A.A. has often been referred to as a “Benign anarchy” – a world in which autonomy from group to group can seem like an invitation to chaos. Yet, unruly as some groups appear, when guided by the need for unity that underlies all A.A. activity and shaped by the recognition that the Fellowship is built on the connection that happens when one alcoholic shares his or her experience with another, a kind of order takes hold of almost every A.A. meeting.
As Bill W. notes in the introduction to the long form of the Traditions in the Big Book, “We alcoholics see that we must work together and hang together, else most of us will finally die alone.”
One thing many groups have discovered that can test that unity within meetings, however, is crosstalk – sharing that is often considered intrusive and generally disruptive.
Crosstalk can mean different things to different people. Some groups define any comments, negative or positive, about another person’s sharing beyond “Thank you for your share” as crosstalk or interference. Some outline crosstalk as engaging directly in conversation with another alcoholic during the meeting or providing commentary or feedback on what another has shared.
The Washington Heights Group in Upper Manhattan has a statement, born of the group conscience, which is read at every Thursday evening meeting: “Feedback and crosstalk are discouraged here. Crosstalk is giving advice to others who have already shared, speaking directly to another person rather than to the group and questioning or interrupting the person speaking at the time. If crosstalk occurs, the chair will remind you of this policy.”
Of course, there can be a fine line between sharing and intrusion, as many groups have discovered, and what works in one location may not work in another.
The main thing most groups can agree on, however, is that all sharing needs to be nonjudgmental. “From the very beginning, one drunk talking to another has made the A.A. program go round,” says Anne T., of Rome, New York. “When someone shares in response to something I’ve said, that’s okay, but only so long as there’s not even a hint of censure, belittlement, scolding or preaching, all under the guise of sharing. Knowing there’s no risk of judgement makes me feel safe.”
J.P., of Spokane, Washington, has also found that crosstalk of a giving nature is “sort of a language of the heart. It occurs with familiarity and can be very helpful. If members know one another well, as they tend to in small groups, they feel comfortable about saying, ‘I’d like to add something to what Jane said…’ To me the key is comfort and the hope that sharing one’s experience in recovery will help another alcoholic to stay sober and face life’s challenges with greater ease.”
Noting of crosstalk that “until the 1990s the word wasn’t even in A.A. vocabulary,” Susan U. of the 79th Street Workshop in New York City cautions against setting up too many rules and regulations in response to what – and how – people share in meetings: “There are no rules in A.A, just customs and the conscience of each autonomous group, and experience shows that for most groups attempts to control don’t work very well. On the other hand, the nonjudgmental sharing we receive at meetings in response to something we have said can be beneficial to our recovery. It’s how we learn to live sober, productive lives, and that’s what sharing our experience and strength is about.”
In general, then, when it comes to crosstalk, giving advice or disruptive sharing in meetings, keeping the focus on A.A. unity – and on our own personal experiences as they may be helpful to another recovering alcoholic – can provide a useful guideline to keep group sharing on track and resentments from creeping in.
As many groups have found, however, from time to time it may require a living reminder from the group’s chair.
By General Service Office, Box 459 Newsletter – Vol. 63, No. 1 / Spring 2017