AA Comes of Age…Part II

“Pioneers in a Newfound Frontier”

There have been many historically critical points in AA’s 85-year History, as we have “Come of Age”.  Some of the more notable ones being: Bill wavering in the Mayflower Hotel lobby, between the phone and the bar (possibly the most important), Bill meeting Dr. Bob, and Dr. Bob having his last drink, a cool bottle of beer. (My last drink was a warm bottle of stale beer.  Really no difference between Dr. Bob’s and my own.)  Each drink was but a momentary calm amid the raging storm of our shared merciless obsession for that next drink.  The Rockefeller Dinner was a vastly important moment in time, where we accepted outside donations, which would teach us the need for self-support.  Of course, the publication of our spiritual textbook, the Big Book, marked a vital transition in our history.  In fact, one could say, that the progression of our program from one-on-one, in-person to book form, is really the first time our program transitioned from personal to virtual.  Was that really so different from than physical meetings becoming virtual with the help of technology?  While the Traditions were not introduced to the Fellowship until 1946, you can easily see them come to fruition long before that.  Creating the Big Book was truly an expression of our common welfare coming first.  In fact, Bill had much grander ideas than just writing a book.  Fortunately, the wisdom of the “first 100” prevailed and probably saved our Fellowship from being diverted from its then unspoken Primary Purpose.  These are examples of Traditions 2 & 5. 

Through the years, we would face many great challenges together. AA and its members not only survived World Wars, terrorism and natural disasters – we actually thrived!

However, AA had never faced a Global Pandemic – one which would force us to close our physical meetings worldwide!  Physical meetings are the lifeblood of our very fellowship: it is where we first learn about our literature, make lifelong friends, and share joy and tears – it is where we find the newcomer!

So just how would AA respond? 

AA responded as it always does:  from the Group level on up!  In the first few days of the crisis, individual members rallied their Homegroups and started online meetings.  Though these were not a completely new forum, but we they had never seen the huge scale that was about to undertake.  My homegroup, the World Famous Atlantic City Young Peoples group, knew next to nothing about online meetings.  Our last physical meeting ended at 11:00 am on March 22nd, by 7:00 pm that same day, Penni  had set up our groups first online meeting!  Our Homegroup now has 17 meetings a week online!  Intergroups coordinated sharing this information online almost instantly!  Some Intergroups, like New York Intergroup and Cape Atlantic Intergroup, took on the daunting task of assisting groups with setting up and securing their meetings and offering to cover the monthly costs.  The response to these efforts from both groups and members alike, has truly been inspirational!

Early meetings were a bit cumbersome, especially for those of us who were technologically challenged J.  As the days passed, we witnessed newcomers and old timers alike showing up in these new “virtual” meetings!  Newcomers not only found us, but when they arrived, our experienced members surrounded them with AA love. They held instant meetings, scheduled phone calls, answered questions and even began doing Step Work using this amazing technology.  Arm-in-Arm, members that struggled with this new forum were assisted in getting up to speed, so they too could quickly help others!!  Our 12th Step was truly in Action!!

We faced some initial concerns such as: “I can’t do my current service position, I feel lost!”, “Do we pass a virtual basket?”, “These online meetings are NOT the same!”, “Will we adhere to our vital suggested experience as expressed in our beloved AA Traditions?”

The answer to these questions and many more, was a resounding YES!!  Here’s what the Traditions look like in today’s Virtual AA world:

  • Our Common Welfare Comes First – The Unity displayed today is at the highest level I have ever witnessed in nearly 30 year of personal sobriety.

  • The Ultimate Authority – Group Conscience Meetings are now taking place virtually. Intergroup Committees are meeting online and utilizing Tradition 2 to face the current challenges.

  • The Only Requirement for Online AA Membership – it’s the same as always, just a desire to stop drinking.

  • Autonomy – Not all Meetings look and act the same. Some have passwords, some don’t, some have waiting rooms while others don’t. Intergroups are able borrow the shared experience from each other, yet still able do the things that their Group Conscience feels is best.

  • What’s Our Virtual Primary Purpose? OMG!! Look at today’s conference with nearly 1,000 alcoholics!  Check out your homegroup and meetings you attend online from around the world.  We AA’s are uber-focused on carrying the message – neither Coronavirus nor internet  trolls have diverted us!

