How the Wednesday night Worthwhile Women AA meeting got started 30 years ago.
Karen F (8 months sober) had an idea to start a women’s AA meeting in the 6 pm time slot on Wednesday night. She had heard the meeting that was in that slot had closed down. She had done some preliminary footwork talking to board members and knew there might be some strong objections since a group of women had attempted to start a group in the past 2 years and failed.
To improve her chances for approval by the board she decided to get a group of 5 or 6 (Karen, Ellen, Nell, Barb, and Sally) women to commit to attending the meeting for the next 6 months. That is how I first heard of the new meeting; she approached me to be one of the core members to commit to 6 months attendance. We had a group conscience meeting to decide the format (open topic every week) and attended the next board meeting where Karen presented our request for a new meeting. There were objections (it won’t work because it failed before). Ultimately, the board decided to let us try out the meeting on a probationary basis. We came back to the board to get approval to make the meeting a permanent one a few months later.
That first year was a magical one. I had only attended mixed meetings (some like attending a men’s group since I was the only woman) and found that I felt comfortable to talk about things at this group that I would not talk about in a mixed group. The open topic format seemed to be going well. And, for the first Christmas we had a candlelight meeting at Barb and Nell’s apartment. That is where we started the tradition of sharing something (a reading, poem or song) that had helped us in our sobriety. This has carried on to the present in some form. One of the major changes in the present day is that we now always hold this meeting at the house so we do not risk missing newcomers looking for their first meeting.
In the spring, a new member (Pat) was the squad leader. Topics for meetings became more and more unusual. One Wednesday in mid-May I came to the meeting and met Pat coming out of the house. She told me everyone has quit the meeting. She handed me the house key and told me to call her if anyone came back. (Karen had moved away and was no longer attending meetings at Dakota Alano.) I was shocked. I was angry (how could they do this to me). I was determined to figure out some way to keep the meeting going. I called a few of the members and they confirmed that they had no interest in attending the meeting.
The next week, I called my sponsee (Pam S.) and asked her to sit with me for the hour the meeting was to be held. We had just registered the meeting with Intergroup so I had some hope that new members would show up from that source. Pam complained quite a bit about how boring it was sitting at the house for an hour with no real meeting. So I let her off the hook for the next week and beyond.
I was trying to figure out what had happened to the meeting and where we might have failed. In between meetings, I looked for other women’s groups in the intergroup directory and attended their meetings. Quite a few were no longer in existence. I found a couple that had existed for several years and they were doing step/tradition or step/topic every week. I concluded where we went wrong was with our all topic format; that an AA meeting needs to talk about the steps.
By the end of June I was despairing of anyone showing up for the meeting. This was the year that Gopher State Roundup was held over the July 4th weekend. There was a speaker there that spoke directly to me. He was from Montana and his father sobered up after him. In the small town where his father lived there was no AA meeting so he attempted to start one in the basement of the local library.
Every week for a year, he came to the library and set up for the meeting, made coffee, read his big book and waited for someone else to come. One year later, another gentleman showed up. At the time of Gopher State they had 3 or 4 members. This speaker helped me have patience. After all, I had only been there for a little over 6 weeks.
A week or two later, two women showed up from a group in Mendota Heights. They had heard about our meeting and came to check it out. They had 5 and 8 years of sobriety respectably. I asked for their assistance in getting the meeting started. The next week they brought a couple other women from their meeting and I called Pat (our previous squad leader) to return to the meeting.
We had a group conscience and decided on a Step/Open Topic format. Everyone had to take meetings quite frequently at the beginning. Just when we were tired of giving meetings a new member showed up (Irene T.) She not only volunteered to take the topic that night but for the next week as well. We wholeheartedly said “Keep coming back”. As the summer wound down some of the members from the Mendota Height group left us. People started to find us through Intergroup and some members that had attended our meeting in the past returned. That brings us to September of 1983.
Over the years the group and group format has grown and changed. The use of group conscience meetings has saved us more than once. We have had members break out in fights; the group conscience meeting centers us again and reminds us of our primary purpose. Someone has an idea to change the format of the meeting – keep it to an hour, add readings, remove readings, change from step / open topic to step/topic/my story, incorporate traditions either as a separate week or include it the week we do the step. I was initially very resistant to these changes thinking what had worked when we restarted was what always had to be done or the meeting would fail. Many of these changes have taken place in response to the current needs of the meeting.
When the “my story” topic was added to the rotation I have to admit to some skepticism again. Initially, when you told your story you had a whole hour to tell it and it was not followed by a meeting of any time. This was phenomenal; it was a wonderful way to get to know the group members better. By this time the meeting was very large, breaking into 4 or 5 groups each week so you could easily not be in a meeting with someone for several weeks. When people told their stories they put their heart and soul into it. I missed the meeting for 3 years in the 1990’s and when I came back, “How it works” had been replaced with a reading from “A Woman’s way to the 12 steps”. Many of the group members had come out of certain woman’s treatment center and had made some changes to reflect what they liked from treatment. There was a saying they would use after the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting “We are worthwhile women and deserve to be loved.” This was the inspiration for the meeting name change from Dakota Alano 6 pm Women’s meeting to Wednesday night Worthwhile Woman meeting. We got this changed officially with Intergroup. Eventually, through group conscience meetings we got the “Woman’s way through the 12 steps” replaced with readings from the big book and eventually “How it works”.
Another big issue over the years was smoking in the meeting. This has since been resolved for good by the ban of smoking in the whole house. We would allow smoking during the beginning of the meeting at one end of the table, or not at all (you had to wait for small group); sometimes no smoking but a smoke break before the small group. This seems impossible these days but people were very passionate on both sides of the subject and this topic alone made for some very passionate group conscience meetings.
Initially, we did not have group conscience meetings on a regular basis. Only when a crisis occurred would we have a group conscience meeting. Over time we learned this was not the best way to do things; everything was too intense and it was hard to be objective during the group conscience meeting. Then, we would try to have monthly or quarterly group conscience meetings and that didn’t seem to work very well either as people came thinking there had to be a problem; looking for problems where none existed. We have now settled into a monthly business/group conscience meeting. At this meeting we go over finances and if a squad leader, etc. needs to be replaced we will discuss it here and vote at the regular meeting. This works better because if an issue comes up we can discuss it right away but we are not looking for problems where none exist.
The meeting now represents the people who are currently a part of it and I think that is a beautiful thing. It has been with a lot of love, respect and following the principles and traditions of the program that this meeting continues to grow to reflect its members and represent Dakota Alano in a positive way to our visitors.
By the way, we have had men attend our meeting over the years as we follow the 3rd tradition “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”.