Tradition 3 and why AA is open to all who need and want it
I was recently asked to share about my experience of Tradition 3 via Skype to an AA group in Germany, and this is what I ended up sharing about.
The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. That’s what Tradition 3 says and this was my lifeline when I was new, because it kept me in AA until I heard the message: that if I wanted to recover I had to get a Big Book, get a sponsor and take the 12 Steps. Today Tradition 3 reminds me to show the same tolerance of newcomers that I was shown in my early days.
Tradition 3 is interesting because it’s the only one of the Traditions that was in the AA literature right from the start. The rest of the 12 Traditions took a few years to take shape, the culmination of AA’s early experience, and were first published in 1946. But Tradition 3 was in the Big Book when it was first published in 1939. In the Foreword to the first edition, it says: ‘The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.’
So when they were writing the Big Book, Bill W and the other early AAs realised they had to find a way to throw AA’s doors open to all alcoholic sufferers. And so they kept the requirement for membership as simple as they could. They even dropped the “honest” bit, which was just as well for me (and countless others) as it took me a while in AA to really get honest about myself!
When I was new, Tradition 3 was a lifeline for many reasons. First, it said there were no fees or dues. There was no joining fee. I didn’t have to pay a penny. It didn’t matter if I had no money whatsoever. That’s good because some people come to AA homeless, on the streets. But they can still join AA because of Tradition 3. Another good thing was that there were no forms to fill in. I didn’t have to be diagnosed and I didn’t need a certificate or a letter from a doctor to say I could come to AA. I didn’t have to prove I was an alcoholic by explaining how much I drank, what I drank etc. and I didn’t have to take any test! In my case, I hadn’t been in too much trouble before I arrived. I’d never been arrested, never been in treatment, and I wasn’t homeless or anything like that. But I could still come to AA and be a member.
Why? Because when others explained the allergy, the obsession, and the progression of the illness they raised the “bottom” up for me to see it clearly enough so that I didn’t have to go down any further. This helped me to accept Step 1 and saved me another 5 or 10 years of hell. What’s more I only needed to give my first name, I didn’t have to speak, just listen. So all of this meant AA really was anonymous. I needn’t run away or feel any guilt or shame. There was no need to worry. Nobody could keep me out. I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to. Not until I was ready. Most important of all, I was an alcoholic if and when I said I was. While that sunk in, nobody judged me, they just welcomed me back, meeting after meeting, until I heard the message. When I did I knew exactly what I had to do because the group had been repeating it in share after share, meeting after meeting. In order to recover I had to get a sponsor and take the 12 Steps.
So why is Tradition 3 still important to me now after 5 and ½ years in AA? Well, in the same way it reminds me not to judge newcomers. For example, time after time I’ve seen newcomers turn up in a far worse state than I ever was, but still they refuse to accept they have an illness, to admit that they are in fact sick. This can be very frustrating, because I just want them to do what I’ve done to get well. When I get these feelings I need to remember Tradition 3. Some just aren’t ready to admit that they are alcoholic. It’s too much of a crushing blow to face. Sometimes they don’t listen, play on their phone during the meeting, or they get up and go to the toilet just when the speaker is getting to the bit you feel sure they’ll identify with! Sometimes they disrupt the meeting in all sorts of other ways. Some have other problems: drugs, gambling, sex – or maybe they’ve committed crimes. Some don’t even want to stop drinking … not yet!
None of this matters at all. We can’t stop them coming, in fact we don’t want to stop them, even if they don’t seem to display much of a desire to stop drinking! Remembering the weeks it took me to accept my condition, I needn’t worry about the newcomer who keeps coming back, meeting after meeting, but still drinks. Tonight may be the night when the smallest detail shared by someone in the meeting will finally convince them that they have to take AA’s 12 Steps. Whatever they’ve done, or whatever other problems they may have, it doesn’t matter. Like it says in the Big Book: “No-one has sunk too low to be welcomed – if they mean business.” All I need to remember is that it may take some people a bit longer to reach that point of meaning business.
That’s the beauty of Tradition 3. When someone asks a million questions about whether AA is this or that, or they just look scared, full of fear, worry, or maybe they have picked up some bad misconceptions about AA, Tradition 3 breaks through all that. We can say with absolute confidence that if they want to stop drinking, they are welcome here. We offer friendship and fellowship. But most of all we have an answer, a solution.
The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. That’s good news. But the even better news is that if you want to recover you simply need to get a Big Book, get a sponsor and take the 12 Steps of AA.
Matt D, Road to Recovery, Plymouth