, riding a motorcycle or even taking a shower!

The relaxed Zoom atmosphere also brings out a lot of cross-talk and commentary – out loud and using the Chat feature. No one would stand up and make these wise-guy comments in a live meeting but on Zoom, “we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness!”

Unfortunately, all of this can be distracting and can dilute AA’s message of care and concern for the alcoholic still suffering -- or anyone just showing up to AA for the first time, looking for relief from their personal pain.

Like any alcoholic, I love to tell “stories that I star in,” as my friend puts it. So, if the topic is simply “alcoholism,” I can wax poetic about all the jams I got into before hitting bottom in desperation and then finding AA.

Apparently, I’m not alone: a lot of “topic discussion” meetings these days seem to be kicked off by “drunkalogues” where the real topic is “listen to all the crazy stuff I did while I was drinking.”

Unfortunately, just because it happened to me doesn’t make it interesting. What’s more, most meetings tend to be “monkey see, monkey do” so when leaders talk only about their drinking, everyone up next talks on that topic, too – and even tries to out-do each other.

Well, I’m a real alcoholic, so I do understand the problems caused by my drinking. But you said alcohol was only a symptom of my disease. So, when do we get down to “causes and conditions?” as the Big Book puts it. What’s the solution and how do you live there?

Lately, I’ve been working with a sponsee on Steps 6 and 7, so we’ve been talking a lot about Character Defects and how to practice their opposite, Spiritual Principles.

When I was drinking, “most of my problems were of my own making,” and in pain and desperation, I turned to the pain-killer that always worked – alcohol – until it suddenly didn’t. Sober for today, I still create my own problems and I still feel pain, so where can I find relief today -- without drinking?

Whenever I’m in fear, I usually become self-conscious and self-centered and I start practicing my Character Defects, becoming angry, controlling, critical, demanding and so on.

What I heard in my AA meetings early on was that I could pray for these to be removed and instead, start practicing Spiritual Principles (the opposite of Character Defects) in all of my affairs, becoming calm, empowering, encouraging, accepting and so on.

I am always practicing one or the other, Defects or Principles, depending on whether I am Self-Conscious or God-Conscious.

I was also told that when I worked each of the 12 Steps with a sponsor, I would get to experience a Spiritual Principle, in practice: Step 1 taught me Honesty; Step 2 taught me Hope; Step 3, Faith and so on. And it turns out these are the opposite of my usual character defects of Dishonesty, Discouragement, and Disbelief.

By “practicing these principles in all my affairs,” (with the help of a Higher Power), I can get relief from my personal pain and instead, “become happily and usefully whole.”

fist bumpSo, what does this have to do with AA meetings? Early in my sobriety, in addition to the usual “speaker meetings,” I also attended smaller “topic discussion” meetings. The “topics” I heard discussed were exactly these “Character Defects” (my problems) and “Spiritual Principles” (my solutions). I got to hear what “acceptance” and “willingness” and "patience" looked like by hearing real-life examples from recovering men and women with long-term sobriety.

In fact, at my first home group (“Just for Today” group in St. Petersburg, Florida), the leader would always ask, “Is anyone having a problem staying sober today?” When someone, perhaps a newcomer would bring up their problem -- for example, “I got caught in a lie and my girlfriend broke up with me” -- the leader would turn that into a topic for discussion; for instance, “Sounds like we need to talk about Honesty today” or “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

That’s what helped me get sober and also to step up my game so that in case I was called on to share, I could think of examples in my own life where I, too, was learning to “practice these principles in all my affairs.” However, I worry sometimes that newcomers are not getting to hear the benefit of these lessons that were so freely given to me.

That’s why I hope to hear more topics like these discussed at my AA meetings, both on Zoom and soon, I hope, in person. In know there is a Spiritual Principle for every Character Defect I can come up with – so we’re not likely to run out of topics any time soon!

AA is filled with so many colorful personalities – “people who would not usually mix,” as it says in our Book. But as Tradition 12 points out, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of our traditions” – that is, my story is not important because it happened to me… it’s important because it proves that anyone can get sober, even someone like me, if they can simply learn to practice Spiritual Principles.

And that’s why I need to be “ever reminded to place principles before personalities.” For me, recovery from alcoholism doesn’t come any stronger than that!


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