How Do I Start A Big Book Study?

But the process of starting a healthy meeting is simple. We do what the founders of the 12 Step movement did. We look in our community for those who seriously want to recover and are out of options. We focus on showing such a person what it was we did to get spiritually awakened. This is how we become two. The two of us then seek a third, and a fourth, and so on. We meet together with regularity to study the AA Big Book together to learn now to better apply the Steps while we search for the next prospect.

Once a solid foundation of spiritually awakened folk are meeting together in a committed fashion, then, and only then, do we call ourselves a group and hold public meetings. The question that naturally follows is, “How many constitute a solid foundation?” In our experience, the unplanned happens. Members move, change schedules so that they cannot meet with us, or think they have found a cure. Perhaps some find a different path which they must test. We adjust our goal numbers factoring these possibilities. We also think goal numbers can vary according to your local population.

We have seen time and again members eager to start meetings become overwhelmed by local SAA members who were pursuing a solution that did not work for us. These Big Book thumpers did all the leg work of finding a meeting time and place, listing it with their intergroup and with the ISO, only to hand the keys over to others in our community working a program not in line with the instructions of the Big Book. We beg of you not to make this mistake. S.A.A. already has open topic/discussion meetings in plenty. We needed something different, not the same. Newcomers like us will also need the something different that we found.

Many of us thought the easiest way to find newcomers was to have a time and place for them to drop in our laps. But the Twelfth Step calls for us to do something different. We are asked to bring the message to them, not wait for them to come to us. The Big Book infers that we look for them where they are most likely to have found bottom. That is when prospects are the most willing to follow direction. For the alcoholics that place was most often a hospital and facing death. At this point in the development of our fellowship, we have yet to find such a place. We have met with much resistance. This is often due to lack of education both about our addiction and our solution. All we can really hope for is to plant seeds of thought in a prospect’s mind and provide information to those who deal with them.

Above everything we must remember that we are only called to try. We receive the benefits of that effort – continued sobriety and continued spiritual growth – by trusting the results to our Higher Power. We have seen men and women reach out to us years after our initial contact. Many of them simply needed time to learn their personal truth around control and choice, and then find the desperation necessary to work the Program. We believe that this is our Higher Power’s way of keeping our respective egos in check. If we saw immediate success after every effort, or even with just a few, we might begin to think it was by our own power that this miracle was brought about.

Remember always: We want to grow a fellowship of quality not one of quantity. Our 12th Step work is not a membership drive. We need not be over zealous about the disease or the program. We have seen this sort of attitude push more people away than it attracts. And yet, there is a real hunger among us to find a compatriot such that we try to convince or persuade. We must tread carefully and reign in our enthusiasm. We must always remember that God sells the Program, but only if those who practice it do so healthily. His pitch is simple: “Live in this solution or die in the disease. The choice is yours.” We must remember the work of our founders as reported in the Foreword to the 2nd Edition, “There were many failures, but there was the occasional heartening success.” We must be sure to withhold our passion when doing Twelfth Step work. We must remember the order of business in our duties. First, we are the sowers of seeds. We are there only to plant hope in the minds of those who might potentially need our help, if not now then later. Secondarily, we are teachers. We show our prospect precisely what we did to recover. We hold them to account when we see them deviating from the path. And if they do not correct their course, we let them know we are available should they change their minds. We then move on to teaching the next or planting more hope if no student appears.

Some of us have done our prospecting in other meetings. This is also dangerous territory. Mining on another’s claim has put many of us in a place of disrepute with the rest of the fellowship. Falling into ill favor with the rest of our local fellowship has caused them to steer newcomers away from us. In spite of this, we have met with some success there. This occurred only when we kept quiet and never said anything that might disagree with the veterans of such groups. In fact, it is a good idea to keep our mouths shut entirely during their meetings. Our only purpose in these situations is to find a newcomer or veteran who is in a great deal of pain, for whom the popular solution is no longer working. We invite them out for coffee or ask for their phone number and give them ours. Looking for an opportunity to speak with them outside of the meeting, away from the contradictory and confusing guidance of others.

What follows is a story from one of our brothers that illustrates our experience.

After years of failed recovery attempts using hybrid 12-step methods, I was introduced to the original 12-step approach, and recovered from the mental obsession almost overnight. However, I did not immediately recover from the well-intentioned “meeting maker” mentality drilled into me year after year, from previous recovery attempts. And consequently, for the first several months after having recovered, I continued to attend several hybrid-recovery meetings a week because… that’s what I’m supposed do, right? In my local area, I was alone in terms of fellowshipping with others who shared this approach to recovery. But there were 200 SAA meetings a week, most (if not all) of them using the hybrid 12-step methods that hadn’t worked for me.

In these meetings, I began to share at group level and in great detail this “new” approach I had taken. I would also share disparage the hybrid 12-step approaches of others. This behavior distorted the original selfless 12-step message into my own ego-feeding proposition, Some of those who heard my shares were “blown away” by my recovery and would ask to meet with me to learn more. I began to view myself as a savior, an agent sent to reform a “sick” fellowship. Others would express dismay over the arrogant and dismissive nature of my shares. And yet others tried to incorporate “my” ideas into their recovery, while still continuing with the current hybrid 12-step approach, resulting only in further confusion.

Two years later, only one, of the 50-60 prospects I had attracted in hybrid meetings, was still sober and on board with the approach that had worked for me. Most of these prospects had previous exposure to hybrid 12-step recovery, and the relative, convenience of that approach was too good to leave. In my dismay, it was suggested to me later that folks who were satisfied with sitting in discussion meetings and acting out intermittently, were perhaps not the “desperate drowning man” the Twelfth Step instructed me to seek.

