Intolerance & Disunity
On the title page of the book Alcoholics Anonymous there is that symbol at the bottom of the page of a triangle inside a circle and on each side of the triangle are the words Unity, Service & Recovery. These are the three legacies of AA and they are all as important as each other. I am sober today only because other alcoholics before me have worked extremely hard to practice the principles of Unity, Service and Recovery to ensure that I can recover from alcoholism if I have the desire to do so. If one of the legacies is absent in AA then the other two will suffer deeply and the Fellowship of AA suffers deeply as a consequence.
After the ‘Jack Alexander’ article about AA had been published in the national press in the U.S.A. in 1941, enquiries from thousands of alcoholics reached the small New York office of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA groups started springing up all over the country and Bill W., one of the co-founders of AA, said that these groups immediately ran into trouble. He said the early days of the adolescent, nationwide fellowship of AA were very dark and fearsome. Immediately problems of leadership, power, prestige and money matters reared their ugly heads and there was fierce, bitter fighting and arguments within and between these groups. Thus the 12 Traditions were born, a set of traditional principles to which we can safely commit ourselves to ensure the continued survival of AA.
I quickly learned as a new member to AA that the 12 Traditions were there to safeguard an individual group from the differences of opinion of its own members; to allow different groups to work together harmoniously for the common, primary purpose of helping the still suffering alcoholic; and to safeguard how we interact with society in general outside of the fellowship of AA. As I have gone to lots meetings of other groups in my hometown outside of my home group I quickly learned that unity is at times as serious problem as it was back in the early days of AA. This is why the 1st Tradition is all about unity and states:
‘Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.’
So off I went to lots of meetings to make friends and spread the wonderful message of recovery that was so freely given to me. I believe that I am by nature a well-mannered, friendly, kind and gentle young man. But I found that there was a small minority of people in AA on meeting me that would refuse to shake my hand and even swear at me sometimes in a disgusting manner. I was mortified by this as I had done nothing to harm these people by either word or deed. After making quick enquiries I discovered it was because of the home group that I went to. This baffled me as my home group showed me exactly what I needed to do to recover from alcoholism quickly and easily with loving kindness.
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of working the 12 Step Program of AA fearlessly and thoroughly, I reacted to these people with loving kindness more than I would have done before entering AA. I would still offer them my hand to shake in fellowship, smile saying hello and give a helping hand if need be to wash up and put away chairs. Naturally I do curse them behind their back as I have got feelings you know, and we are a sensitive lot us alcoholics after all. But face to face I treat them with loving kindness in the hope that one day they will see me as the good-hearted man and alcoholic that I am; wishing to stay sober and to work in harmony to help other alcoholics to do the same.
Sadly the day finally came when I felt unwelcome in an AA meeting for the first time because of the growing attacks against myself and my home group. I said I felt uncomfortable and most of the members there apologised and joined me in solidarity, but one man was saying very dangerous lies about my home group regarding medication and recovery. As the area of recovery surrounding medication is extremely delicate my home group has a very strict policy regarding recovery with members who are on prescribed medication, and their doctors are always in charge, and we do not turn anyone away if they are on medication. I had to speak up against this man. I was attacked from other members for telling the group that his lies were not true. I stood up and said that this attacking was disgusting and walked out of an AA meeting for the first time. I was shaking like a leaf, disgusted with myself as I thought I had reacted badly and broken that all important legacy of unity and brought my home group into disrepute. Afterwards I phoned a highly respected old-timer that was at that meeting and he said I had done nothing wrong and was surprised it had taken me so long to react to all the attacks against me over the previous two years. I felt that I couldn’t go to any other meetings again apart from my home group.
I was a low bottom drunk and I was homeless many times because of my alcoholism and believe me I learned a lot about people and human nature living on the streets, and I have decided I will continue to go to other meetings and I will continue to do as much service as I can in line with the 12 traditions of AA.
When the 12 Traditions were first formulated they were moulded into two forms: a long form and a short form. They were originally written in the long form until someone said to Bill W., "Bill, don't you get it through your thick head that these drunks do not like to read. They will listen for a while but they will not read anything. Now, you want to capsule these Traditions as simply as the Twelve Steps to Recovery." Coincidentally I have found that the small minority causing so much damage to unity within AA are often the ones that say that they don’t read the Big Book, bad-mouth the 12 Steps and have no interest or regard for the 12 Traditions. Bill W. was right when he said that if AA doesn’t survive it will be because it was destroyed from within.