  • What? – There are No Endorsements? This is the “Cape Atlantic Intergroup International Workshop,” it is not the “International AA Workshop, sponsored by Domino’s!”

  • How Do We Stay Self-Supporting? Groups are passing Virtual Baskets. Intergroups are set up to receive group and member donations so we can continue to carry the message and pay our bills.  If you are so moved, please visit capeatlanticaa.org, and click on the Group Donation tab.  This is where money and spirituality meet!

  • We are Not Professional IT companies! Members are volunteering their services to make our resources available to all groups in need.

  • We are Not Organized in the Usual Sense. (Anyone who has ever attended a business meeting can attest to this!!) New ervice positions have been created. Intergroups are shifting volunteers to areas that need the most help now, such as Website, Communication and Treasury. “Spiritual Bouncers” are working diligently today to keep this meeting safe from those that are trying to disrupt and divert us from our Primary Purpose! Hospital & Institution commitments have resumed.  Virtual AA meetings are taking place in Prisons and Institutions!

  • No Opinions on Outside Issues You Say? There have been no press releases from AA about the Pandemic or Meeting Trolls.

  • Personal Anonymity – Concerns have been faced. Recording options are turned off.  Members are requested to turn their cameras on during meetings unless they have a special circumstance.  We are not to be anonymous amongst ourselves.  Bob is quoted as saying: “There are 2 ways to break the Anonymity Tradition. (1) by giving your name at the public level of Press or Radio; or by being so anonymous that you can’t be reached by other drunks!”  Or, as my friend Cyril says, “after all, you wouldn’t show up to a physical meeting with a paper bag over your head!”

  • Principles before Personalities — this is not a “me” thing, it’s is a “We” thing. We don’t have time for petty rivalries, they’re too distracting.  We have all been delivered from steerage to captain’s table during this Pandemic.

Rather than complain about the sad state of global affairs, AA’s have adapted and grown!  We are all truly “Pioneers in this Newfound Frontier!!  We are meeting, and will continue to meet, each challenge our Fellowship faces with unity, compassion and altruistic service.

So, what will the future look like in this Newfound Frontier you ask?  Will we continue to meet virtually when the crisis passes?  What adjustments should we make?  Can our virtual and physical AA communities coexist?  Only our Higher Power truly knows the answers to these questions.  But, if we remember that “Our very lives as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs”, I have no doubt it will be Exciting, Invigorating, and most importantly, Helpful to the Alcoholic who stiff suffers.

So … you might be saying to yourself; “Ben, how can I get involved?”  Grab a newcomer at an online meeting and help them move from darkness to light. Help your group set up and run online meetings. If you need a little help with this, please visit our Cape Atlantic Intergroup website and click on the tab “Zoom Security.”  With the help of our friends at The World’s End Group in London, we have created a video and PDF companion piece on “best practices” of how to set up and keep your meetings safe.  (Stay tuned for our next video posting on how to maintain the spiritual atmosphere of recovery while defending your group from trolls and Zoom bombers.) 

Bring your friends, an Old Timer, and your sponsees on a “Virtual AA Road Trip” around the World. If you’d like to check out the meetings we have attended worldwide, just head over to our website, www.capeatlanticaa.org, click the tab, “From the Desk of The Chair” and the links will be right there. (It certainly helps that my darling wife, Penni, serves as our Web Chair.)  We have personally attended meetings from Atlantic City to London, Seattle, New Orleans, NYC, South America, Africa, Dubai, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, with many more stops in between – just ask our family and friends!  “Hi, my name is Ben and I’m a Zoomaholic.” We have actually “been to” AA Meetings on six out of the seven Continents!! Anyone know of a meeting in Antarctica??  Let me know…WE ARE IN!!

So, give it a shot! You will be glad you did!  We will surely meet some of you as you “trudge the road of happy destiny,” in the new Digital Frontier!!  Thank you and God Bless. 

In Love and Service,

Ben N., Cape Atlantic Intergroup Chairperson

Past messages:

2020.3.29 – Fraternal Greetings to all my Fellow Alcoholics!