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Old 12-09-2012, 09:53 PM   #1 (permalink)
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How to foster honesty in your AA group?

Please help. I belong to an AA group where there is a lot of long-term sobriety, and it seems to me (although I have difficulty distinguishing the true from the false) that these is more emphasis placed on "sounding good" than on telling the truth. I have many times sat next to people who, after sharing, whispered to me "Did I sound OK?" I was present at a meeting where we were discussing turning to AA in times of need, and a young woman was asked if she always turned to AA and her answer was basically "yes, and as a result, since my first year I've been more or less OK". Everyone in that room knew that she only has a few years of sobriety, and she quit coming to AA at all for over a year, and the only reason she came back was because she started dating (and, a year later, married) a member of the group and no one said anything. Recently, a woman of almost three years of sobriety made amends to the group because she had been smoking pot every day and no one seemed to care; everyone just gave her kudos on being honest. This woman had taken others through the work, and always went on and on about how great her program was. . . and she still does, post-amend. I don't care about the pot-smoking, but I do care that someone's sitting there saying that they're doing great because they're working the program and the program works when they're stoned . . . it's harmful to the new person and to anyone sitting in the room that isn't doing so well. I had wondered many times when this person was sharing what the hell was wrong with me that I had more sobriety but wasn't so happy and fulfilled all the time. On Thursday night, a member of the group was found dead of a heroin overdose. He had almost 20 years of sobriety, and NO ONE would have suspected him of drug use. I feel that if he had been able to tell someone what he was up to, he wouldn't have had to die. I want to bring this to the group's attention, but I'm not sure how. Specifically, can anyone think of a proposal to bring to group conscious that addresses the issue of honesty? Thank you!
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Old 12-09-2012, 11:13 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Raising this as a “group issue” is likely to make people very defensive. You might get the best results by speaking very diplomatically, one on one, with specific individuals about specific concerns. My guess is that it will be difficult enough to find just the right words when speaking to any one of those individual members.
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Old 12-09-2012, 11:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I really appreciate the reply, and I agree with you, except I'm beyond caring about diplomacy or putting people on the defensive. My friend is DEAD. If there's anything I can do to prevent future tragedy, I need to do it, even if I become the most unpopular AA member in town.
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Old 12-09-2012, 11:55 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Then talk about his apparent dishonesty. People then may see it in themselves.
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Old 12-10-2012, 03:23 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I am not sure how having an "honesty cop" in the midst of their group is going to go over with the other members. I can only imagine that bringing it up will do nothing more than get people worked up and have you cast as a rabble rouser...which you say you don't care about...but do you really think it will do anything positive?

People are where they are. I know people who always talk about how they have done the steps but it's clear during shares that they haven't. Am I going to corner them and ask them to show me a copy of their 4th step? Call those they made amends to to confirm that amends were made? Check their car for drugs, porn mags or excessive amounts of candy bar wrappers to make sure they haven't switched addictions? I just don't see myself doing that.

Getting in people's faces just so that you can strip them of their dishonesty doesn't help anyone...including yourself. I guess my questions is why is it that this disturbs you so? Are you 100% honest all the time, in all things? I had issues with people in my homegroup, and once I put these disturbances on paper and went through them with my sponsor, these things went away. The members didn't change - I did.

I do understand your frustration, but it doesn't seem to bother these people...so why should it bother you? If you're worried about the newcomer, make sure you speak to them at the end of the meeting and talk about the big book and the program of action. Or change home groups.

I am sorry to hear about your friend. But a firm chat about honesty wouldn't have saved them from sticking that needle in their arm. Sad.
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Old 12-10-2012, 03:44 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Please help. I belong to an AA group where there is a lot of long-term sobriety, and it seems to me (although I have difficulty distinguishing the true from the false) that these is more emphasis placed on "sounding good" than on telling the truth. I have many times sat next to people who, after sharing, whispered to me "Did I sound OK?" I was present at a meeting where we were discussing turning to AA in times of need, and a young woman was asked if she always turned to AA and her answer was basically "yes, and as a result, since my first year I've been more or less OK". Everyone in that room knew that she only has a few years of sobriety, and she quit coming to AA at all for over a year, and the only reason she came back was because she started dating (and, a year later, married) a member of the group and no one said anything. Recently, a woman of almost three years of sobriety made amends to the group because she had been smoking pot every day and no one seemed to care; everyone just gave her kudos on being honest. This woman had taken others through the work, and always went on and on about how great her program was. . . and she still does, post-amend. I don't care about the pot-smoking, but I do care that someone's sitting there saying that they're doing great because they're working the program and the program works when they're stoned . . . it's harmful to the new person and to anyone sitting in the room that isn't doing so well. I had wondered many times when this person was sharing what the hell was wrong with me that I had more sobriety but wasn't so happy and fulfilled all the time. On Thursday night, a member of the group was found dead of a heroin overdose. He had almost 20 years of sobriety, and NO ONE would have suspected him of drug use. I feel that if he had been able to tell someone what he was up to, he wouldn't have had to die. I want to bring this to the group's attention, but I'm not sure how. Specifically, can anyone think of a proposal to bring to group conscious that addresses the issue of honesty? Thank you!
It's not a group issue, it's an issue between the the individual and their Higher Power. We can only carry the message.. That is that we must turn our lives over to our Higher Power via working The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It hurts and is tough to see someone die from the disease after a long term of abstinence. Honesty is only part of recovery. If I don't work and live The Twelve Steps, I will drink again.
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Old 12-10-2012, 03:51 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Why are you with this group? Why not go to another group?
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:08 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Role modelling is the best way. I just share honestly as I can on any given day. I notice that longtimers often respond authentically, and really are very reassuring to me. I certainly appreciate it, anyway.

