2013 Nashville Prime Time Men's Retreat: A Newcomer's Experience

Discovery Place was represented by several staff members and alumni at the 3rd annual Prime Time Men's Retreat at YMCA's Camp Widjiwagan in Nashville this past weekend (Oct. 18-20, 2013). Two Discovery Place attendees, Andy J. and Bob O., also presented their perspective and experience working the steps during the speaker sessions (more on that later). Camp Widjiwagan certainly made for a breathtaking natural setting, and with its modern facilities and amenities the YMCA camp was a prime location for the recovery event.

The 2013 Prime Time Men's Retreat is the first Alcoholics Anonymous-related recovery retreat I have attended, ever... and what an amazing first retreat it turned out to be! Although I'd signed up for Twelve-Step recovery retreats in the past, it seems I always ended up concocting various lame excuses in an attempt to justify my usual bailing out; my antisocial tendencies and aversion to commitment were certainly stronger then. In those cases, I had either relapsed by the time the recovery event rolled around or had given in to my social fears about sharing such a weekend with other recovering men.

YMCA Camp Widjiwagan

YMCA's Camp Widjiwagan is situated on the shores of Percy Priest Lake - Wikipedia, minutes from downtown Nashville. Camp Widjiwagan sits on 320 acres and four miles of shoreline at the Joe C. Davis YMCA Outdoor Center off Smith Springs Rd. While the facilities and programs are top-notch, the Y considers the secret to Camp Widjiwagan's success to be its outstanding staff -- and there was bountiful evidence over the weekend to support this conclusion.

Men began arriving at 3pm on Friday, the designated check-in time. Andy J. and I arrived around 3:45 and signed in, where we were promptly ushered into a four-seat Ranger off-road vehicle; Bob O., Brett O., Josh K., and the two Spencers arrived shortly thereafter. Kevin B. ferried us to our car where we loaded up our gear then taxied us directly to Cabin One, which comfortably housed just under the 17 it was built to accommodate.

The cabins at Camp Widjiwagan are not rustic by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, the cabins appeared to be no more than two years old and featured climate control systems, vaulted ceilings, writing desks, and other amenities. (Is cabin even an fitting term here?) There was no fist-sized spider lurking in the corner on this excursion as there had been on the 2013 Discovery Place whitewater rafting adventure in August.

The first order of business for the 35 or so men present at the retreat was to enjoy dinner at the Turner Dining Lodge, where we would take our meals in common for the duration of the event. Shortly thereafter we gathered at the Cedar Lodge, where all the speaker events at the Prime Time Men's Retreat took place. The Cedar Lodge was a comfortable, scenic walk from the cabins -- a stroll that definitely required flashlights after dusk.

The Prime Time Message

What is the Prime Time message, exactly? Briefly, prime implies best and time means now. It is always now, after all. The words prime time carry much weight when carefully considered in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps of recovery. When viewed in the Twelve-Step framework, the prime time message is the AA message. The Prime Time series of AA groups originated in Southern California with Bob A. (now deceased); in 1994, Todd S. started the Friday Night Prime Time meeting in Brentwood, TN. Later came the Monday night Prime Time meeting on Sneed Rd. (For more on the history of Prime Time, check out the Prime Time is Now website.)

Although rooted in AA's 5th tradition[1], Prime Time meetings have a flavor and purpose that differ from many other AA meetings. Sharing that tends toward the drunkalogue is discouraged; instead, members are encouraged to cover such subjects as identifying and exposing the disease of alcoholism/addiction in the present moment and discussing practical application of basic spiritual principles. How does the disease operate, and what are its affects today? And most importantly, how can we apply the spiritual principles today?

Introduction to Friday Prime Time sessions

We were warmly welcomed to the retreat by Joe M. and Todd S., who also covered the ground rules and etiquette for Camp Widjiwagan and the Prime Time event. Mike L. moderated the four Friday evening presentations covering alcoholism, ego, self, and Step One. While in some ways the format of the Prime Time Retreat's speaker schedule was traditional, there was one notable exception: After each speaker concluded his presentation, the moderator gathered written questions which were answered one at a time by the speaker. This turned out to be an excellent opportunity to prompt elaboration on recovery concepts that often prove confusing to newcomers, to have related questions answered, or -- in some cases -- for the purposes of hearty jest. In all cases it is a worthwhile addition to the speakers' time behind the podium.

While I will not attempt to create official summaries of these excellent presentations, I can at least describe a few of what turned out to be the most memorable nuggets of recovery wisdom for this addict-alcoholic blogger.

