Community is central to the AA experience, but AA as we know it could stand to be enlarged and extended by:
- Fostering a more inclusive AA community
- Finding community that is supportive of recovery outside of AA
- Envisioning a robust and cohesive recovery community that includes AA but is larger than AA proper
- Identifying ways to participate constructively in the global human community
Most addicts need some sort of people connection. The quality of the experience of community is contingent upon the quality of the participation. Community isn’t just something we find already completely formed; it’s what emerges interactively through our own participation. Human community can come in many forms, but all experiences of community are composed of a complementary blend of, on the one hand, having our present social needs met and, on the other, being challenged to reach down more deeply for that within ourselves that needs to come forth and become part of everyone else's experience. That is to say, each of us has to cobble together an experience of community by not only finding satisfaction through what is, but also being creatively dissatisfied to the point of needing to bring something new into being. It is the latter that can be the most crucial ingredient in sobriety.
There are a number of obstacles that a newly sober addict might encounter:
- Intolerance with regard to addiction
- Having used up the patience of the people around us
- Our own trust issues
- Being shut down emotionally because of the brutality of the experience of addiction
- An inability to relate to other people due to self-absorption
- Poor social skills
- Being needier than the people around us can accommodate
- A scarcity of social opportunities that could provide a sufficient sense of connection
The individual receives significant benefits by fully being a part of community:
- Having a sense of belonging that satisfies a deep, primal need
- Access to the sublime pleasures involved in cultural experiences like art, music, and literature
- Reaping the fruit of the knowledge and experience of others
- A safe and nurturing environment in which to develop organically into a whole person
- Being empowered to participate in such a way that can change the community for the better
- Providing a platform for joining with others to do what can’t be done by isolated individuals
It is easy to see how religion can suck all the air out of the room, thwarting alternative models for community, but atheism is an unstable basis for community. It doesn’t represent anything positive around which an identity can be formed. It is defined by what it is not rather than by what it is. By the same token, humanism and secularism provide a positive identity, and they also do not box us into a ghettoized social space that isolates from others, but instead allow us to join together even with religious believers.
Spearheading an effort to build community doesn’t require any special talent for leadership or organizing. Genetics is on our side. Human beings are designed psychologically and emotionally to long for, look for, and gravitate toward community. When community is not happening, often all that is required is for one person to risk being thought weak, naïve, or sentimental by voicing a simple desire for people to come together. There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Somewhere on the continuum between pure self-interest and absolute altruism is a viable, life-enhancing position. We neither need to feel guilty for not being altruistic enough nor foolish for being too altruistic. We can find an optimal point somewhere between selfishness and self-sacrifice which represents an ideal blend of challenge and comfort.
In a society where lifestyle, personal identity, and cultural commitments are often reduced to consumer choices, what we expect of communities is skewed. Sometimes, community as we actually find it is closer to what we need than anything we would have asked for.