The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a big part of my life. AA has saved my life more than once and I am very grateful for everything I learn from the Big Book and attending meetings. It is very important that I practice restraint of pen and tongue and I would never sacrifice anyone else’s anonymity. Through the years, I have written several AA – oriented articles and now I feel that it is time to write another article, this time addressing cigarette breaks at AA meetings.
Ironically, as I write this article, smoking less cigarettes is a large component of my life. For almost two months now, I have stuck to a self imposed limit of seven cigarettes per day. Previously, I was smoking approximately 12 butts per day and lately I’ve been smoking 5 – 7 daily. I think that subliminally, or subconsciously, the cigarette breaks at a couple of my regular AA meetings have helped to solidify my desire to continue smoking minimally.
When I first came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, more than a decade ago, almost every meeting that I attended had a cigarette break. The breaks were undoubtedly my favorite part of the meetings, when I first came around. I didn’t really like AA and I was yet to become a believer in the power of this spiritual program. I couldn’t wait for the breaks to come, so I could have a smoke and check out the female attendees who also came outside.
Now, it seems as though most of the West Hartford, Connecticut area AA meetings that I attend are one hour in length, with no cigarette breaks taken. There is one glaring exception to this rule, however. On Friday nights, I regularly attend a very popular local meeting that is almost a social event as well as a meeting. This Open Speaker meeting is one hour in length, yet when the speaker is done telling his or her story, it is time for the traditional cigarette break.
I think that having that cigarette break is somewhat absurd and I just don’t get it. Up until a few months ago, I would often join the throng of puffers outside, but I would only take a few drags from a cigarette, then go back inside. Gradually, I came to see that going outside to smoke then seemed almost pathetic and without making a cognitive decision, I just stopped going outside.
This past week, after the speaker was done orating and the cigarette break was taken, the AA meeting resumed for nine minutes. There was only enough time for two people to share, then the meeting was over. It should be noted here that when this AA meeting resumes, on a regular basis, at least half the crowd does not return.
Enter the word momentum. I can’t help but feel that once the meeting stopped to take a break, it is difficult to re-start the momentum that the meeting previously possessed. With that meeting having a speaker format, the normal feedback and sharing that occurs with meeting participants is very limited in time and what was said is not as fresh in people’s minds as it would be if there was no break. In discussing this issue with my sponsor the other night, he intoned that taking that break is almost shows a lack of respect for the speaker.
After the AA Speaker meeting last week, I asked the Chairperson why the cigarette break is taken during a one hour meeting and he said that it is strictly traditional in nature and that some of the old-timers at the meeting would fight any change tooth and nail. Speaking of old timers, I’ve also noticed that for the most part, the people who remain inside during the break are generally members with multiple years of sobriety, including some smokers.
At a Saturday Open Discussion meeting that I also regularly attend, the meeting length is 90 minutes and there is a cigarette break halfway through. The break is then followed by a raffle and by then almost 25 minutes has usually gone by. What I’ve seen at that Open Discussion meeting is more participants’ wanting to share than there is time allowed, which is never a good thing.
I have chaired several meetings and have learned from others to ask the group if anyone has a need to share before the meeting adjourns. You never know; in the world of alcoholism and addiction, sharing at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can be a life or death decision.
Of course, from a health point of view, many people would wonder why there are still cigarette breaks at AA meetings at all. Some might ask “Are cigarette breaks at AA meetings good or bad ?” I think the reality is that there are many members of AA who are cigarette smokers and attend meetings regularly.
I would think, if cigarette breaks work well for individual AA meetings, then so be it. If it is a matter of real concern to members of the group, the issue can always be brought up at the group’s monthly business meeting. The chairperson of my speaker meeting told me that the idea of abolishing the break doesn’t pass at that meeting because of tradition.
As far as cigarette breaks at one hour AA meetings, I still think the idea is absurd.
What do you think ?
Personal experience with the topic