I'm guessing that this group doesn't know one another much beyond the meetings. Another action step is to start fellowship activities outside the group. Start a coffee bunch. As trust builds, people get real.

What's very sad to me is when people settle for less than that.
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:15 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Thank you so much for the reply. I totally see your point but. . . to be clear, I'm not concerned about the people who don't (IMO) work the steps (i.e. someone who keyed your car and then says they've finished the 9th step but they haven't made you an amend. . . who cares?) or even the non-alkies (IMO we have one or two of those; slightly bothersome but whatever); it's the fact that someone can sound great Wednesday and end up dead Thursday that worries me.

This guy was almost 20 years sober and looked up to by a lot of people. I'm not convinced that a "chat about honesty wouldn't have stopped him". Maybe it could have. I feel like the group might have failed him; that he might not have felt comfortable opening up in an environment where it's so important to "sound good".

I can be very deluded about my motives sometimes, but I'm pretty sure that's why I'm bothered. (Which is very different from the 'I make all my amends, why don't these people have to make them' feeling which I've definitely had before as well. That you just 10-step and move on.) I absolutely *adored* this guy (and there are very few people whom I adore) and he had it all going on by outward appearances. . . I just feel like there's something I could have done, or that the group could have done, so that he didn't have to die.

It's most definitely not my place or my desire to take on the role of "honesty cop". . . but I can't help but wonder if my group's character is hurting people. If there's something I can do about that, I must do it.
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:34 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I think developing judgement and insight are part of the process of recovery. Learning to see beyond the presentation changes how you see meetings.

Personally, I think that it is the culture of only sharing experience, strength and hope that brings about the issue you are discussing. In my experience, when people try to share their trouble or be honest about the negative things in the life, the greeter and others tell them that they are living in the problem rather than the solution.

How to foster honesty? Praise it when you hear it. You know some folk are working against it, so it is up to individuals to support any honesty we hear. Our first instinct is to fight dishonesty. I think that is a losing game. Encouraging honest is slow but effective.
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:45 AM   #11 (permalink)
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I think developing judgement and insight are part of the process of recovery. Learning to see beyond the presentation changes how you see meetings.

Personally, I think that it is the culture of only sharing experience, strength and hope that brings about the issue you are discussing. In my experience, when people try to share their trouble or be honest about the negative things in the life, the greeter and others tell them that they are living in the problem rather than the solution.

How to foster honesty? Praise it when you hear it. You know some folk are working against it, so it is up to individuals to support any honesty we hear. Our first instinct is to fight dishonesty. I think that is a losing game. Encouraging honest is slow but effective.
You got it!!!! ". . . the culture of only sharing experience, strength and hope. . . " THANK YOU. There *must* be something I can add to the group conscious (I have never learned to spell that word) that addresses that. . .
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:51 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I think developing judgement and insight are part of the process of recovery. Learning to see beyond the presentation changes how you see meetings.

Personally, I think that it is the culture of only sharing experience, strength and hope that brings about the issue you are discussing. In my experience, when people try to share their trouble or be honest about the negative things in the life, the greeter and others tell them that they are living in the problem rather than the solution.

How to foster honesty? Praise it when you hear it. You know some folk are working against it, so it is up to individuals to support any honesty we hear. Our first instinct is to fight dishonesty. I think that is a losing game. Encouraging honest is slow but effective.
And believe me, I've been beating myself up and haven't been able to sleep all weekend for not being more intuitive about this guy. . . I had coffee with him a LOT and never suspected anything. . . but the truth is, NO ONE knew. His shares sounded truly genuine, with just enough self-deprication that everyone took him absolutely at his word. The woman who admitted to smoking pot every day during her almost 3 years of sobriety. . . I was her sponsor and she lived with me for a while (and smoked pot in my house) and again, NO ONE had any idea. I don't think even the most intuitive person in the world would have known that these people were lying.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:00 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I just feel like there's something I could have done, or that the group could have done, so that he didn't have to die.
I hear where you are coming from, sixyearsober. I can see from your last post that this is coming from hurt in losing this dear friend, not an attempt to be an honesty cop.

