When I first came into AA, I didn’t have the understanding of the home group I have today. That said, I will say that my first home group was a place that allowed me to identify. There were people in that group that told my story, shared feelings and emotions that I felt and had, did some truly horrible things (like I did) while drinking, and were still sitting in that room laughing their tails off about it all. I was able to find my first sponsor there (even though I was only willing to commit to a temporary sponsor), He was the right and perfect first person that I began to listen to who had already been down the path.
I developed some friends in that group that were very important to me at the time and I was grateful. One thing I will say though, back in 1986 when I first walked in the doors of AA, I never heard one person ever say, “Oh, and make sure you are visiting other groups. Go see what AA is like in other rooms but make sure you make this your home group.” Honestly, I didn’t even fully understand the idea of a home group because THAT group was the only group I knew about for many, many months. It’s not like I didn’t know there weren’t other groups, it’s just that this group met 7 days a week in the same location, had 4-5 meetings a day and since I am gay and it was a gay group, it seemed only logical looking back, that at the time – I wouldn’t question it. I simply was never told to go visit other groups… so, I didn’t. It was like I was just bouncing off the walls of the Fellowship back then.
I do remember one Saturday night at that home group, it was our biggest meeting each week – a speaker meeting and there generally 100-150 people there each Saturday night. I didn’t even know who was speaking, but I just showed up and there was this old woman with big Texas hair who was from the Preston Group across town (I later learned that the Preston Group was one of Dallas’s biggest groups and it certainly wasn’t gay). I remember thinking to myself, “Who the H is this woman and why is she here speaking to us? She’s not gay and she doesn’t even belong to this group?” (I’m serious when I say I was kinda just bouncing off the walls of the Fellowship at that point).
It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, TN a year and a half after getting sober that I began to understand what a connection to a home group could look like and that was because the majority of the people with long-term sobriety in that group were all about service and all about giving back. Whether it was to their home group, their District, their Area, or even the Nashville Central Office (Intergroup). I began to see through their example that showing up and giving back was just what they did. I don’t know that at that point I would have said that it was vital to my recovery, but I saw them doing it, and since I wanted to fit in, I did it too. I started setting up meetings, washing ashtrays, making coffee, cleaning coffee cups – again, not because I really wanted to, but because it’s what THEY did, so I did it too.
It was also the first time that I would begin to truly understand a phrase I heard many years later (and what the real meaning of the phrase was) “Meeting Makers Make It”. It was during that time that I showed up, set out literature racks, chaired meetings, greeted people at the door…. and I really liked the feeling I had after a meeting know that I played even a small part in making that meeting happen. So, it was then I learned that MMMI is not about how many meetings one attends, it’s about the people who make meetings happen – THEY make it. (Service keeps you sober and happy). In my current home group, we have a phrase that I love, “When We Got Busy – We Got Better!”
Since I’ve been sober, I have had the privilege of helping to start two (2) AA groups – one in New York City (that is still going strong today), and one here in Grapevine, my current home group, The Get In The Car Group of AA. In both instances, I was surrounded by men and women in the Fellowship who were ready for something deeper than what they were currently experiencing. There’s a beautiful paragraph on page 164 in the 4th Edition in A Vision for You that says this:
“Still you may say: “But I will not have the benefit of contact with you who write this book.” We cannot be sure. God will determine that, so you must remember that your real reliance is always upon Him. He will show you how to create the fellowship you crave.”
These men and women helped me find that Fellowship that I craved (in both instances) and I will forever be changed by it. Some of the benefits of having a home group – that place you call home where your family lives:
1. Increased Accountability
At your home group you’re known, you’re expected to show up, and you’re expected to make progress in your recovery. Knowing that your home group is waiting and wants to see you succeed is an extra push of accountability to stay sober. You can’t get sober alone which is why a home group shares their triumphs and carries their challenges together, and why accountability is a good thing.
Structure, like regular tasks and chores are extremely beneficial to sobriety. During my drinking days, it was tough to find any semblance of regularity or normalcy but after I put down the bottle, normal meetings or tasks help remove idol time and overthinking. A regular home group gave me something to look forward to, something to keep my mind occupied, and a sense of normalcy.
3. Friendship and Fellowship
So, you can meet friends and take part in fellowship at any 12 step meeting, but you’re encouraged to build real friendships and lasting relationships in your home group. The home group is just that – your recovery ‘home.’ It’s one thing to regularly share at a 12 step meetings but it’s another to share at your home group where people understand exactly who you are, the unique obstacles you face, and what type of experience and encouragement will work best for you. My best friend, Shannan C. and her husband Terry C are the perfect examples of that. They are two of the most important people in my life today and had it not been for my home group at the time I met them (which is where I first heard Shannan tell her story), they might not be in my life today – and that’s just unacceptable to me.
Having a home group means continuity, responsibility and a place you are seen by others who may want what you have and can get it. This means step work, meeting and greeting and doing the stuff that you may think you are beyond doing such as kitchen duty, toilet duty, mowing the grass and or other needs of that facility where your home group meets that may need help with. One thing though, in the beginning, I might seriously suggest pacing yourself with the amount you take on as this task has led some to go out because of not being able to say HELP or I need some of the load removed.
My life before the program was characterized by isolation. Even when I was with people, I kept them out. I didn’t want anyone to know the real me. It’s impossible for me to do that with my home group members. They help keep me honest with myself. Other people see me better than I do – especially my home group members.
I hope I never find myself homeless in AA (without a home group). The moment I don’t have a home group is the moment I begin to think I don’t need my fellow AA members. And I also hope I never find myself in a place again (long story) like I was at 18 years sober where I just showed up once a month or so, gave nothing and took everything each time I graced the doors. Effectively, I was an AA thief, all I ever did was take, take, take.
I love my home group. Is it perfect? No, but I don’t think it’s designed to be. It was built as a place for me to learn and grow and share with others AS I learn and grow and let them watch me. I think one of the most important things I can do for the newcomer in my home group is to let them see someone with over 3 decades of recovery tell the truth, and let them see when I am struggling. I want them to be able to see what it looks like to be all caught up in my spiritual illness – but to ALSO watch me as I walk through it and get to the other side.
I love my home group. Is it today what it was pre-COVID? No, it is not. But I refuse to let a pandemic get in the way of re-imagining ways in which I can carry our life saving message to the still suffering alcoholic who is dying. I hope I never forget that we are in one business and one business only – the life saving business – and that starts and ends for me in the home group.
- Increased Accountability (Responsibility)
- Regularity (Routine)
- Friendship and Fellowship (Service)
I learned the real meaning of those things from my home group.