Sunday, September 5, 2010

Twelve Step As A Different Culture.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a woman I respect; we were discussing the way new friends who are not in a Twelve-step program, can find those of us who are, disconcerting. People who have seriously worked their program for a long time are different - we don't play the usual conversational games, we are much more upfront about our own faults, (that in itself can be decidedly unsettling) we don't gossip or criticise - my friend said, in a tone of dawning realisation, that Twelve Step almost sounds like a different culture.

I loved that. I think there's a great deal of wisdom in that remark.
When I look back upon difficulties I've had, communicating with new friends who aren't in a recovery program, and the problems which arose, that lens of "different culture" makes it all make sense.

I'll never forget a meeting I attended, during a trip to the city centre south of here, about 15 years ago.  A man spoke of coming to the meeting for the first time, listening in a bit of a daze, then going up to someone after the meeting, and using his usual conversational gambit, starting to gossip about a person at the meeting, whom he recognised from work.  He was gently stopped mid-sentence by his listener, who lovingly reminded him that we don't gossip or criticise one another.

He made us all howl with laughter when he recounted standing there wondering what kind of "goody-two shoes these idiots were?" He'd grown up in a family where slicing and dicing was the way you survived - the most vicious won. He'd married into another family with this culture, and all of his friends were this way.

He spoke movingly of how strange it was for him, to be in meetings, learning that pretty much all of his behavior was unacceptable, and yet to feel loved, even so. To feel that the same people who were stopping him as he began to criticise a third person, were greeting him with genuine joy in their faces when he walked into a meeting.

Al-Anon meetings can feel like a foreign country to newcomers; I pray to "Let it begin with me," so that I may be a warm welcome to those who may be exhausted from their travels, suffering the recovery equivalent of jet-lag, and for whom a smiling face, a
chair pushed back to widen the circle, and a silly joking comment to bring laughter and a little bit of comfort, feels like a warm bath of love.

We all need it, we all crave it. Let me be a person who also gives it.


  1. Yes, this is 12 Step at its best.

    This is part of why I've come to think of 12 Step as taking the place in my life that some consider religion/ church/ temple to take in theirs.

    I've grown up with this and find it disconcerting, out in the "real world," to attempt to function in places where the spiritual principles like those found in the 12 Steps, Traditions, and slogans are disregarded or scoffed at.

    And now, exploring more of the (not sexually oriented) outside world, I find that 12-Step-like places are those to which I am most drawn... where radical inclusiveness, avoidance of controversy, and supportive of personal accountability & growth prevail.

    12 Steps' discouragement of proselytizing and presence of emphasis on what is practical are both greatly appreciated, as well.

  2. So true. It is sometimes hard to have close friends outside of the program. Life is just different now and I am different.