Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Functioning Anarchy"

"What do you mean, you don't have any leaders???"

I overheard this question once and smiled. The way we do things in Recovery can seem pretty damn strange to outsiders. The concept that our leaders are only trusted servants, that they don't govern, can be a real hard concept for people to get their heads around. Out there, outside of the rooms, leaders demonstrate their leadership by making people go along with them. They do it by appealing to people's emotions, by making logical arguments, all kinds of different ways--all in an attempt to assert their will on other people and on reality.

In the rooms, we do exactly the opposite. We learn to let go. We learn that we can't control people, places, and things, and we get to learn how to stop trying. It's a whole other way of doing things than what we're used to, and it's a whole other way of doing things from what out culture teaches us. Many of us in Recovery have what we affectionately refer to as 'control issues'. I translate that, for myself, as an inherent inability to let go. We cling. We cling to our drugs and our booze. We cling to our significant others. We cling to our resentments. We cling to our ideas about the way life should be. We cling to our notions of how things should go and what other people should do. These impulses are not Recovery-oriented.

They aren't healthy, either. They keep us in victim-mode. If the world around us isn't going the way [we think] it's supposed to, then our actions and our reactions to it aren't our fault. We are at the helpless mercy of a cruel world, a world that needs to be taught a lesson, a world in which everything would be just fine if only, if only, if only...

We are not victims. Maybe some of us were at one point. When we start our Recovery, we begin to see that we aren't victims anymore. Other people are responsible for their thoughts, their feelings, their actions. We don't make anyone else think or feel or do anything--they are responsible for ALL of themselves. And we, my friends, we are responsible for all of ourselves.

This is what makes being a leader in Recovery such an interesting position. We aren’t responsible for the meeting, or the group, or the district. A secretary doesn’t conduct the meetings, doesn’t guide the discussion. They don’t make the meeting happen, they make it possible for the meeting to happen, they allow it to happen by opening the doors. Group representatives don’t tell the people back in their groups the way things are, they listen to what the group thinks and then forward that information on so that each group conscience is represented at all levels. An intergroup leader doesn’t steer a district or an area in any particular direction, they facilitate discussion and ensure that all points of view are allowed to be expressed.

The idea of leadership in Recovery is very different from how it is out the world. For us, being in a position of leadership is a special responsibility. It’s a position of service. We don’t get paid for it. We don’t get any rewards for it beyond the satisfaction of knowing we are enhancing our own Recovery and helping ourselves to stay sober. For those of us who are new to the program, being responsibly isn’t something we have a lot of experience doing. Just as we get to practice spiritual principles by working the steps, we get to practice being responsibility by taking service positions.

Being a trusted servant, a leader, can be an especially useful practice. It helps us to work on our boundaries, to learn even more fully that we are not responsible for others. The most amazing thing about it seems to be that when we step back and allow others to be responsible for themselves, they more often than not are. I have seen meetings which have the same person in a leadership role for too long. The stress of it wears on them. They become harried, disorganized. Their attempts to control increase and their spiritual health declines. When they decide enough is enough, when they decide to set boundaries and step back from their position, the vacuum that is created causes others to step up to the plate and take on more responsibility. As one of my favorite authors writes, we don’t have to assume more than our fair share—we can allow others to shoulder their own responsibilities. And they do. But they can’t do it if we have taken it on.

It’s a different way of doing things, in Recovery. Everyone shares responsibility. We don’t sign away our portion of it. It can be loud, confusing, and seem chaotic, but it works. There are no laws, merely a series of suggestions that, when followed, are guides that allow the groups to function at their peak. To some, that seems like anarchy, and to a certain extent it is. But, as is the case with the Program itself, the most amazing thing is that it works.

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