Tradition 9 – “Privileged to Serve”

“AA, as such, ought never be organised, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”

My name is Matt and I am an alcoholic. I came to Alcoholics Anonymous nearly 8 years ago and recovered by getting a home group, a sponsor and working through the Twelve Steps, the plan of recovery in our Big Book. A big part of my recovery has been helping others and doing service. I’ve been privileged to serve as GSR of my home group (the Plymouth Road to Recovery), and now I serve as Chair at my local intergroup.

As I’ve gone further in service, I’ve learned the importance of the Traditions, and to me there’s two main things about Tradition 9: it reminds us to keep it simple, and that service comes with responsibility.

The long form of Tradition 9 helps understand this. It says AA “needs the least possible organisation.” So we need some, but not too much. We should keep it simple, but avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. For example, my home group is a large group and because of that we have a rotating steering committee. It deals with the day-to-day running of the group. That’s much more efficient than holding a group conscience for every little thing that crops up. We give the committee the right of decision it talks about in Concept III. In the same way, we need people doing service at intergroup to carry AA’s message to organisations in the local community – employers, hospitals, probation etc. If we didn’t have an intergroup with defined liaison roles to do this work on behalf of the groups, it could easily descend into a shambles and AA might not be taken seriously.

Tradition 9 tells me that I am directly responsible to those I serve. Of course responsibility really means accountability, not authority. For example, as a GSR, yes my group gave me the right of decision, but I needed to use it wisely. That meant checking things out with my sponsor, fellow home group members and the group old-timers to make sure I was doing things according to the group’s wishes, in other words, the group conscience. I was accountable to them. My home group is a power greater than myself. If I did the job badly then they could vote me out.

The long form of Tradition 9 also reminds us about the key principle in Tradition 2: “our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” Whether serving at group or intergroup level, to gain respect I must earn it. To do that I need to remember not to try and run the show, put aside my personal feelings and act according to the group (or intergroup) conscience. As it also says in Concept IX, though I may be seen as a leader, I am not infallible and I don’t know it all – I need to remain willing to listen and make use of others’ experience. Another thing I’ve had to learn is to do my job and let others do theirs. They are trusted servants too. If I keep all these things in mind then I ought to be able to do service in the right spirit.

Whilst I do take service seriously, these responsibilities shouldn’t hold me back or weigh too heavily. There’s lots of work to do in AA and we can all play our part. Whenever I’m doing service I try to start by remembering that if no-one did service in AA, then AA would stop functioning and alcoholics near us would not find a way out.

Matt D, Plymouth Road to Recovery Group