The Twelve Traditions… The life blood of the Fellowship

The Twelve Traditions …

The life blood of the Fellowship

TRADITION ONE…..  The theme of this tradition is personal sacrifice. It carries a harsh reminder to us all that individually we are just a small part of a greater whole. Only by staying whole will the individual survive and AA remain effective. We are asked to lay down personal ambition and to consider the welfare of others. Bill describes a lifeboat stranded on the Pacific Ocean. All survivors must share food, water and warmth. Nobody can rock the boat so much that the others are put in danger. It often means the death of one so the majority can live. These are the stark realities for us in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Our common welfare”. The principle of this tradition can also be seen at group level, when a disruptive drunk is invited to leave a meeting. To respond by saying "we need to remember what it was like" isn't good enough. I was told that "If you want to remember what it was like, then go and sit in the pub". There is often more than one newcomer at an AA meeting wanting to hear the message. A meeting cannot revolve around one defiant individual.

TRADITION TWO….. This is the only Tradition longer in the short form than its original long form. The words "Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern" were added when the tradition were abbreviated in 1947. Far from saying that AA has no leaders, it is telling us that we do. These are the people we "trust" and no old-timer or elected officer can demand trust. Concept Nine states that "Every Sponsor is a leader". We naturally turn to these "leaders" for guidance and we follow their example in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Our leaders can do no more than ensure that the Ultimate Authority is informed. Bill W said that these old-timers "become the voice of the group conscience; in fact, these are the true voice of Alcoholics Anonymous". Many things that are discussed in Conscience meetings just come down to personal preference. But from time to time we debate points of Principle or Tradition and they come with lots of tried and tested AA experience. We can ignore this only at our peril. The Group Conscience is, of course, the ultimate authority and it will decide what is required in any given situation. This has proved the most reliable and prudent method of decision making at all levels of service. We delegate authority to those we trust but a loving God should remain close at hand, ready to bring our leaders to account.

TRADITION THREE….. To be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous you must be an alcoholic. You can be ninety nine percent addict, gambler or anything else as long as you are an alcoholic. Your violent history is irrelevant, it doesn't matter how bad you look, how much you smell or how sick and twisted you've become. You don't have to produce a reference, have any particular beliefs nor a good credit rating. You're a member of AA when you say so. The only requirement is that you are an alcoholic who has a desire to stop drinking.

The reason for this is that recovery from alcoholism begins with one alcoholic identifying with another, helping to break down the almost impregnable wall of “you don't understand”. The most valuable asset we have as alcoholics is our own personal experience.

If you are not an alcoholic you cannot attend a closed AA meeting. It isn't enough to have "a desire to stop drinking" so you can lose weight or get fit for next months' game. Neither is AA intended for drug addicts or gamblers with no drinking history. The symptoms of our disease might be similar but they are not the same. Identification is the first and most vital step in recovery, so that "our membership should include all who suffer from alcoholism".

TRADITION FOUR….. As far as its internal affairs are concerned each group can do what they believe is right, even if they're wrong. They may seek the guidance of the General Service Office or even members of other groups and still remain autonomous, because they are not actually required to follow the advise or direction given to them by anybody. Regarding its internal affairs an AA group can reject all outside interference; this is the great freedom afforded to every group of Alcoholics Anonymous.

When the point in question concerns other groups or AA as a whole, that's a completely different story. For instance, a group is offered the chance of a radio broadcast to inform the public of their meeting. It seems like a good opportunity until the Intergroup PI Officer contacts the radio station to do something similar. The producers tell them "we did an AA broadcast recently and can't do another one just yet". In an area with a lot of AA meetings the group must remember that regardless of how close their venue is to the radio station or who they have working there, it isn't theirs.

TRADITION FIVE….. At the beginning of most meetings we hear the words "can we have a moments silence to remember the still suffering alcoholic". This is often forgotten as the meeting gets under way. The long form of this tradition suggests that "each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose – that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers". Putting candles on the table, talking constantly about God or indulging in long silences during the meeting is not what's meant by spiritual. Neither is talking about my inner child, washing machine or what I had for dinner last week carrying the AA message.

As recovered alcoholics we have been blessed with a unique opportunity – through identification – to help other alcoholics. The message of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it's possible to live sober and enjoy sobriety. By taking the Twelve Steps and allowing their principles into our lives, with the help of a sponsor, we undergo a drastic inner change. This psychic change enables us to live comfortably and free from the need to drink alcohol on a day to day basis, provided we continue to take the actions described in the Big Book.

TRADITION SIX….. Whilst we can co-operate with others, the name Alcoholics Anonymous should always remain separate. We shouldn't name AA groups after treatment facilities and individuals should not set themselves up as professional AA counsellors. Clubs, dry houses or shops selling AA type merchandise should take care not to call themselves an "Alcoholics Anonymous Club", etc.

Holding a meeting in a certain hall is in no way endorsing an outside facility. When a group announces its' next meeting night and venue they are not endorsing the venue. They are simply letting you know where the next meeting is. After some meetings the Secretary might announce that the group will be going for coffee to a particular coffee shop. Again, they are not endorsing the coffee shop, just letting everybody at the meeting know where they are going for coffee.

Suppose the local coffee shop did an advertising campaign and asked the AA group to make comments on their excellent quality of service, this would be endorsement of the coffee shop. If a hospital invites the AA group who meet there to take part in an alcohol education campaign, putting the name AA on the letterhead along with their own, this would be endorsement of the hospital and the campaign.

