by the Rev. Seamus Doyle, member of the Addiction Recover Ministry

As I talk to clergy and other professionals about addiction and recovery, there seems to be the impression that “alcoholics are not responsible.”  What we have to keep in mind is that those who have grown up in a family whose functioning ability is unhealthy, each individual has to learn to cope and survive and some of that survival behavior may not be a trait of responsibility.

That said, the reality is that, as one grows mentally, emotionally, spiritually, in a program of recovery, responsibility is learned. At the convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto in 1965, a pamphlet was written about the responsibility of the individual member to the program. It was condensed into a single simple statement :‘ 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.”

The Toronto statement on Responsibility goes on to say: “It is in taking responsibility that real freedom and the enduring satisfactions of life are found. AA has given us the power to choose – to drink or not to drink – and in doing so has given us the freedom to be responsible for ourselves. As we become responsible for ourselves, we are free to be responsible for our share in AA, and, unless we happily accept this responsibility, we lose A.A. Strange, isn’t it?

Unlike corporations and institutions, Alcoholics Anonymous is a Fellowship where “our leaders are but trusted servants.” No one is looking for “the top job” as there is no such a thing. Leadership is about service to others. With recovery, one learns first of all to become responsible for cleaning up their own act by making the program a way of life;  by working the steps; by talking to a Sponsor and being active in the program.                                   

The new member may attend a variety of meetings but will, at some point, choose a Home Group. As he or she attends, they are encouraged to participate in what is called “The Group Conscience meeting.” This is the “business’ meeting. It is here that the recovering person learns that he/she is trusted, respected, and they are encouraged to use their gifts and talents in leadership. One begins by committing to chair a meeting once a week. This means they are trusted with the key to the building; they are responsible for  getting to the meeting ahead of everyone else, getting the room set up, setting up coffee, and getting a “speaker” or “moderator” for that meeting. A person may choose to serve as  the Group Representative to District meeting. This is a commitment to a monthly meeting which has a number of committees dealing with outreach to prison and treatment program meeting; outreach to churches, planning the annual gatherings, etc. The District meeting has representatives who attend State meetings and National meetings. Leadership is about the willingness to serve the program at local, district, state and National level. No one is paid for this service.                                                                           

The most important thing a person in recovery is responsible for is his or her sobriety, then they are responsible to the group. With mental, emotional and spiritual growth, the person in recovery often seeks ways to become involved not only in A.A. but also in their community and in their Church.                                                                                

A young man was offered a position at a church but it had to be cleared by the Vestry. The rector told the Vestry the young man was well educated, was in the program of recovery for alcoholism and drugs, was a single custodial parent for six years.  “Father’ the Senior Warden said, ‘this guy is a loser, what makes you think we should hire him?” The rector replied, “I see him as a winner.”