Group Dynamics, Tricky Business
I find the dynamics of a meeting, and the dynamics of growth in the program, interesting. My homegroup is a daily meeting, and is fairly large. It’s comprised of several fairly distinct groups.
Foremost, there is a core set of longtimers, many of whom attend everyday, or at least multiple times a week. These individuals do an excellent job of directing the group, I assume through an unspoken understanding of what needs to be done and said to effect the most positive change in the most lives. Generally, one of these people leads the meeting, though not always. They seem to have a good sense of which of the assorted individuals present is ready and will benefit from taking on commitments, and push said commitments to such individuals. Most of the longtimers know when to share, and what to say, and many of their words are pointed towards certain individuals, without explicitly being directed at those individuals. They can spot the missteps of the newcomers – uncertainty regarding the first step, strong opinions, ego issues, etc – and they attempt to gently or less than gently correct some of those misconceptions. They attempt to promote “beginner’s mind” in those with not very much time. They further do well to demonstrate the fulfillment of the promises. I’ve come to view the “glow” exhibited by many of those with lots of good time in sobriety as triumph over fear. It’s something that I believe takes a long time to develop. I’m much less fearful than I once was, but still very much subject to uncertainty and ego concerns.
Next are the sober living folk, who come from one of the two sober living houses nearby, one of which is for men, and the other for women. People in this group are newcomers, or newish-comers, and there is a goodly amount of turnover in this group of individuals. I suspect that a considerable number of the people with good time, however, originally came through group two.
Many are young, and either they are silent, and don’t really want to be there, or they require the most forbearance on the part of those who understand more. These young people often come in bursting to talk, and commit social mistakes, and “display” a great deal. They’re wounded, and ego driven. It’s not their fault, and we in AA don’t shoot our wounded, fortunately. I was difficult in similar ways at first. I’d like to think I’ve largely outgrown the most egregious of such mistakes at this point, but, like I said, I still harbor some considerable fear, from whence springs display, for which I most continually be on the lookout. It’s a tricky business, as display and an earnest effort to express truth and extol the virtues of the program can manifest in the same words. Tricky business indeed, unless one is free of fear, in which case the perceptions of others genuinely don’t matter, and the issue becomes irrelevant.
The older of the recovery house bunch generally have a higher likelihood of recovery I’d say, though who am I to predict outcomes for another? At any rate, they too come in the silent variety, either because they are not the speaking type, or because they’d rather not be there, but they also come in the open variety, and, from my limited experience, seem less prone to the sort of excesses that plague the young. I’d seen some come in during my two months in attendance prior to my departure for China, and at least a couple remain, and have moved into group three. Those who do not remain may simply have returned to their lives elsewhere, and attend different meetings closer to their homes, or they may be out.
Finally there are those in the middle ground. Those who have accumulated some time, but not enough time to claim membership in group one.
Enthusiasts who speak: People who have bought in, and are likable, and somewhere in the middle of the steps. My friend is in this group. But because of the nature of the meeting, my feeling is that this middle group is stretched thin. The meeting needs those amid the process, who can demonstrate the effectiveness of the program as one works it and before one has gone through all the steps and put together years of sober time. It works. It produces results rather quickly, I believe, and people are impatient. They need to see that they can accomplish net gains after reasonably short periods of time. With so many newcomers, and a lot of turnover, this subset seems crucial to maximizing the chances of those who may recover. The thing is, of course, this is not a program that can or should be sold to anyone. Such an approach is counterproductive and harmful to AA itself, I believe. But it does help to provide models of the program producing benefits. Those who want what we have are more likely to work the program as indicated, and those who work the program are more likely to stay sober. So it makes sense that the group functions best when it has good examples of success all along the continuum of progress.
Those of limited visibility: There are of course many people who attend meetings, some of whom attend regularly, who simply do not speak. We may have a sense of how much time they have if they collect chips, or we may not. Some such people may be in on court cards, or may just not be talkers, or may not be bought in yet, or may choose the “meetings are enough” approach, or any number of other possibilities. That’s of course the thing about not talking. We just don’t get to know those people. Having just said this, it occurs to me that I have an action available to me. I can approach them and attempt to engage them in conversation. It’s not exactly the most comfortable thing for me to do, but contrary action was the topic stated by the lead in this morning’s meeting, so perhaps tomorrow I’ll engage in such action.
Where do I fit in this breakdown:
Well, I think I mostly likely fit in group three. I’m a bit of an unusual case is so far as I did not come in through the recovery houses. I just happened to pick this meeting. And while I have newcomer-ish time (just 44 days today), I feel like I have more. I had my last drink in December, have been working the program since, have made steady progress in the ensuing months, and have had no relapses on any substance, so… Anyhow, I talked, probably too much, at the beginning. But I’ve been away for a long time, so now that I’m back, I’ll need to establish something of an identity in the group. I’d like to add something of value, while at the same time maintaining a proper degree of discretion. It’s a tricky business caring about being liked and about saying the right thing. It’s fear based, but it’s also in everyone’s interests for people who are doing well (and I believe I’m doing pretty well) to demonstrate that and to contribute meaningfully. At the same time, it’s misguided to overstate the impact of any one individual on the recovery of any other individual, and also it’s true that just a few words from the right person at the right time can have significant impact on another human being. These matters are full of contradictions.
Yep, tricky business all around. But less tricky for me now that I’ve put it all down here.
Getting all these thoughts out in black and white helps clear them from my head, and allows me to do a better job of just being myself.