How Big Book Step Study Meetings Work
I. The Basic Big Book Step Study Meeting.
A. The Chairperson: Qualifications, Responsibilities, and Attitudes.
1. Is sober, has done the steps as laid out in the Big Book, and can demonstrate that by their own words and example.
2. Is willing to conduct the meeting according to the format. Is the "point man" of the BBSS group; is obligated to uphold the group conscience from the chair; and be willing to explain the group's function and goals to newcomers and visitors before, during, and after the meeting. Must be willing to interrupt an individual who is off the step and remind them of the purpose of the meeting, or may have to "quiz" them on various parts of the steps to see if they have, in fact, done the work as described in the text. Keeps the time, and lets people know when their time is up. The most important-as well as difficult-trusted servant position in the group. The chairman leads for a month at a time, and chooses the speaker for each meeting.
3. Believes that "God's will" is for drunks to get help through the 12 steps as laid out in the BB. Has a greater desire to tell the "Truth" than to be popular within the AA community at large. Believes he or she is a servant of God and the people around them.
B. The Format.
1. Chairperson's Instructions.
As the basic format for the group meeting, the instructions consist of several parts: the AA preamble, the Group preamble, and the Step Rotation.
2. Group Preamble, or the Group Conscience Statement.
This is what makes a BBSS meeting what it is. It defines our group conscience, our mission, the way we carry our message to the alcoholic who still suffers. It lays out the ground rules of the meeting. It makes clear that sharing at a BBSS meeting depends upon whether a person has direct experience with the 12 steps as they are laid out in the basic text.
3. The Readings for the 12 Steps in the Big Book.
Also known as the cycle, or step rotation, this is a 15-week rotation of readings. The chairperson announces the step, and pages in the Big Book that will be used as a topic for the meeting that night. The chairperson starts the reading by asking people to read, a paragraph at a time, going around the tables or the room. (The readers do not identify themselves at this point in the meeting)
C. The Speaker.
This is also a person who is qualified to share by having experienced the 12 steps as they are laid out with the help of another person who has done it this way. They have done the 3rd step with their sponsor, or another person. They have done the 4th step exactly as the Big Book lays it out, are easily able to describe all three parts, and are willing to read examples from their own inventory. They have done steps 6 and 7 approximately an hour after they finished their 5th step. They have made some significant 9th step amends, and are practicing steps 10, 11, and 12 on a daily basis. They usually have chaired BBSS meetings, and are sponsoring people through the 12 steps. They often give a very brief history of their drinking, recapping their AA experience up until BBSS, then focusing specifically on the text and their experience with the directions for the step being studied. The entire talk generally lasts around 20 minutes.
D. The Meeting Itself.
Usually lasts an hour and a half with no break. It's divided into three basic parts: the reading, the speaker, and discussion of the step being studied.
1. Who Can Share.
Only people who have completed their 4th step and are on 9-12 may share during the meeting. 3 Most people who have been through the process qualify by introducing themselves, and saying that they have done the 12 steps as they are laid out in the Big Book with a BBSS sponsor, and have done the steps this way, or something to that effect. This differentiates them from those AA's who are not familiar with the BBSS process. Each person shares their experience with the step for up to 5 minutes. The chair keeps track of time and usually holds up a hand when time is up.
2. What to Do When Unqualified People Try to Share:
It is the responsibility of the chairperson to determine whether a person is qualified. The chairperson must listen carefully to what the person is saying about the step and try to determine whether the person's experience is consistent with the directions in the text. Some warning signs are that someone is at a BBSS meeting for the first time; mentions other methods, other 12 step literature, AWOL's, treatment center step work, Joe and Charlie seminars and tapes, the 7 deadly sins, assets-liabilities checklists; talks around the step and won't get to the point; is unfamiliar to the group and is not familiar with BBSS meetings; is visiting from another group; is a popular and well respected oldtimer, but speaks very little of their own step experience, or how exactly they did the steps.
As described earlier, the chair must interrupt a person and ask them if they have "done this step the way it is laid out on these specific pages in the book Alcoholics Anonymous?" There are many approaches to this. Most successful approaches are direct, but always courteous and polite, and start with "Excuse me..." If the person says they have done it this way, or if there is still some doubt, the next step is to ask them if they would mind answering a few questions to satisfy the group. If they have done the steps, especially the 4th step the way it is laid out, they shouldn't mind too much if they are asked some questions related directly to the basic instructions for the 4th step, such as, "Can you please tell me what the main parts of the 4th step are?" and "What are the 4 main defects in the 1st part of the inventory? " or "How did you do your turnarounds?" and "How did you do your sex inventory?" These are not meant to embarrass the person, but to see if they are qualified to share. It is not fair to ask other people to pass and listen who are writing their 4th steps for months on end, and let people with questionable experience get by and water down the meeting. This weakens the group, and will frustrate qualified people who have had the experience, and do not want to hear (or for their sponsees to hear) about other methods which the group conscience rejects.
If the chairperson fails to do this at meeting level, a qualified person should go up to the person in question directly after the meeting to explain the format, and ask some of those same questions. Some chairpersons ask to see the visitor's 4th step, and offer to show them their own. This is all done in an attitude of genuine concern, helpfulness, and loving service.
What happens if the person becomes angry and insists on sharing? It is wise to give them their 5 minutes and let them have their say. But, at a later time, they still need to demonstrate that they have had the experience, if they want to participate on a sharing level. Our inventories have shown us that outbursts of anger are often self-seeking strategies to protect our security, self esteem, personal relations, ambition, and pride are designed to get us the things that we want. The old expression "an empty barrel makes the most noise" best describes this type of reaction..
We have provided clear and basic suggestions for how to have a BBSS meeting. Big Book Step Study meetings work. They work by being very structured and specific, providing clear-cut directions on how to recover from the disease of alcoholism. They work by putting the principles of AA ahead of our own (and other people's) personalities, and by keeping one aim above all else: carrying the AA message to the alcoholic who still suffers-no matter how long they are sober.
Our experience is not the last word, but it is distilled from many accumulated years of starting and participating in BBSS groups in our areas. We have written this in anticipation of the basic stumbling blocks which one may encounter when trying to start a meeting and fellowship of this type within AA. We welcome the comments and experience of other BBSS folks, as well as the questions of those who want to do the steps this way, and do likewise with still others. One final word. It is essential to have done the steps this way in order to have the experience, faith, and courage it takes to pass it on. As it says on page 164 of our book: "But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven't got."
A. On our Web site we have chosen to use the earliest available version of the Hyannis Men's Big Book Step Study Group preamble as a model for other groups. Many groups since then have used a variation of it, but many groups still use this same preamble today, and it is strongly suggested not to deviate from this basic and time-tested formula.
B. Again, we have used the earliest version of the step rotation available to us, in order to establish a baseline. Groups have added and taken away, and condensed readings, and have also changed the order of the earlier readings, but many groups still use it as is. We want to encourage groups to keep it simple by using this format.
C. Group conscience varies with this rule. Some groups allow people who are writing their 4th to speak on the first 3 steps during the discussion portion of the meeting, but never as a main speaker.