The following is another presentation of the 67th General Service Conference. This one, in its entirety, was by our Delegate, Vikki R.
Safety — An Important Consideration
My name is Vikki, and I am an alcoholic. I currently have the honor to serve as delegate of the California Northern Interior Area, Panel 66. I would like to thank Mary Clare and Rick for the loving invitation to speak today.
I thought it was interesting at the General Service Conference last year that the original presentation topic was “Safety in A.A. — Our Responsibility.” Then, one of my favorite Class A trustees, Judge Ivan Lemelle, came to the mike and expressed concern about the public’s perception of what “our responsibility” really means and that perhaps it could be a liability issue. The Conference presentation idea was changed to its current form.
That got me thinking. What is the public’s and professional communities’ perception of Alcoholics Anonymous? Specifically, do they think Alcoholics Anonymous is a safe place to be, and, if not, how did they arrive at that perception?
We all know there are many ways A.A. meetings can be unsafe. There are physical dangers that include, but are not limited to, misinformation about medications and treatment programs, bullying, sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. There are liability dangers and the potential for vandalism of one’s property. There may be financial predators lurking in the rooms looking for victims, and, of course, there are members with behavioral health problems.
How do we handle potential danger or safety issues? Fortunately for us, the Traditions have already been put in place to guide us. Tradition One tells us we have an obligation to our common welfare. Tradition Three states, in part, we have only one requirement in Alcoholics Anonymous. Tradition Five reminds us about our primary purpose. Tradition Ten states we should not be drawn into public controversy. Tradition Eleven reminds us that our public relations policy is based on attraction, not promotion, and Tradition Twelve tells us to place principles before personalities.
Besides the Traditions, there are many ways to increase safety in meetings. Good sponsorship is another tool we can use to increase safety. We can start by talking about potential dangers and potentially dangerous people. It doesn’t have to be a secret. If there is an individual who is known to the group as a predator, let the new person be aware. Predators are like cockroaches: the only way to get rid of them is to shine the light on them.
Also, it is important to select good leadership in our groups, districts and areas. Good leaders should know the proper procedures in case of an emergency situation and know how to stay calm but firm when potential dangers arise. A good leader should make awareness of the safety issues a priority by organizing presentations and workshops.
There are no “A.A. police.” The General Service Office has no authority, legal or otherwise, to control or direct the behavior of A.A. members and groups. So, who has the responsibility? We all do! Collectively and individually, it is up to us.
Develop a plan or course of action in your home group’s business or group conscience meeting. Decide what to do if a situation requires police involvement and who should call the police. Just because A.A. is considered a safe haven from drinking doesn’t mean it is a safe haven from violence. If your group conscience dictates, don’t be afraid to ask disruptive members to leave the meeting. Remember, our common welfare comes first. If one person is preventing other members from hearing the message of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is okay if one or two members take that individual outside to talk. If the disruptive behavior continues, a member can be invited not to attend that group for a while. We do not kick people out of A.A., but if behavior warrants, we can ask them to attend a different meeting.
It is important to our future to make sure our Fellowship is attractive to the alcoholics still out there suffering. Nobody wants to attend a meeting they hear is unsafe. Does our Fellowship seem attractive? In order to answer that question, we can review the current Feasibility Study. This study clearly states our membership numbers continue to remain flat. Why is that? I believe part of the answer is our lack of Public Information/Cooperation with the Professional Community (P.I./C.P.C.) efforts.
Did you know there are members of Alcoholics Anonymous across the United States and Canada who aren’t even aware we have P.I./C.P.C. committees? Back when Bill W. was around, we had the support of many doctors, lawyers, clergymen, etc. Newspapers were flooded with wonderful stories about our Fellowship and our members. Today, most of the A.A. coverage in public media that I see is negative in nature. As a Fellowship, we cannot stand idly by and let others define us. It is time for us to have a more visible presence on the Internet so that misinformation does not go unchallenged. We cannot give one message about A.A. to the public and ignore educating our own members about how our behavior affects A.A. as a whole.
In the March 1958 Grapevine, Bill W. wrote, “Millions are still sick and other millions soon will be.… Why haven’t these millions come to us?” Responding to his own question with a solution, he wrote, “The answer seems to be in education — education in schoolrooms, in medical colleges, among clergy and employers, in families, and in the public at large.… Sound education on alcoholism, and far more of it at all levels, will clearly pay off.”
Remember that we have found a way out from a terrible illness. Our own survival lies in our ability to carry this message of hope to fellow sufferers. Let us not squander this responsibility.
Vikki R., California Northern Interior