So I took it to the next level. I founded a meeting of my own, using the same “question and answer” Big Book study format of the group in which I had gotten sober. I thought this revolutionary meeting format was the missing piece in my attempts to reform this poor fellowship. I grabbed a handful of friends (all of whom were taking a different approach to 12-step recovery — some had not yet reached step 9), arranged a deal with a local church, published the meeting in the SAA meetings schedule, and off we went. Twelve months later, the meeting had several in attendance, but actual recovery was hard to find. Relapse was common. Service positions were hard to fill. And it seemed like no one but myself acted on the instructions provided by the Big Book. The hybrid-recovery “tools of the program” were still in full effect. The Big Book instructions were treated as intellectual candy. Discussion on the book would often be prefaced by “Well, I’m not sure if this part of the book applies to sex addiction… so instead we use [some hybrid recovery tool]”. Eventually the group chose to keep the “question and answer” book study format, but to use a modern hybrid 12-step book instead of the Big Book.

In hindsight, I had ignored the suggestion in the long form of Tradition Five: a group ought to be a “spiritual entity” — a unified group of spiritually awakened individuals — unified on the common problem, solution, and path to that solution. And while many of the original group’s individuals were perhaps solid in their sobriety, we each had our own method of getting there, and different interpretations of what “sobriety” meant. We each had a different understanding of the problem, the solution, and the path to that solution. Our message became just as convoluted as the hybrid meetings I had been trying to reform. The new guy remained confused.

Ok, lesson learned — and I started a second meeting with two of my protégés who were 1) spiritually awakened (and brand new to the design for living) and 2) unified on the criteria mentioned above – but only because their sponsor dictated that it be so. And like me, they were meeting makers. I needed to start this group. Why? To fit a recently opened lunchtime slot on my Tuesdays. The self-will and “meeting maker” mentality was still blinding me from considering a healthy reason for starting a meeting. Six months later, both protégés had had moved on, and I was left alone trying to uphold the message. Others using hybrid approaches to recovery joined the meetings, and tolerated the study format because it allowed them to help meet their weekly meeting quota. And as soon as I was relocated to another area, the meeting attendees changed the format. I dropped by afterward, and it is a familiar sight: misery, hybrid approaches, and intermittent abstinence.

Have I learned my lesson? I don’t know. I’ve since recovered from meeting-maker-ism, and the related obsession with starting a meeting. I highly recommend others also learn this lesson. The solution for me was three-fold:

1) Take a hint from the Al-Anon program: I am neither the cause nor the cure. In this case, I am not the “broken” fellowship’s cure. Hybrid meetings don’t want me to fix them. And — gulp – they don’t need fixing. God is everything, or God is nothing. Those hybrid meetings serve a purpose, and I should let them be. For me to believe otherwise is breaking Tradition Two (not trusting those meetings’ group conscience) and Tradition Four (all meetings have the right to be wrong). My attempts to reform them were misguided spiritual thirst.

2) Study the Twelve Traditions, and the history behind them. They are a wonderful tool to protect the fellowship from “me”.

3) Take another look at my spiritual condition and “real purpose” (page 77) in life. Other people’s behavior (including a person’s chosen approach to recovery) is not my business anymore. It never was. For me to make it my business is a symptom of that spiritual malady, and of being out of alignment with God’s will for me.

As of this writing, I am still “alone” in my local area of 200 meetings, save one other protégé. Most of the hybrid fellowship’ers get scared when they see my face, because of my past misguided attempts to reform them. My ongoing living amends to them is to remain quiet in their group discussions, and be helpful to them when they ask. They are good people. When I do attend a hybrid meeting, it is only after I have done (recent) due-diligence in trying to carry the message elsewhere in my community, such as jails, treatment centers, bail bonds, and halfway houses. And only after I have met obligations to my telemeeting home group, and addressed my group’s recent prospects. And only after I’ve prayed about it and my motives are clear. Am I attending to “kill time”? To relieve loneliness? To “wow” the room with my stellar recovery and approach? To feel superior? Or I am there to carry the message to the sex addict who still suffers, humbly and (especially) without fanfare.

Do I still want a group in my area? You bet. A group of unified, recovered individuals can perhaps have a greater affect in carrying the message than a lone individual. But only if that’s part of God’s plan. I meet with my recovered buddy weekly to study the book at a local coffee shop (not published in the meeting schedule), along with whatever prospects we have at the time. Together we reach out to individuals running nearby institutions, offering ourselves as a resource to anyone in their domain who might have our problem. Occasionally we get a bite. A monthly visit to the county jail to speak with 50 inmates is the highlight of our month. Perhaps one day these prospects will pick up the spiritual toolkit we lay at their feet, and join us. And if this quorum reaches the tipping point of awakened-ness and unity, perhaps we’ll start an SAA group. But that, again, is God’s business.

– A Recovered Member in the Western U.S.

We must remember always that we are not absolved of our responsibilities to our community despite our work in other meetings. We must still reach out to the sex addict who has no idea what is wrong but still desperately wants a solution. We must still try to find them when they are fresh off bottom hopefully before they hear a lot of confusing ideas about recovery. This requires that we reach out into our community to those who, in their profession, might encounter people who exhibit the types of behaviors that are indicative of a sex addiction. We let them know what type of people we are looking for and leave our contact information. We may have to return on a regular (monthly) basis, reminding these professionals that we are still here, still sober and still looking for someone to help. They will want to see some consistency in our sobriety over time before they can entrust someone to our care. We must constantly remind ourselves, the purpose of this work is to keep ourselves sober, leaving the results to our Higher Power.