If there is one thing we in the Anonymous rooms know for sure, it is how dark it can get out there when we aren’t sober. That being said, in sobriety one of the many gifts of meetings and working a program is never having to feel that way again. While it is beneficial to our sobriety to remember where we came from as a reminder why we are here, it can be extremely dangerous for newcomers in a meeting to only hear a message of the past. The dangers of telling war stories in meetings are real, and they go against the hand of the program, and the message of hope.
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Meant to Relate, Not to Relive in Sobriety
As described in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, when working with a newcomer, it can be beneficial to share our own experience with drugs and alcohol so that a level of understanding can be reached. It is safe to say that no one understands the inner workings of our minds quite like other addicts and alcoholics. That being said, we share these experiences, not as a way to be cool or to boast about who did the most drugs or who robbed their mom of her most precious jewelry. These experiences are shared strictly to allow the newcomer to identify themselves as an alcoholic or addict if they indeed are one.
That being said, as soon as the newcomer has properly identified themselves as needing to be here (or not), their new focus should become entirely on a message of hope and recovery. The reason for this is that soon enough, they will be helping a newcomer themselves, and they will need to share their message of hope to show THAT newcomer that this program really works.
Of course, for some of us, as we gain solid sobriety and have cleared the wreckage of our past, we are able to look back on our misdoings with acceptance and grace. We are able to see that we are no longer the person who committed those horrible acts, and we can even look back and laugh at how delusional we had been.
The tricky thing about this is that for people who are new to recovery, it may still be difficult to face the things they have done, as they most likely have not gotten through their steps and made amends for their wrongs. When these newcomers are constantly bombarded with war stories, it can be hard for them to separate the message of recovery from the ghosts of their past.
Why are War Stories Harmful in Sobriety?
Long story short, a meeting is supposed to spread the message of hope to newcomers to ensure them that this is not only a simple program, but it is one that has real and lasting effects if worked thoroughly. When someone with two weeks clean and sober walks into a meeting only to hear the speaker talk about drugs, the newcomer will most likely leave the meeting and consider relapse.
For those of us with an addict mind, this is just the way it is. We have programmed ourselves to only feel okay when we are inebriated, which is why we go to meetings and get involved in the fellowship, to see that there are other ways we can feel human and content.
The wounds of newcomers are often still fresh. They have not yet been able to process and make amends for the deeds of their past, and if they are at a meeting where people are sharing about the horrible things they have done, it is going to be difficult for the newcomer to believe that this program can actually work for them.
It is a slippery slope when people who have time may think their war stories are funny, the newcomer will end up leaving a meeting, romanticizing the stories they just heard. The goal is for each member to leave a meeting with a message of hope, not the feeling that “all these people talk about it getting high and drunk.”
We suffer from addiction, cunning, baffling, and powerful. Even if the horror stories we hear are extremely gruesome and unappealing, our addictions are so powerful that we can twist the message into an invitation to do it again. Or, we can think, “Well I was never THAT bad, maybe I’m not really an alcoholic/addict.”
Where Remembering and Romancing Blur
For most of us, we have a hard enough time staying sober in the early days of our recovery. We begin to only remember the good times we have had in our drinking and drugging, and forget how we hurt ourselves and others. On the other hand, we can remember all of the bad stuff and feel such guilt that we only want to get high. Whichever end of the spectrum you are on, know that it will stop. All we have to do is take action in our program.
Protect the New from the Old
If you find yourself at a meeting of war stories, because chances are you will come across one or two in your journey of recovery, here are some helpful tips to get back in your right frame of mind.
- First of all, call or talk to a sober support. Ask for a pep talk.
- Go ahead and utilize that serenity prayer!
- “Move a muscle, change a thought.” If you are sitting in stinking thinking, do something else, go for a walk, exercise, meet up with a sober friend, etc.
- Play the Tape. Remember the consequences, imagine what would happen now, and then call a sober support.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself for thinking this way. We all have done it, and it isn’t permanent.
- Thank God for keeping you sober today.
Remember Instead Why You Are Here
As members of our fellowship, we have an obligation to uphold a safe place for newcomers to come and get sober. We are responsible for creating an environment of sobriety and recovery, so that anyone who feels the way we felt, can feel the way we feel now. Everyone who is struggling deserves a chance to recover. We are responsible for sharing our strength and hoping so newcomers will want to stay on their own.
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