M(3), 6/30: The Highs and Lows of Running a Meeting

Can you seriously believe it’s the last day of June?!?  It’s seems like only yesterday that I was complaining non-stop about winter, and now the 4th of July is right around the corner (which, for people outside of the US, probably seems like a terribly random day, but  it’s actually our Independence Day!).

Today’s meeting was a roller coaster of excitement, at least for it was for the chairperson (aka, Me).  Let’s start with the positives:

1. Another record-breaking week:  17 attendees!  The room is actually getting crowded!

2.  Two separate compliments about the value of this particular meeting in their lives.  Very heart-warming, and humbling too, that something for which I am responsible makes a difference in someone else’s life.  Powerful stuff.

3.  The months that house 5 Mondays within them are becoming quite challenging for me, as it requires extra work to research reading selections.  About 30 minutes before the meeting I realized that the selection I prepared for the group was quite brief, and I was concerned that we would run short of materials to discuss.  Not only did that not happen due to a large attendance, but the reading really struck a chord with this audience.  For anyone with a subscription to the AA magazine Grapevine, the article is entitled “Drunk In Church” and can be found in the April 2014 issue.  I picked the article both for its provocative title, and, tongue in cheek, for the regular attendee in my group who also happens to be a Catholic priest (which I told him, and he enjoyed).  The discussion that followed, however, seemed to pick up on the theme of the very common dual diagnosis of depression and alcoholism.  As someone who does not suffer from depression, it was eye-opening for me to hear about the challenges experienced by those afflicted with both conditions.  To take or not to take medicine, judgment from the fellowship either way, and struggling to use the tools to deal with both the disease of addiction and the disorder of depression.  There was a wide variety of personal experience, research, and opinion in the meeting, and I really took away a lot of wisdom.  I would like to think the group enjoyed this discussion as well.

Alright, here’s the downside of today’s meeting, I’m not going to number this portion, as it falls into one general story.  For those who do not follow regularly, last week I wrote that a newcomer approached me and asked me to be her sponsor.  If you do remember this, you might also have notice the careful way I worded it, because I was not completely convinced her intentions were pure.  On the other hand, who I am to judge, so I said of course, and gave her some basic instructions to follow about where and when we would meet next to move forward.  For the rest of the week, I received some communication from her that indicated she might not have fully understood our discussion.  For example, she wanted me to “give her a website where she could order some step work online and get started herself.”  To those unfamiliar with the 12-step process, this is the polar opposite of how the steps work, at least the opposite in my 12-step fellowship.  Again, fighting the urge to judge, I simply responded that we should wait until the agreed upon time, at which point I will have everything we need to get started.

She cancelled our meeting, and did not reply to the subsequent communication, my last one being, “Will I see you Monday?”  By the time I started the meeting this morning, I assumed that I may not hear from her again, not uncommon at all within my Fellowship, and the meeting continued.  Until about 25 minutes in, when she dramatically entered the meeting.

Let me take a pause in the story to describe dramatic:  attention-grabbing outfit, loud entrance into the room, and, I kid you not, tried 3 different seats before she found one she liked.  All in the middle of an ongoing meeting… “Oh, brother,” I think, “I’m in for an interesting second half!”

So now my chairperson sensors are on high alert, because I suspect I am going to need to intervene, something I have written before is not comfortable for me to do.  All’s well for the next 5 minutes until break.  During  the break, I hear her emotionally speaking to the person next to her, and I hear the person next to her direct her to me.  She approaches, and I am not clear on if she remembered that I am the one she asked to sponsor her or not, but launches into a personal story for which she needs advice.  This is about 4 minutes into a 5-minute break.

Lest I sound heartless and/or insensitive, I have true empathy for the distress this woman seems to be experiencing, and I mean it when I say I have prayed for her every day since I’ve met her. On the other hand, I am struggling with being compassionate to her, and being compassionate to the other attendees of this meeting.  So I apologize for interrupting (quite the feat, as she is speaking, not two inches from my face, in a rapid-fire manner, she is what Seinfeld has labeled a “close talker”), but I need to resume the meeting, let’s talk afterwards.  She goes on for a bit more, but sits down quickly enough, and the meeting continues.

And then it’s her turn to share, and I am once again torn between letting her get out her emotions, and being fair to the rest of the group.    If  you have never attended a 12-step meeting, this story may make little sense; for those who are familiar, she is the type to take the meeting hostage.  At least I had the foresight to check the clock as she started speaking, and I would have cut her off at 5 minutes, she spared me by finishing just shy of 5 minutes.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the main concern she shared was her family’s inability to accept her new sober self, and how much this disturbs her.  Now, she is very new to recovery by her own admission (last Monday she told us she celebrated 75 days; today she said she “ninety-some” days sober), so I assume no one knows her personally, and certainly none of us knows her family.  My thought process would be to guide her to looking more at herself and her actions, and less on her family’s.  However, the next person to share seemed to hold a very different opinion, and spoke of how it can be difficult for the family to adjust to someone’s sobriety, and the resulting chaos that comes as a result.  By the way the newcomer was vigorously nodding, I could see she enjoyed the support she was getting, and attempted to have a conversation on this subject, which I was able to deflect by calling on the next person to share.  Not surprisingly, at the meeting’s close, the newcomer opted to speak with the supportive attendee rather than continue her conversation with me.

From my end of things, this woman, and how to proceed next, is a “let go and let God” situation.  I would not have been giving the advice I clearly overheard the other woman giving; then again, who’s to say I know what’s right and what’s wrong? I am available if the woman needs me, at the moment she does not appear to have that need, and I will be available if that changes.  As far as the balance between meeting the needs of the newcomer and the needs of the remaining attendees, I am hopeful that I kept a decent balance, but I suppose I will always wonder and second-guess myself.   I guess if no one shows up next week, I’ll have my answer!

