Meeting Requirements: The Awful Truth About Oxford Houses (Part 3)

Part 2, Part 1

Oxford House members are encouraged to attend recovery meetings, according to the official guidelines. However, depending on the state and chapter your house is in, you will more than likely be required to attend 5 per week (for the first 30 days; 3 per week after). Other chapters insist that you attend one each day for the first 30 days. Unfortunately they tend to write this in their rules as “30 in 30” and get really incensed if you tell them that that wording doesn’t actually mean “a meeting each day.” You are not allowed to go to two to make up for missing one because you couldn’t get a ride or had to work.

Having to go to support meetings sounds pretty reasonable on its face, right? At least for someone just getting out of rehab? And especially for someone who didn’t go to rehab but just went through detox? Recovery meetings are supposed to be support meetings, and finding support is crucial for recovery.

So What’s The Problem?

When Oxford House first came to be (45 years ago), there were few, if any, alternatives to the 12-step programs. Those same 12-step programs are very clear about having no affiliation with any outside organizations, but OH has specifically stated in their guidelines that 12-step meeting attendance is recommended for continued sobriety. However, some chapters of OH allow church attendance to count as a meeting, but anything other than a 12-step meeting (such as SMART) will not count. Others allow therapy appointments to count as meeting attendance.

I see a real problem with this. If meeting attendance is so important, then why would church count? Again, this goes to the prevailing culture and to the individual house, and some houses can get really preachy about what counts as meeting attendance. Do you see a pattern here? The lack of consistency in the system allows some houses and chapters to discriminate based on religion. It also allows them to push a religious agenda onto house members who are not religious, or onto those who have suffered from religious abuse.

Unless you are part of the prevailing religious order in your area, the 12-step meetings can be rather alienating to Jews, Muslims, and Atheists, not to mention to people who believe in “something” but still feel like the meetings are too religious or cult-like.

But houses still force members to go.

What About Online Meetings?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many 12-step meetings have been either cancelled or moved online. Before this, getting permission to participate in online meetings varied from house to house. Some are virulently opposed because they think that you have to get out and interact with people to recover. For introverts and those with PTSD, too much social interaction can be a trigger for relapse. Not only that, but for those without transportation, getting to a meeting means trying to catch a ride with someone or using a rideshare service to get there and back. That’s fine if you have the money, but it not, you are screwed.

For Some Members, One Meeting Can Take 5 Hours!

I wish I were kidding.

In areas where there is ample public transportation, members can take a bus to get to a meeting. The trouble is, public transportation doesn’t pick you up and drop you off like a cab. You have to find your meeting’s location, plot the route, and make sure you leave in enough time to make all of the transfers in order to get there in time.

Sounds fair enough. But there’s a problem.

Let’s say you are going to a meeting at 11 AM. The bus stop closest to your house is a half mile away. To get to the meeting in time, which usually means getting there 30–45 minutes early to keep from arriving 15 minutes late, you have to leave at 9:15 to walk to the stop. You catch the bus at 9:30. You arrive at the station to transfer to your next bus. You wait until it leaves at 10. It drops you off at the stop closest to your meeting, another half mile away (sometimes less).

You wait for the meeting to start at 11. You’ve already spent an hour and 45 minutes on this meeting that hasn’t even started. Then it starts. It lasts an hour, depending on how many people obey the time limit and don’t make the meeting go over. You run to catch the bus going back to the station at 12:08, but you miss it. You have to wait another 30 minutes for the next one (or an hour if it’s a weekend). So you catch the bus at 12:38 and go back to the station. Your bus home is supposed to leave at 1 PM, but it’s late. It finally shows up at 1:10. You ride for the almost half hour to get to the stop closest to your house. You get off and walk the half-mile home. It’s already 2 o’clock.

So just under 5 hours. But still, what the hell?

How in the world are you supposed to work to be able to pay your rent with this massive time requirement? In areas without good public transportation, you are left to rely on the kindness of your housemates. Maybe someone will take you. Maybe someone that goes to the meeting you’re going to will come pick you up.

Maybe not. You can actually get kicked out for missing meetings if you are in a house that requires you to go to one each day. It is next to impossible to maintain a full-time job, get enough sleep (crucial for recovery) and attend meetings like this. All because OH refuses to look more deeply into the logistics of recovery. Meetings can be great, but if they are causing more stress than they are reducing, there’s a big problem. A member who is having trouble getting to meetings is accused of not being serious about their recovery.

This is not only unfair; it is insane. There is a solution to this, and I will cover it in an upcoming post…

But first…part 4

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