Dr. Al is Looking For Input on AA, NA and Other Mutual Support Groups

~ by Dr. Al Mooney ~

Our work on The Recovery Book revision is developing steam. I can't wait to share more about the specifics of our new Zone System -- we hope it will help people to better understand the whole process of recovery by using color zones of red, yellow, and green.

In the meantime, I'd like to get some input from the recovery community on a section of the book we're now updating: Chapter 6 - Getting To Know Alcoholics Anonymous (first edition), which orients a newcomer to AA and 12-step culture.

In that chapter we try to give people some essential information that can be critical in making a quick and informed connection to AA, NA, and other mutual support fellowships. I'd love to hear your ideas on how we can improve that chapter. Are we missing anything? What sections might be improved? Are there other ways to make it easier for people to join AA or other groups? Please take a look at Chapter 6 in your copy and let us know what you think. Or, if you don't have the first edition of the book, let us know your general thoughts on the best ways to connect with mutual support groups.

You can post your thoughts in the comments below, or send them to us at therecoverybook@gmail.com. Thank you for your help and insights!

Al Mooney, MD

4 Responses to Dr. Al is Looking For Input on AA, NA and Other Mutual Support Groups

  1. Lynn at #

    In addition to agreeing with Tamara’s statements, I try to help people see why they would possibly want to go through the discomfort of opening themselves up to a room full of strangers over and over— it’s not always normal, when you’ve been hiding things so long.

    One reason to attend meetings is for down or weak moments. After talking with them a while I try to show them patterns of relapse that happen when feeling tired, angry, lonely, etc…. Besides the healing of the steps, going to meetings gives a person an immediate social outlet. I try to get them to see connecting with people, gathering peoples names and phone numbers are like developing strings in a net– a net that will be there to catch us on the week moments, which may happen a day, week, month or year away.

    Another reason to attend meetings is for repair. Addiction destroys every aspect of our life over time– spiritual (values), emotions, mind and learning and eventually our physical body. Being social, sharing and learning, reaching out to others in need, working the steps all are a process to begin healing these different areas.

    If a person can catch a glimpse of these things and gain some hope and purpose for attending, I have better luck with first attendance as well as sticking around long enough to get comfortable.

    Best wishes on the book,

  2. Dr. Al, I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (TX and CO) in private practice. Earlier in my career, I did considerable work with clients who were primarily in the early stages of recovery i.e. denial. Getting them into support groups – primarily AA and NA – was very difficult to do without a court order requiring attendance.

    In preparing those individuals to attend their first meetings, I typically talk about how different 12-step groups have different norms and different cultures so there’s a need to “find the right group. The analogy I use is like trying to find the right church or the right poker game i.e. some are stiffer and more formal, some you can stand outside and smoke, others you need to leave the cigarettes at home, etc. In having this conversation, I encourage clients to attend the same group at least 3 times (while completing the assignment below) before deciding it’s not for them.

    I often prep them for their first visit by telling them that they will “hear a lot of stories that seem different than their own” and that their “task is to ignore the parts that are different and focus and actually list ONLY the things that were actually similar to their own stories.” For a guy still in denial, that might initially be that the speaker was a blue collar guy just like my client who also happened to have a wife who “nagged” about his drinking, etc. But, I’m “training” them to notice the similarities rather than the differences.

    The other thing that is often a stumbling block for some of my clients is the references to a Higher Power / God / or whatever. I try to mitigate this objection by heading it off with conversations about the “many things” that are “bigger than us” or “affect our lives beyond our control” . . . some people call those things “God;” other folks call those things “Mother Earth” or “nature” or something else. Just helping my clients identify their language for those things that are “more powerful” than helps position them to be more open to (and less opposed to) references to a Higher Power.

    Al, I’m looking forward to seeing your new edition of the book! There is a huge need.

  3. Al Mooney MD at #

    Chip, thanks for your input. We haven’t talked lately, but i am moved by how the AA program works even on the other side of the world.

    I remember when my folks were new in the program. Everybody came to our house or CD’s or Ralph’s to gather to talk and fellowship on the way the trip to the meeting which was usually out of town. I frequently talk about how it seems different now. But I do think there seems to be more emphasis on the Big Book now.

    Thanks for mentioning fellowship and sponsorship.

    Al Mooney MD

  4. Anonymous at #

    I was asked to speak at the International AA Convention in Moscow, Russia that was also the 20th Anniversary on AA in Russia (Aug 27 1987). My own sobriety started on Aug 28, 1987 so I got sober the day after AA came to the Russian people. I had been working there for over a year at that point and had many question as to why recovery was so in taking root in a county so affected by the disease of alcoholism. While at the convention I saw something that I believe today is only one clue as to the reason for such slow progress. Like at many other AA functions, we had a sobriety countdown. They started at 45 years and a man from Finland stood up. As they got lower in numbers, people from around Western Europe stood. Then we got to 20 years and I stood. I looked around and no one else was standing. I looked to the section of the arena where the Russian AA’s were sitting and no one moved. 19 years and no one moved. 18, 17 and still no one stood among the Russians. Then at 16 years, one of my friends, a Russian, stood up. We went on with the count and more and more locals stood until we got to one day, It was a very moving moment as the man from Finland with 45 years sobriety gave a Big Book the young Russian woman with one day sobriety.
    For weeks I thought about what I had witnessed in Moscow. I kept wondering “Why did no Russians stand up until 16 years was called?” Why, if AA had been in Russia for 20 years, why were they not sober that long? I understand relapse very well, both its many causes and its preventions. But I thought there should have been someone with at least 19 years of 18 or 17. Why did it take so long? And then it came to me. They had a Big Book and a 12 and 12. They even had meetings run by AA members from the US for about a week. But then everyone that was in the group of AA’s from the States that had brought recovery to this darkness, they all went home. NO FELLOSHIP was one big problem.
    If I had been handed a Big Book and then shown how to run a meeting and then left on my own to stay sober, I would be drunk today. The Russians had no Fellowship and, more important, no Sponsorship. I needed someone with stable sobriety to show me how to apply the program to my daily life. I needed someone to listen to my status, relate their life to mine and help me understand the program. The connection of one alcoholic to another was made real by that Convention. Fellowship and Sponsorship are vital to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
    A few years ago I was lecturing in Ukraine to a large crowd of non-AA’s. The town, Donetsk, has a population of about 1.5 million but no AA. I had with me my personal copy of the Big Book that was given to me when I left WillingWay. I spoke the crowd about the program and many people wanted to know how to get AA literature written in Russian or Ukrainian. I made a phone call to the AA intergroup office in the capital, Kiev. They in turn gave me the number an AA member in a town a little closer to where I was. After speaking with the man through my Russian staff I learned that he did not have any copies other than his own. But what happened next is what is so remarkable about the AA Fellowship. The next morning this man along with one other AA member drove over 2 hours to my location. I was very grateful but not sure why they did this. They were not able to bring any AA literature so I was at a loss as to why they would drive all that way. Then the first man said to me that he understood I was an AA member and that I had been in his country for 10 days and that he thought that I may need a meeting. He and his friend drove 2 hours to bring me, an unknown member of the Fellowship, a much needed meeting. That is service. Both men are close friends now as I live in a small Ukrainian town not far from them. The bonds of the AA Fellowship are very strong. I have made connections just like this all over the Former Soviet Union. Once the program has taken hold in our lives, the connections are personal even with what would otherwise be considered a stranger

    Chip T.
    Melitopol, Ukraine