Alcoholism (Reggie S.)

Reggie S., the event's featured speaker who flew in from Las Vegas, spoke about alcoholism (with emphasis on the ism). Attendees wasted no time in making Santa Claus (and elf) references, what with Reggie's full white beard and jovial laugh. My first experience meeting Reggie occurred in the food line at dinner on the first night when Joe M. introduced us. When I stepped forward to shake his hand, he ignored the hand and went in for a bear hug. Soon, we all learned the history of Reggie's hugs (more to come in Part 2 of the 2013 Nashville Prime Time Men's Retreat series).

This was the first time I've ever heard alcoholISM summarized as a pre-existing condition; the ISM is alive in me each day and must be treated not with mere information but with application of the principles. We all have the choice of lessening the severity of our ISM by genuinely embracing recovery and practicing loving kindness. In AA meetings we often hear that it is a program of action -- certainly true; however, our thoughts always precede our actions. It is our thoughts that produce our behavior, which in turn produces who we are as men. Remember, As a man thinketh...

Recovering alcoholics and addicts have the daily choice between fighting for our very lives, or -- resigning in a gesture of defeat -- drinking and drugging ourselves into an early grave. There’s precious little middle ground for the real alcoholic or addict. To drink or use drugs is to give up; to drink or use is to die soon... or slowly become brain-damaged and disabled over time, dying later.

Ego (Scott W.)

Scott made mention of two excellent books which are highly relevant to the Prime Time message, both offered for sale to attendees during the conference: (1) Harry Tiebout's Collected Writings and (2) Mind-Powered Disease by Bob Anderson. Marty M., one of the early female pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous and author of Women Suffer, Too (a story in the Big Book) was also referenced.

The alcoholic is sometimes paradoxically described as an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, calling to mind Freud's writings concerning infantile omnipotence: a psychological feature of humanity often referred to as King Baby. Sigmund Freud wrote that the ego is, in many ways, "His Majesty, the baby" -- King Baby. Like babies, we demonstrate an inability to deal with frustration. Alcoholics seem to do everything in a hurry and don't often hold concentrated effort long enough to accomplish much of anything. We alcoholics tend to have big plans and schemes but -- and I'm certainly speaking of myself here -- so often fail to follow through.

Ultimately, we as alcoholics can be content and joyful; but first, as Scott said, one's attitude must be transformed from that of a king to that of a commoner. We must learn to play the cards life deals us in a responsible, spiritually principled manner -- and this takes much open-mindedness, honesty, and willingness and can occur only through much spiritual practice, coaching, and meditation. We must be willing to remain right-sized (i.e., practice humility) -- using mindfulness of the present moment to the best of our ability in order to see just how the ego is presently serving as mediator between self and reality.

Self (Joe M.)

As an addict and alcoholic, my default setting is one of self-centeredness; I seem to be concerned primarily about myself most of the time. What is best for me? In tandem with the preoccupation with myself is the belief that I know what's best for others. Since alcoholism and ego abide within our selves, the self is a subject of fundamental Prime Time concern.

The first three steps of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous -- that is, the ABCs of the steps -- involve alcoholism, the ego, and the self, respectively. The fact is, if we fail to identify and expose the exact nature of the root issue then it remains impossible to move past the problem. We must strive to do our level best in moving beyond ourselves in a never-ending journey toward selflessness.

Replacing self-will with something higher is crucial for us -- and a worthy replacement for our self-willed actions is represented by the actions and behavior our own personal concept of a Higher Power might direct us toward. Without a doubt, evolving from self-willed behavior toward Higher-Powered behavior requires a genuinely open mind. It's no fluke that open-mindedness is one of the most fundamental of a long list of basic, universal spiritual principles and one certainly required for real recovery from alcoholism/addiction.

The problem has always been, remains, and will continue to be me. The real problem was never out there.

Notes

[1] Tradition Five of A.A.'s Twelve Traditions: Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

          "Shoemaker, stick to thy last!" . . . better do one thing supremely well than many badly. That is the central theme of this Tradition [Five]. Around it our Society gathers in unity. The very life of our Fellowship requires the preservation of this principle. -- Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 150

Thanks for reading; please stay tuned

This has been Part 1 of 2013 Nashville Prime Time Men's Retreat: A Newcomer's Experience. The newcomer's perspective concerning our Prime Time weekend will continue in another post which will cover the presentations on each of the Twelve Steps and more experiences from the spiritual retreat.

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