During early sobriety it seemed that all the characters around the table except me had a secret password that allowed them to log into a new life of peace and serenity. I’d never seen anything like these hooligans. They kidded each other about their imperfections, their flawed character, their jail time; they hugged each other. They were taking the worst life could dish out and yet, somehow they were fine. I was not, nor could I imagine ever being, fine. What was their secret? I wanted that password.
At first, my conservative church background left me wary of being a part of such rowdy camaraderie. I was astonished that men (men!) were talking about their feelings and their failings. What? Wouldn’t they lose the respect for each other talking like that in front of God and everybody? Guess not. I had a lot to learn about respect, honesty and an organization that has only one ultimate authority as addressed in Tradition Two.
To this day, I find I compare my AA experience with the non-denominational church experience of my younger days. Not surprisingly, I’ve found more differences than similarities. Besides, AA is not a church. I Googled ‘how to become a good church member’ to come up with the first list which came from a Baptist preacher. Googling ‘how to become a good recovery member’ didn’t yield anything useful. The difference between the two is considerable.
Why would I share my comparison of the two experiences? Because I know many people are reluctant to get involved in AA, in part, because of their previous church experience. As soon as the word God enters, they back away. Those who need fellowship and desperately need a new life path back away. I also wanted a new life, a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself so, initially, I tried to use my church password. That did not work.
My Password to a Church’s Membership vs. My Password to Recovery’s Serenity.
Good church member requirements:
- Demonstrate a Good Attitude Toward the Pastor/Leaders (partially defined by submitting to the church teachings)
- Maintain a Good Attitude Toward Other Believers (including warning those who are unruly, and maintaining analogous behavior)
- Show a Good Attitude Toward God (defined by being an obedient follower of church doctrine and leadership)
- My church password was all one word in lowercase: followlikesheep
Recovery program elements:
- Become rigorously honest with ourselves, God and others
- Be willing to grow along spiritual lines, living by spiritual principles (12 Steps)
- Allow God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves
- My AA recovery password is all one word uppercase: RIGOROUSHONESTY
The elements of AA comprise the reason I stay active in the program. I also like the fact that recovery is a fellowship with those who have admitted failure and found themselves to be faulty and in need of change. The only membership requirement is a desire to stop drinking (or obsessing, or fixing, or drugging or other addictive behaviors resulting in calamity.)
Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity. ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, 2012, p 68
In my experience with a non-denominational church the emphasis seemed to be submission to man (God’s elect); in my experience of recovery the emphasis is on turning over our will and our life to God, period. In an organization like church, it’s necessary to grab a hold of the doctrine, the role of being an active member, and follow the prescribed way while encouraging others to do the same.
In AA I struggle to listen to God for myself, discern His will for me and give up the glorifying of man or self. It’s letting go, releasing. In the practice of Step 11, I daily attempt to set aside my will in favor of His.
AA does not attempt to replace church. In fact, my experience with AA has helped me define what I seek in a worship context. After being in recovery for several years, I found a church home in Oregon that encouraged my AA principles for living.
~PS: This is only my experience. I don’t speak for AA or for any churches. I’m curious. Based on your experience, how would you compare the two? Do you think they bear comparing? Want to share your passwords?