Tradition 3 – The long and short of it

Opinion Piece.

Tradition 3, like all the traditions, has 2 versions. The long form and the short form. It is the short form that is printed and displayed in most meetings and is the format that most people, including myself are ,most familiar with.

Originally Bill W first wrote what we know as the long form of the traditions. In the mid-1940s Bill tried to promote the newly written traditions, as he believed these “Tenets to Assure AA’s Future”, as they were then called, were the only things that would save AA. The groups did not like the new Traditions and would not accept them or even read them. Groups would invite Bill W to speak at meetings and they would ask him not to mention the Traditions, they were disliked that much.

The Traditions were published in the AA Grapevine yet still no groups would take notice and AA was starting to fall apart due to the lack of unity and spiritual principles for the groups to follow. The pressure mounted and Bill W eventually and reluctantly abbreviated the Traditions into the short form that is most known today. The short forms of the Traditions were slowly accepted by the groups and today they are accepted by most groups around the world.

Tradition 3 (short form). The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Tradition 3 (long form). Our membership ought to include all who suffer alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

As you can see by reading the two versions of Tradition 3 above they are very different. Is it possible that Bill W’s reluctance to abbreviate the Traditions should have been listened to? Have the abbreviated Traditions affected the Fellowship over the years? If the long form of the Traditions were adopted rather than the short form, would AA be as it is today?

Many people have been required to attend AA because they were asked to by a court or similar authority. They had an event in their life that leads them and others to believe that they had an alcohol problem. “Because it is an alcohol problem you need to go attend AA because AA deals with alcohol problems.”

A person drinks a lot and the doctor tells them their health is bad and must stop drinking. They attend AA.

Someone falls in love and their new partner tells them they drink and party too much. “If you want to be with me you have to stop drinking.” They attend AA.

Someone else gets caught driving while drunk and it is suggested they might want to attend AA to help and to show they are sorry that they are trying to change their ways. They attend AA.

In some respects it is true; AA does deal with alcohol problems. Having a problem with alcohol gets people through the door of an AA meeting.

But more importantly, AA is a solution for the disease of alcoholism. Not just a way to stop drinking because some problems have arisen through the consumption of alcohol.

So the person, who has been sent to AA by an authority, who means well and has good motives, may or may not be a real alcoholic as described in the Big Book. They may just have a drinking problem which they can overcome themselves through their own actions and consequences of.
So what’s the problem with that I hear you say? If that person realises they don’t have alcoholism they can leave and go about their life. Quite possibly.

Yet what if this person, who does not suffer from alcoholism, decides they don’t want to drink anymore, that they quite like this AA Fellowship place and want to stay. Via Tradition 3 in the short form “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking” they can become a member. Yet if the Tradition 3 was adhered to in the long form , said person would have realised that they do not suffer from alcoholism and have gone to find another group which they could fit into with like-minded people seeking the same outcome.
Yet it is the short forms of the Traditions which are mostly displayed by the groups. The long form may or may not even be known of.

The requirement for membership, that most people see, was abbreviated from “all who suffer alcoholism” in the long form to “a desire to stop drinking” in the short form of Tradition 3.
Definitions of types of drinkers and the alcoholic are found in the Big Book pages 20 and 21 and in meetings of AA.

Some people come to AA meetings due to drinking problems and the consequences. They then realise that they are not as bad as the rest of the alcoholics in the meeting they attended. They realise that they actually just had a serious event in their life that lead them to AA,but they are not themselves alcoholic. They can stop or moderate their drinking. No harm has become them attending the meetings; in fact it has hopefully given them an insight into alcoholism that may help others or themselves someday. No potential  harm done to the individual or the group.

Yet the harm that could be potentially done to the Fellowship of AA by having non-alcoholic members deemed as alcoholics is huge. New members could come into AA and identify with existing non-alcoholic members and be sponsored by them. Together they may start and maintain a group of AA. This non-alcoholic AA group becomes a blueprint for others, who know little of AA. Others then follow this non-alcoholic blueprint and AA gets diluted to “a desire to stop drinking” rather than “all who suffer from alcoholism.” As these AA meetings would seem to be working for these non-alcoholics members others think may this is AA. There could be a lot of consequences.

Meanwhile real alcoholics fall into AA and listen to the stories of the non-alcoholic members they don’t identify or they leave and don’t find peace as they are not like other people. They continue to drink and go slowly insane and die from the disease of alcoholism. Or they pick up a non alcoholic sponsor!

What if 40% of AA’s current membership are non-alcoholics who have “a desire to stop drinking?”

How would this impact the fellowship of AA?

There are of course people who attend AA in early life or for some of the reasons outlined above. They do identify with the real alcoholics in the meeting. They find it hard to stop or moderate their drinking for any reason. They did not hit the bottom that they hear many have, yet they did see the bottom coming and have saved themselves from going through some of the advanced stages of alcoholism. By coming to AA they have found a solution and have only felt the nip of the wringer.

“Whether such a person can quit upon a nonspiritual basis depends upon the extent to which he has lost the power to choose whether he will drink or not” Big Book page 34

AA is a spiritual program of recovery where alcoholics who suffer from alcoholism recover on a spiritual basis.

There are articles all over the internet of people having amazing experiences of AA and the 12 steps and others despising it. Could this be a reason why?  A fine line, I know. Food for thought.

Geoff, Plymouth Road to Recovery Group