In my years of going to AA meetings I have heard countless stories about how the old-timers would treat the newcomers at meetings. Some people were of the belief that you should take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. Many people believe the newcomer should come into a meeting and not say anything and listen to the old-timers. I have heard many a story about the old-timers telling newcomers not to say shit for a year at meeting level. Their justification is that you don’t have anything good to add so don’t say anything.
I can for all intents and purposes even though I am in my mid forties consider myself an old-timer because of my sober time as well as the sheer volume of meetings that I have attended. I have a much different policy about who should speak at a meeting. I think that telling the newcomers not to share at a meeting is having a buffet mentality. When you go to a buffet all you want is the really good food. If you see something that is not good or tasty you don’t value it, you discard it. Some people think an AA meeting is their own personal buffet. They think that the entire purpose of the meeting is for them to hear good things, positive experiences, the strength and the hope. They don’t want to see the struggle, they aren’t willing to see the mess just the message. Well, I disagree AA is not a buffet. It is not just for the old-timer to satisfy himself and tell everybody how it is working for him. If the old-timer hears a new person struggling who has no solution who has no program who is just raw and angry and full of negativity he may not like it but if his program is working he will have the strength to endure it if anybody is capable of hearing the struggles of the newcomer it should be the old-timer. If anybody is capable of holding his thoughts to himself and giving way to the newcomer so they can get things off of their chest it should be the old-timer. How good is your program really, if you can’t step back and let others speak?
Personally, if there are ten people in an AA meeting and say 5 are newcomers and 5 are old-timers I would rather hear the newcomers speak first before giving the old-timers a crack at it. Why? Because they are the ones most likely who NEED to speak the most. When you are new and grappling with your new found sobriety you have so much going on you are so caught up in the drama of your own lives that you don’t know how yet to care about others, to want to listen to the problems of others. When you have sober time, you want other people to take center stage, you want others to be helped. You have already recieved the help you needed you are eager for others to get the attention you need. When an old-timer is at a meeting his job is to be two ears and a nodding head to the person who needs somebody to listen to him. That is his primary job. Second, he needs to show that the program works. He needs to stay sober and consistently come to meetings to be an example of long-term sobriety. Third he needs to be an example through his behavior. If you show up at meetings consistently, you listen to others before you speak, you show that your life is mellow that you have a calmness about you that doesn’t put you in a position to feel like you have to spill your guts about your problems all the time then you are showing that the program works. If you are inconsiderate of others, you put yourself first, you speak for twenty minutes straight to close the meeting when there are 10 others who have yet to speak you are setting an example of selfishness. Your job is to show people that the principle behind sobriety is the principle of humility. Sometimes when I get a desire to share I ask myself what makes me think people want to hear what I have to say? If what I have to offer is valuable I share, if it is self-serving bullshit that doesn’t benefit anybody I can keep it in. The way we stay sober is by not micro managing our own needs. If we are lonely we are angry we are hungry whatever it may be if we always have this instinct to manage it right away and have no ability to just hang back and let things be for a minute then damn it our instinct will be to grab that bottle and get immediate relief from our feelings. We have to learn a little discipline. We have to learn that our needs don’t have to always be taken care of right away. That is the example the old-timer needs to set.