"Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers"
About a year ago, on my first ever 12 Step call with a fellow member of my home group, the elderly lady we were visiting asked me how many hours a week I worked for Alcoholics Anonymous.
My initial reaction was one of indignation. Sensing this, my fellow 12 Stepper demonstrated how she practices the spiritual principles of the 12 Step programme in all her affairs. She smiled sweetly and answered the question in a gentle, clear way. She explained that carrying the message of recovery, explaining how we have ‘got out from under’ (being careful not to label the lady an alcoholic) is a crucial part of maintaining sobriety and that 12 Step calls were a part of that.
With time to reflect I realized how silly my reaction had been. How could someone with no experience of Alcoholics Anonymous or the 12 Step programme know about our 8th Tradition (the first part) ‘Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional’. Professionalism is defined as ‘the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire’. When I was trapped in the dark world of alcoholism and seeking help from anyone who would listen to my self-justification for drinking, I did not meet anyone doing it on a voluntary basis. All the people willing to listen to my self-pity and resentment where being paid to do so.
When I walked into my first meeting I was greeted by a host of happy, healthy people. They told me they had once felt how I did, but had found a way out and offered to show me what they had done to achieve that. I grabbed the offer of a solution to my alcoholism with both hands. These sober members of AA had no ulterior motive; they weren’t being paid to be at meetings, on commission to sign people up for the 12 Step Programme or do 12 Step calls. They did it because it was an integral part of staying sober and they chose to do it. This fact helped clear away any cynical doubt that I had about the sincerity of the people I met or the strength of the programme. From what people shared I could see that their lives had changed dramatically through becoming members of Alcoholics Anonymous and receiving the guidance and love from other sober members whose primary purpose was to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. I could identify with the shares I heard and I had a great sense of hope that it could work for me too.
This sense of identification, which worked in the 1930’s when our fellowship was born, continues to work in the same way today. In order for people to hear the message of recovery we have to carry it, loud and clear and I am always willing to do that in order to give back what was so freely given to me, that which enabled me to embark on the road to recovery and the happy sober life I now live. 12 Step work should always be done as a way of adding to our spiritual banks not our pockets.
It is okay for alcoholics to be employed as alcoholic counselors, treatment center workers etc, but they are not paid for 12th step work. A.A. has guidelines for members employed in the field of alcoholism.
The second half of Tradition Eight states that ‘our service centers may employ special workers’. Special workers are the staff members, executives and consultants at the General Service Office in York. The GSO is huge and staff members have a massive work load. We don’t expect people to work for free just because they are A.A. members. We pay our workers well; people would not do a good job if we didn’t. They have the same rights to retirement, holiday and sick as they would get anywhere else. We pay for the best. Bill knew that ‘cheap help is apt to feel insecure and inefficient’. Assuming that service money is readily available; our workers should be compensated well.