TRADITION SEVEN…..The words “we don't want your money” can often come as a shock to people outside of AA. This taking of responsibility for our own financial welfare was not exactly what the early AA's wanted .This tradition is one of our greatest gifts and it was almost forced upon us.

Early in 1938, Bill W was wondering how we were going to finance all the AA missionaries and chains of hospitals required to sober up the world. In a bad mood he decided to visit to his brother in law, who, it turned out, knew somebody involved with the Rockefeller Foundation. Within no time the link with Rockefeller was established and big business had presented AA with our Tradition of financial self -sufficiency. Because we don't accept outside contributions we suffer no overpowering outside pressure, which could potentially waste away the life-saving principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

This tradition at group level is easy to understand. If the rent costs £20.00 per night and you have 20 members, then the group can suggest privately to its members that a voluntary contribution of £1.00 each is needed to pay the rent. Obviously, this is not a requirement for membership and those who can't afford it shouldn't worry about it. But the rent has to be paid. A good group also maintains a prudent reserve and contributes the surplus to AA General Service.

TRADITION EIGHT.…. How many of us would be happy to plough through piles of correspondence, reply to hundreds of letters, answer the telephone, prepare literature orders and clean the office on a full-time basis for no money? Probably not very many of us. However, our Service Office is such an important part of the fellowship that we need to employ special workers to take care of these important functions. The fact that these workers are AA members is irrelevant.

What we never do is charge the alcoholic for allowing us the privilege of carrying the message of recovery. Treatment, counselling or any type of therapy done for money in the name of AA would be "professionalism" and has to be avoided at all costs. We never charge for twelve step work but we do allow expenses for work which makes the twelfth step possible.

TRADITION NINE….. "AA as such ought not be organised". When we take a closer look at this, it isn't as strange as it first appears. For instance, an organisation contacts us asking for a written report on how one of their clients or employees is doing. A newcomer calls the service office requesting a list of possible sponsors with an NVQ in social care, ten years of sobriety and living or working in a certain postal address. But we don't keep records of attendance or files on individual members, because to this degree we should not be organised.

The Tradition suggests that to some extent we should be organised. For example, we may create committees to assist the smooth functioning of the group. The Group Steering Committee takes care of business between conscience meetings. Their membership is usually on a rotating basis and composed of trusted and experienced members. These committees are effective because they remain "directly responsible to those they serve" or in other words, accountable to the Group Conscience.

TRADITION TEN…..We have no "opinion on outside issues", either individually or as groups. This Tradition tells us we cannot express any views whatsoever at the public level. In the long form of this Tradition, it uses politics, religion and alcohol reform as examples of controversial issues. If an AA member or group starts promoting their own personal view on any of these things at the public level, then, in the public mind, we could be linked with that cause. People could see AA as being in favour of prohibition, Protestant, Catholic or backed by any number of political parties. The resulting disunity within and the insurmountable barrier for many not yet arrived would be devastating to the Fellowship.

As individuals we have opinions, but we never – as an AA member or group – offer them at the public level. The Oxford Group is a good example of the need for this Tradition. Its leader – John Buchman – publicly thanked God for the existence of Adolf Hitler and heralded him as an example of Godly inspired leadership. As a direct result of this they had to change their name to Moral Rearmament at the request of Oxford University. The controversy caused by an opinion in the public domain caused untold damage to the organisation.

TRADITION ELEVEN.…. If we wanted to promote Alcoholics Anonymous, how would we do it? How about some "sensational advertising"? Something along the lines of “We are the fourth emergency service; we have saved more lives than anybody else in our field of work – who are we? No, we're not the Automobile Association – we are Alcoholics Anonymous!!! Attend your first meeting during the month of April and collect your FREE Big Book!!!” This is clearly not the way we do things; "attraction rather than promotion” is what works for us. We just present the simple facts.

Personal anonymity at the public level doesn't mean we can't get the message of Alcoholics Anonymous into the papers or on the television. It just means we don't use are second names and we don't have our picture taken in such a way that could reveal our identity.

I work as a Press Photographer and was once asked by my employer to photograph the opening of a new treatment centre. A particular resident was going to be speaking about the treatment facility. So far so good; she is quite entitled to break her anonymity to do this. I did the job and looked forward to reading the article. When I did, I discovered that the lady was also now a "volunteer worker helping Alcoholics Anonymous". The lady had talked openly about her time in treatment, which is okay, but she also talked about her AA membership which is not okay. When you intend to allow your full name and picture to be published, don't mention Alcoholics Anonymous!

TRADITION TWELVE….. At my Home Group, we have a blue banner with white writing along the front. It sits neatly on the front of the top table where everybody faces to listen to the speakers. It has the name of our group – the "Road to Recovery" at the top and "Alcoholics Anonymous" along the bottom. When you look at it closely you notice there is something else in very small italics along the bottom edge. It reads: "First meeting 8/4/94 This to the end that our great blessings shall never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of him who presides over us all. Last meeting __/__/__".

The continuing survival of the group depends on its' obedience to spiritual principles. If we fail to remember this, we may one day have to fill in the blank space with the date of the groups' last meeting. This poignant reminder can come as a shock to people who think that a large active group could surely never die. My sponsor often says that “A meeting where anything goes eventually becomes a meeting where nobody goes".

By trying to practice the principles of our three legacies through love and service, by putting principles before personalities, and by seeing the immense spiritual value of humility for the group as well as the individual, God willing, we will, one day at a time, continue to walk this remarkable road.

                           WP – Road to Recovery group, Plymouth 27/3/05