“But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.”
—Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 2
What happens after rehab? Most of the time a person is sent into the rooms of 12-step land—the world’s largest outpatient program. Allow me to preface what I’m about to express with this—I am not criticizing or bashing the fellowship of CMA or even AA as a whole. Often times a newbie is thrown into an environment that is new to him. There are new faces, new cliques—a new everything in early sobriety. Add gay, and on top of that a physically and mentally damaging history with crystal meth to the equation, and suddenly things just got ‘real.’
The only stated requirement of membership is a desire to stop drinking or using. One doesn’t have to like everyone. Courtesy, camaraderie, joyousness, democracy, politeness and graciousness are nice and even principled—but not requirements. What happens when exclusion and meanness go too far?
Sometimes, people in recovery are the victims of a subtle form of internal bullying and are made so uncomfortable in the rooms that they have one of two choices—to accept it and work through it, sometimes painfully so, or to simply leave. Alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery are a sensitive bunch. No chemicals in one’s system translates to a higher and authentic feeling of real emotion, fancied or real.
This is where people with long-term sobriety come in handy. They can set the right tone—to take the higher road and to lead by example. They as members have the right to uphold the classic and cherished declaration of unity: “I am responsible … when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”
When they see a newbie or anyone for that matter being gossiped about or being left out, they have mustered up the courage to do the right thing and speak up or invited them along so the person feels a part of instead of like an outsider. These old-timers are not always the most popular, but then again, doing the right thing is not always going to make one popular. They came in to get sober. This effort supports two things—the first tradition and the fourth traditions—but also it supports accountability of one’s behavior.
In closing, let’s be frank. Cliques are everywhere. Cliques happen in grade school, middle school, college, the work space and elsewhere. The 12-step fellowships—since their inception—have greatly improved the fate of the alcoholic or drug addict. People seeking help are lucky enough to have found the rooms of recovery and healing. The line that rang through and through my little brain as I wrote this was, “What we can’t do alone, we do together.”
Christian C. Parker has been an active member of the LGBTQ recovery community for over 12 years. He is a co-founder of Queer & Sober. He lives in New York City.