Using Timers at AA Meetings : Good or Bad ?

by on January 5th, 2011
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Approximately three years ago, I began attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in West Hartford, Connecticut that featured one component I had never seen at an AA meeting before.

The component that I am referring to is the use of a hand held timer when meeting attendees are sharing. When I first saw the timer, I didn’t know what to think. At first, it seemed very strict and regimented and I thought it seemed quite out of place and inappropriate. After attending a few of the meetings where the timer was utilized, I began to see the timer as being a very good thing.

Many times previously and still at AA meetings, there were times when either I had something relevant to share or other meeting-goers had a need to share and we couldn’t because other participants had shared for too long and there wasn’t enough meeting time remaining for anyone else to share. Sharing, or speaking aloud in the group is one of the main reasons why many people attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Whether it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand or not, the process of sharing at meetings is an important and cathartic aspect of attending AA meetings.

At the AA meeting where I first encountered a timer, the designated amount of time alotted to each person to speak is three minutes. That amount of time seemed too short to me at first, but as time went on, I came to realize that it is indeed a reasonable amount of time for a person to share. At that particular meeting, a little bit of leeway is provided, so if a person is still speaking when the three minute mark arrives, they are generally allowed to finish articulating their thoughts.

Since my first encounter with a timer at an AA meeting, I have subsequently encountered timers at one other meeting. At that meeting, the designated speaking time was five minutes, but there was no tolerance of people of speaking over the five minute limit. Several people were politely told their five minute allotment was up and most of them were gracious but one man mentioned that he thought the timer was obnoxious and a lousy idea.

At the AA meeting where I first encountered the timer and which I still regularly attend, the average number of attendees is roughly 20. The meeting is one hour long, with a five-seven minute introduction and preamble tradition at the start. Another three-five minute allotment of time is also required at the end of the meeting, for closing statements and group recitation of AA’s Third Step Prayer.

After the opening traditions, the group reads part of a chapter from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” aloud, which usually takes approximately 20-25 minutes. Added together, these meeting components take up roughly 30 minutes.

That leaves 30 minutes for approximately 20 people to comment on what they just read or something else that is on their mind. When you do the math, that leaves each person with 1.5 minutes to speak their minds. Even with the timer, there are frequently meetings where people are still raising their hands to speak when the meeting closes.

It’s a lousy feeling when you have something important that you want or need to share at an AA meeting but can’t because other attendees were talking for too long. That’s why it’s so important for meeting chairpersons to ask aloud before the meeting closes if anyone has a burning desire to share.

You never know, by being able to share at a meeting, it might help to prevent an alcoholic from taking a drink or doing something else they might regret later.

Honestly, I’m surprised that more AA meeting groups do not regularly use timers. While my regular meeting utilizes a small digital timer, a regular old kitchen timer or wristwatch or cellphone with a timer signal could work just as well. When a timer is used at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it is important that a person is designated to operate it at each meeting.

If you are a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who regularly attends meetings, what do you think of timers being used when people are sharing ? Have you ever encountered timers being used at meetings or would you like to see them being used at meetings that you attend ?

Sources :
Personal experience as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous

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