The Saturday night of the International AA Convention that happens once every five years is always reserved for an old-timers meeting. If you happened to not know what qualifies someone as an old-timer in AA, currently it’s 50 years or greater of continuous sobriety. And the way the Saturday evening meeting works is that anyone with this amount of clean time or more places their name in a basket, of which 12 are randomly chosen to speak in front of the 50,000+ people in attendance. The kicker is that they then only get 5 minutes to share their experience, strength, and hope with everyone.
Many of the people I spoke with at the conference told me they felt that the five minutes was too little of time to really say anything of importance. I frankly have to disagree, solely because of what my first sponsor taught me. She showed me how a very strong recovery message could easily be relayed in five minutes or less and that anyone who spoke for longer than that was most likely only speaking from ego.
So as I watched each of the old-timers be called to the podium one by one on Saturday night at the very large Georgia Dome meeting, I saw how most did just that and completely struggled to keep their message under the five minute limit. For some it was due to them trying to tell their entire journey to sobriety, while for others, it was due to them telling jokes and stories. One or two though did keep to the time limit and in all honesty, it was their shares that are the ones I remember the most.
When the meeting was over, I spent some time pondering what I might say if I were an old-timer myself and was called up to the podium to speak in front of 50,000+ individuals for 300 seconds. After much deliberation, this is what I came up with:
“Hello family, my name is Andrew and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic. I truly believe there’s only one reason why I’m standing here before all of you and why I’ve been able to remain clean and sober for all these years. It’s what’s the 12 Steps guided me to and that’s an unconditionally loving God. Today I can see that it’s God who helped me make it through all those years I grew up in an alcoholic family. It’s God who helped me make it through all the times I was bullied at school. It’s God who helped me make it through being molested as a young boy by a 45-year-old man. It’s God who helped me make it through each of the years I drank and drugged so excessively. It’s God who helped me come to terms with my sexuality. It’s God who helped me make it through my father’s suicide and my mother’s drunken and deadly fall down the stairs. It’s God who helped me make it through more than a decade of being a dry drunk and falling prey to countless other addictions. It’s God who helped me get through the loss of my business and financial collapse. It’s God who helped me endure all the years I battled very serious health issues. And it’s most definitely God who eventually led me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m so grateful to AA because it’s the 12 Steps that helped me cultivate a much deeper relationship to my Higher Power and heal from all of these things that created so much misery for much of my life. And it’s because of God and the 12 Steps that I know today there is not a single person, place, or thing out there in the world that will ever bring me true happiness. That has only ever come to me through three things: Serving my Higher Power, Living the 12 Steps, and Doing my best to love each and every one of you unconditionally. If it weren’t for those three things, I’m quite positive I wouldn’t be standing here right now doing my best to pass on a little of my own experience, strength, and hope to all of you. Thank you everyone for listening, I love you all…”
So while it remains to be seen whether I’ll ever be given a chance one day to speak for five minutes to 50,000+ people, I can say that if I am, as an old-timer or something else altogether, that my message will be one that gives total credit to the only thing that saved me from a total life of despair and loneliness and that’s God…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson