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What to Do About Bad Meetings? They Can Be Useful, Too.

I’ve got a friend who is one of the more obnoxious AA’s I know. He is a miserable person and he has a big problem with positive people. You can imagine how he and I get along.

But you’d be wrong.

As long as we don’t get too deep, we do quite well.  The trick is keeping our loose friendship shallow.  We don’t want to try to save the world together, but we regularly show up to help each other out.

Where this gets important is what he teaches me.  Most will take someone they don’t see eye to eye with and keep them at arm’s length where they can’t do any damage.  If I treated my friend that way, I’d have been deprived of an excellent lesson in life.  He teaches me what not to do. He shows me what life could be like if I constantly look outside me for understanding and contentment.  And, to be honest, I hope a little of my happiness rubs off on him.

More than a dozen years ago, I attended a meeting with a dear friend of Mrs. Bgddy’s family.  He is recovering and has a lot more time that I do.  A LOT.  So he took me to a meeting one day, I can’t remember the why and how of it, down in Ann Arbor.  The meeting was comical.  We had a guy show up with his scrubs on, his hospital badges on, and a stethoscope around his neck.  I’m pretty sure he wanted everyone to know he worked at the local hospital.  I could understand the scrubs, but the badges and stethoscope?  Too much.  We had another few people newer to the program show up as well.  He and I could have been the only two with decent time.  The meeting was a shit-show and afterward, as we were walking out, he said, “Wasn’t that a shitty meeting!?  Did you see that ridiculous guy with the stethoscope around his neck?”  I was taken aback… I’d been recently lectured on finding the positive in every meeting, no matter what (by more than a few from my home group).  And here’s this old-timer exclaiming that a meeting was indeed shitty?

Folks, it was a shitty meeting.  And I never went back.  Some shit you just don’t have to sit through a second time… and I didn’t miss it, either.  It’s good to branch out and explore new meetings, but I don’t have to be a glutton for punishment, either.

When I was much newer in recovery, maybe a year in, I was invited to a “Men’s Dignitary” meeting.  My sponsor asked if I really wanted to go.  He said it was an interesting meeting and it might be good for me.  I went to eight of them, and with each one I tried to find the good in the meeting.  I tried to find the good in a dozen old-timers berating and hammering on noobs for being noobs.  After a couple of meetings they started in on me, but having been around for a year, I knew a little bit about how to handle myself with a pompous asshole or two.  They left me alone, for the most part after that, but after each meeting I would still leave feeling worse than when I walked in the door.

I talked to my sponsor about it and we decided together that it wasn’t worth going back.  If I was worse off after the meeting, why mess with it?  I didn’t just stop going, though.  I discussed my feelings and my motives honestly with my sponsor first.

The guys at that meeting were onto something.  I had a girlfriend who had just six months clean and she was a bit of a basket case (what can I say, that’s all I could attract at the time, I was an improving mess, but a mess nonetheless).  They hammered me about her for two straight meetings before laying off after I gave some back.  Eventually I did break it off because the relationship was a dead end and she was turning abusive.  Having been raised right, a good guy, I gave her one bite at that apple, following the old, “men don’t hit women” norm.  I told her if she tried punching me again, though, I was going to hit her back.  It wasn’t long after that I decided I needed a break from women altogether and took a year to work on myself so I could attract someone better (it ended up being a year and a half).   She wound up in a mental institution immediately after the breakup… and after my break from relationships, I ended up meeting my wife, and we’re happily together 24 years later.

The problem with the men’s dignitary meeting wasn’t in message, it was in delivery.

There are meetings out there where the quality is “less than”.  There are people in the program out there who are “less than”.  It comes with the territory.  The trick is to find what I can use to be a better me in those situations.  These lessons are a lot easier to pick up now that I know the program front to back and upside down, but they were more necessary when I didn’t.  I never would have figured out on my own the lessons from the three situations I presented above.  I wasn’t smart enough or honest enough.  With another long-timer in the program, though, I learned enough to come out smiling.

Folks, my ego was the only thing that could have gotten in the way of some really great lessons.  My ego, unchecked, was enough I could have ruined a perfectly happy life.  Imagine if I’d come to my own (probably wrong) conclusions about the ex-girlfriend and the men’s dignitary meeting.  The one thing that I understand today that I didn’t then is that sometimes I have to dig for the lesson a little bit.  It’s dirty work and it was once easy to skip the shoveling to rest on my laurels.  After all these years, I know it pays to get dirty now and again.