Recovery Rules (That Aren’t Rules)

The great thing about recovery rules is that, really, they don’t exist. Alcoholics and addicts offer suggestions—nothing more, nothing less—because they ended up in the same place as the person looking for help. It doesn’t make for a very strong case that we have the best judgment. Plus, let’s face it, for many of us, very little of our past experience shows that we are the rule-following type.

However, that doesn’t mean that everything needs to go out the window. Here are five highly suggested pieces of advice, that you won’t find anywhere in the Big Book, but also why they aren’t set-in-stone.

Recovery Rules

90 Meetings in 90 Days

Nowhere in the Big Book or 12 and 12 is it mentioned to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. We often hear this being told to newcomers, and it is usually phrased in the context of, “if you don’t do this, you will most likely get loaded.” That is complete nonsense, though.

Does that mean one meeting every day? What if there is a scheduling conflict or other obligation; can you double up one day? How about multiple days? If I hit three meetings a day for 30 days, does that mean I don’t need to go to meetings for two months?

Of course not. The purpose of 90 meetings in 90 days is to establish a strong foundation for your recovery. We’ll visit this a bit more later, but meetings are not recovery—working with a sponsor/sponsee is where we get recovery. Still, going to a lot of meetings in those first few days can greatly help in finding a sponsor/sponsee that fits well for you.
“Firing” Sponsees

“Yeah, I had to fire a sponsee the other day. He just couldn’t take direction.”

I’ve heard this more times than I can count. Sponsors don’t fire sponsees—sponsees “fire” themselves. If someone continuously doesn’t want to do the work, chances are, they are going to stop calling on their own accord.

As clean and sober members of AA/NA, our job as sponsors is to carry the message to the alcoholic or addict who is still suffering. That’s it. We are not qualified to be therapists, doctors, lawyers, or anything other than a guide through the 12 Steps (unless, of course, you’ve actually been approved by the state to perform said professions). All we can do is point out where a given step or steps apply in someone’s life.

If the newcomer isn’t being offered their best chances of finding recovery, then it is our duty as sponsors to make sure that they get that chance. Sometimes that means letting the sponsee fall flat on his face, suggesting he would do better with someone else, or simply leaving the door open for when they are ready to do the work. If they aren’t willing to do the work and/or have no desire to stop drinking and using, then it is a moot point anyways.
No Relationships Until…

When I first got clean and sober, my sponsor told me, “You can do anything you want, so long as you are willing to pay the price for it.”

There is no mention of the various “no relationships” recovery rules in the official AA texts (nor NA, as far as I remember), but it is one I wish I had followed looking back on my own experience. The truth was, I was so crazy and messed up that I really didn’t have anything to offer anyone. It was doomed to failure, too, because only a sick person would want to be in a relationship with a sick person. If I had gone through the Steps, I probably would have had something to offer at that point, but an arbitrary span of abstinence is not the same as having something to offer in a relationship.

The “no relationships” rule is actually to help old-timers. Newcomers go in and out all the time. When someone with time under his or her belt starts exposing himself or herself to those old ideas, coupled with the escapism of love and lust, it becomes ever more likely that we will find ourselves drifting in our relationship with God.

To put it somewhat crudely, this recovery rule exists is so we “don’t make someone else’s lower power [our] Higher Power.”
Go to “Good” Meetings

Meetings serve three purposes and three purposes only:

  • Fellowship;
  • A place to find a sponsor; and
  • A place to find sponsees

Recovery takes place between a sponsor, a sponsee, and God. There may be a concentration of people who have strong recovery and/or work The Program in all their affairs in a given meeting, but recovery itself is not found in meetings. Because of the varied nature of addicts and alcoholics, even the “best” meeting for one person could be a total flop for another.

Remember that no human power can relieve us of our alcoholism/addiction. Last time I checked, all members of AA/NA were human. Without working The Steps to establish and grow a relationship with a Higher Power, there is no relief from our disease, and hence, no recovery either.

It is a program of attraction, and if we aren’t attractive, then we aren’t serving our primary purpose, either. Fortunately, we have the Fourth Tradition, and we can find that attraction elsewhere if a certain meeting just isn’t our cup of tea.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of very valuable and practical advice in some of these so-called recovery rules. What recovery rules do you like, or ones that you disagreed with?

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