Today’s Miracle: 

Having the privilege of getting up from writing this post, and making a pound cake for my Mother’s 74th birthday (found a recipe online that says it’s Elvis Presley’s favorite pound cake recipe, I’ll let you know how it turns out).  Happy birthday Mom,  I wouldn’t be the person I am without you 🙂

 

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Posted on June 30, 2014, in Monday Meeting Miracles, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Sounds like a pretty typical AA meeting experience. I am not certain I would use how many folks show up for next week’s meeting as a gauge of how well you chaired. Sounds like everything went well enough. I do find it interesting that what I think is a very insightful meeting or comment, others get little out of and vice versa. Same with individuals.

    Keep up the good work, and cut yourself some slack too!

    Like

    • Thanks, Robert, I suppose when I think about it, I have certainly been in meetings like that, I have just never chaired one. In addition, this group has been together for over 2 years now, and maybe one other time has this group experienced anything quite so dramatic.

      On the other hand, a great number of the attendees in this group have decades of sobriety and meeting attendance under their collective belt, so they have no doubt seen and heard it all (much like yourself, my friend!), so it comes down to placing a responsibility on myself that doesn’t belong with me. Once I get that perspective correct, I won’t waste another minute worrying.

      Thanks for the reminder to ease up, I needed it 🙂

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  2. I second what Robert said. My instinct is often opposite what others come up with (thank god!). I admire you so much for chairing every week. It sounds challenging but rewarding. You’ve had many chances to practice restraint of tongue while doing your best to preserve the meeting for everyone else who’s there. You’re doing great! And happy birthday to your mom! That cake sounds great. Hey, if it was good enough for Elvis…

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    • Ha Ha! Remember up above when I said I received 2 compliments? The restraint of tongue (and facial expression), along with patience, was one of them. It meant a lot to me because I think of myself as the complete opposite… no poker-face, and highly impatient!

      The cake was so great, I’m considering having a second slice with my coffee right now. It was labor intensive (for a cake), but, then again, I doubt Elvis actually baked it himself…

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  3. Great input from Robert and BBB. Along those lines, if the load of Chairing the meeting gets too heavy, consider delegating the reading out to someone before the meeting. I enjoy that aspect of my home group meeting.

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    • Hi Iceman! You know, this is a topic that has come up recently enough (maybe in the past month), so now I’m thinking I should be considering it. I could take another post (and maybe I will sometime) talking about my thoughts on this subject. Long story short: nobody ever offers, and in the beginning I asked the group multiple times. My best guess is they enjoy the meeting just as it is, you know?

      You know, the more I think about this, the more I would have to go on for paragraphs in a comment. Let me say this: thank you so much for your comment, you really and truly have me thinking about this subject, and you will most likely be seeing more about it in the future!

      Thanks for giving me a new topic to write about as well 🙂

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  4. I like the idea of spreading the chairing around a bit – a nice break for you perhaps? Is it a group that has a group conscience, etc? Or is it more of a service meeting? I ask so that perhaps other members can take committments on this one. Just a thought, to piggyback on what the other folks said here so far!

    As for the woman – don’t worry so much about where she seeks…sounds like she is a bit of a mess at the moment (weren’t we all, and can be if we aren’t watching our step) so she might be jumping around and floundering. As you mentioned, just be there if she reaches out again. Perhaps she isn’t quite ready yet. We’ve seen this time and time again, haven’t we?

    And yes to what was said about cutting yourself some slack…you’re doing great. 🙂

    Paul

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    • Paul, thanks for the piggyback, I just said to Iceman above that my response will probably be a future blog post, because there is a lot to say on this subject, and it would be so great to get the opinion of the blogosphere on this one. I have done group conscience in the past, and the group is very comfortable (maybe too comfortable?) with my leading the group. I haven’t asked in a great while, though, so it may be time to revisit this conversation.

      Yes, the woman (sigh) is a bit of a mess. I did receive another puzzling late night text, I would surmise that she is not quite ready yet, at least in the honesty department anyway. I think I am more comfortable in this respect… I can be there for her without feeling like I need to solve her problems, and this is true progress for me! It is so reassuring to have your validation on this subject, Paul, it means a lot!

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      • Not sure if it would work for you, but I know of some groups that leaves the chair position open and anyone in that group can chair that day. Heck, even if no one from that homegroup is there, anyone can chair. Might be too loosey goosey for you, but it certainly gives people the opportunity to step up (BIG confession – in 3+ years, I have never chaired a meeting!) without there being a “formal” group conscious on it / schedule.

        More commonly, though, is that there are hard dates set. So on Aug 1, let’s say, there has to be a new chair starting that day. Up here, it’s different than many other meetings – the chair rotates every single meeting – it’s not a three month commitment or anything like that (it’s rare that it is). So what they will do is at the group conscience they will schedule people for the meeting days – Joe on the 13th, Melissa on the 20th, David the 27th, etc.

        Anyway, I am rambling, but those are the options that I am familiar with up in these parts… 🙂

        Great service, Josie, though…seriously. Not many people start meetings proper like you have done. Fantastic…in the end, you’re keeping sober, right ? 🙂

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  5. Stopping by for my check-in.

    Seventeen attendees … wow. Are you still chairing this meeting? Delegate, delegate, delegate. That’s my big slice of wisdom. The Law of Reciprocity applies here. And since I know you, a little, I feel free to share openly: Giving too much makes others weak (we disable them) and we over burden self. Just my opinion.

    If a sponsee wants what we have they follow direction as we followed direction. Our best thinking got us in our newly sober seat. We need to borrow someone else’s thinking, for a while.
    xxo

    Like

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