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August 1995

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Separated by many miles, these AAs had a three-way meeting over the telephone

I was nervous. I had been to nearly two thousand Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but this was going to be one of the most unusual. It would be small; there were only three of us. I'd known Chuck for years, but I'd only met Vicki once. Was this thing really going to work?

Vicki had been sober for years and was very active in AA. Recovering from a physical illness, she'd been home from the hospital only a short time and had been given strict orders to take it easy. When I had phoned her to set up the meeting time, she frankly said that she really needed one.

I dialed Chuck's number. It was chaos at his place. People were working on repairs to his house after a burglary. At first he wanted to postpone the meeting, but he decided to move into the back room and give it a try. I pressed down on the receiver button and heard the reassuring three beeps. I called Vicki. When she answered the phone, I pressed down again. All right! We were separated by miles, each in our own homes, but all three of us were on line together.

After brief introductions, we got started. We opened the meeting with the Serenity Prayer. As I read the Preamble, I began to settle down. Soon I wasn't nervous anymore. I asked Chuck to read the beginning of "How It Works." Vicki read the Twelve Traditions on page 564.

We were concerned that when a person is sick, there might be a natural tendency to focus on that particular illness rather than on recovery from alcoholism, so we had worked up a meeting format based on a Big Book study group we went to. To reduce the temptation to cross talk, we had a line in the format that said: "Each person is encouraged to speak once on the selection. Please do not speak twice until everyone has had an opportunity to share." Having a clear format and keeping the meeting firmly anchored to the Big Book helped us stick to our primary purpose. We wanted it to be as much like a face-to-face meeting as possible. About the only thing we couldn't do in the usual way was pass the basket.

I read a couple of paragraphs from "More About Alcoholism." I asked Chuck to comment, then Vicki and I each took a turn. We all had a chance to add a P.S., and we closed with a familiar prayer.

The meeting had lasted about half an hour. There was a short "meeting after the meeting." We all remarked how much like a regular AA meeting it was. It was definitely not the same as when two people are talking on the phone.

When I told them I would be writing to the Grapevine, Vicki and Chuck asked me to include some of their thoughts. Chuck said, "Maybe the original motive was to help Vicki, but that day I really needed a meeting. I had a terrific resentment about my house being robbed. For that half hour, I was able to be someplace else." And Vicki said, "Just talking about it brings a tear to my eye. It was a godsend. I couldn't drive, and I hadn't been to a meeting for. . .well, too long. Isolation is dangerous for an alcoholic."

In the years since that first one, we've held phone meetings for a lot of different reasons. Some of us were recovering from physical ailments and soon made it back to regular meetings. Others have been homebound for months or years. We haven't used the phone meeting with someone who is very new; for them, no doubt, a face-to-face meeting is best. But for AA members who have been around a while, we've found that a phone meeting can sometimes be better than a visit for people who are sick. Getting themselves and their homes ready for visitors can be too much for them.

As for me, the phone meetings have been great. I look at them as another payment on the insurance against a slip. It has meant a small, fixed, monthly charge on my phone bill, but I get unlimited local three-way calls. I think it's worth it to be able to have a meeting any time I need one. Getting drunk would cost me a lot more.

Recently, because two of us have three-way calling, we had a four-person meeting. I found it helped to visualize them sitting at a table with me. We just took turns going around the imaginary circle.

Writing that last sentence just now made me think of a sentence at the end of "Bill's Story" in the Big Book. I looked it up and it says: "Each day my friend's simple talk in our kitchen multiplies itself in a widening circle of peace on earth and good will to men."

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