I sometimes think about this misguided idea that those with long term sobriety just don't get down, or don't have problems and are held up to higher standard than those with much less time. I know I fell for that early on in my sobriety, as I rarely heard an old timer discuss anything going on with them....mixed with my own wrong image of what an oldtimer is supposed to be "like". I say this because I wonder if your friend felt that he had to live up to a status that no one can? We don't know, he can't tell us. But who knows -even if the culture of the group was of pure honesty - would that have helped? Perhaps he wasn't even honest to his own sponsor? Who knows.

miamifella said it well - something to foster. It can start with the newcomers too - encourage them to be honest from the start, show by example, etc.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:08 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Don't beat yourself up. I think there are a lot of hidden things that individuals will never know.

The best we can have is a healthy suspicion. In meetings we only hear people's words. We do not actually see their actions so you have to take it all with a grain of salt. Knowing what people say is different from knowing who they are.

On the other hand, I also think it is harder to see those people close to us. Having a sponsee live with you probably made the deceit easier. (That is perhaps why a distance between sponsor and sponsee is encouraged.)

Why are you in this group?
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:16 AM   #15 (permalink)
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I say this because I wonder if your friend felt that he had to live up to a status that no one can?
Thank you so, so, so much (even if you made me cry all over again). He did, I'm sure he did, and it's just so unbelievably sad. I would have loved him just as much, and respected him just as much, if he had just told me. Can I do something to let people know they don't have to live up to any standard whatsoever? That a standard is not only baloney, it can be deeply harmful? Can the group?

I really appreciate the posts. Thank you. A meaningless and entirely preventable death is so horrible, especially when the person was amazing. As he was. If only you could have talked to him for 5 minutes. . . I know you would have agreed. Thank you again.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:25 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Why are you in this group?
I was 12-stepped into it, and it's a strong, step-working group (we do the steps yearly) and I haven't left yet (although I've been sorely tempted over issues that unlike this one, were extremely petty). I'm superstitious about changing groups. I know some people who keep switching groups and they're the angriest people I know. If I were to leave a group, it would have to be because I disagreed with something in the group conscious (again, can't spell that word) and had tried to change it but failed. . . i.e. the group's philosophy prevented me from being 'to mine own self be true'. This group saved my life and I have a responsibility to the group and the people in it. Leaving without saying why (or without having a good reason why) won't help anyone.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:31 AM   #17 (permalink)
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"There *must* be something I can add to the group conscious (I have never learned to spell that word) that addresses that. . . "

check yer motives. to me it sounds like playing God and trying to run the show.

it doesnt matter what the GC says. poeple will continue to die from alcoholism and addiction. that is a fact.
i dont give a crap what any GC says. i carry the message with depth and weight. this is a life and death matter.
baby em and bury em.
work on how you try to carry the meassage.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:35 AM   #18 (permalink)
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I really don't know how to respond, SixYears. It seems very unfortunate that this is happening, and I agree, no one should feel so uncomfortable in their group that they cannot be honest about what's going on and die (sorry for your loss ) in the process.

Bring it up to the group. That's what I would do. It seems you might be worried about how YOU look by testing the waters here first to see what the response might be. Sure, it won't be easy, and you might not *look* superb (pride, ego) but it's the right thing to do.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:38 AM   #19 (permalink)
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check yer motives. to me it sounds like playing God and trying to run the show.
"Playing God and trying to run the show" = harmful to yourself and perhaps others.
"To thine own self be true" = your responsibility as a member of AA, even if it makes you unpopular- which I, personally, deeply dislike being.

I feel clear that my motives lie with the latter philosophy. But, as I've said before, I can be so deluded sometimes it shocks even me. So thanks for the reality check.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:38 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Why not just go to other groups meeting in addition to this one? If you see how other groups conduct themselves you will have a greater understanding of what is unique about this one.

Most people in 12-step fellowships attend meetings of more than one group. In rehab this is encouraged.

Decisions made by the group conscious are one thing, but the habits and culture of the group is something else and maybe more important to recovery. A group conscience cannot decide to be more honest, more kind, more confrontational, more toxic, more healthy or anything. That stuff happens through history and chemistry, not by a vote at a business meeting.

Seeing how other groups work will show you more clearly what is good and bad in how this group works.
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