Who hasn’t heard of AA? We say –“he or she is going to AA” – and that is the end of it. As if that explains everything. We also know that, as its name states so clearly (Alcoholics Anonymous), that who goes to AA and what they do there and what they say there is sacred. It is rarely broken; thus those who attend can feel safe in what they say. What happens in AA stays in AA.
The literature, however, is open and available for anyone. People really don’t want to know. Just send people there and get rid of the problem. The phrase, “The 12 steps” or “The 12 step program” is often bandied about and is familiar to many; however there are also the 12 traditions of AA. The 12 steps are steps to recovery, the 12 traditions describe how the organization works.
AA meetings have two basic formats but each one has its own personality. The two formats are closed and open; meaning closed to outsiders or open to those not addicted. There are also those that are gender specific.
Many meetings will not admit someone who is clearly drunk when they enter the room. Who goes to AA? In some parts of the country attendance is court-mandated and they have a form that someone at the meeting must sign to show that they have been there. At the end of the meetings there is a long line to get their forms filled out. When someone from one of those states visits in another state and they get their form out at the end of the meeting for someone to sign they are surprised – they have never seen them before and some will not take the risk of signing and another will easily sign it for them.
Some meetings in urban areas have hundreds of attendees; others in more rural areas may have only a few attendees. Each type of meeting has a value. If you are around any AA members you may have heard them say “I spoke at the meeting today.” This conjures up a prepared speech given at a podium to everyone. That is rarely the case; usually it means that they said a few sentences or expressed some thoughts for a few minutes.
Some people – when they think about it – are surprised that no one has ever asked for a donation to AA. AA – and Al-Anon and Al-a-teen are very clear in AA traditions 6 and 7.
6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
AA does no research nor contributes to any rehabilitation facilities or counselors. Treatment centers can certainly use the principles of AA in their treatment but without any endorsements.
During the course of a meeting, a basket is passed around for those to donate – usually one dollar, but nothing is necessary, nor expected.
People hear that AA requires them to believe in God with a capital “G” and they shy away from it. What AA requires is a belief in a higher power – it could be any spiritual concept – from any religion or non-religion. The phrase used is “god as we understood” I have been told that in some meetings the Christian Lord’s Prayer is used. This is outside of guidelines and quite rare.
So how does a meeting go? The format goes something like this with geographic differences:
A leader is selected either at the time, or at the end of a previous meeting. There is a notebook guiding the leader. He or she reads a welcoming page and guidelines for the meeting. Each place has two sheets of paper in front of it with the 12 steps, the 12 traditions, and the serenity prayer.
The leader asks to go around the room in turn with each person reading one or more steps as they choose, then the same for the traditions. In some cases, only one step or tradition is read – the one corresponding to the month. Thus, in August, Number 8 is read. The serenity prayer is read in unison.
On the table there are also 2 or three books with a reading for each day of the year. The leader asks for volunteers to read that day’s page.
At some point in the meeting – and it varies from group to group – the leader asks to go round the room and the person states their first name and everyone responds – Hi “name”.
These are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to god, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with god as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
In some cases, where other twelve-step groups have adapted the AA steps as guiding principles, they have been altered to emphasize principles important to those particular fellowships, and to remove gender-biased language. Most of the alternate wordings are in Step 1 and Step 12.
Main article: Twelve Traditions
The Twelve Traditions accompany the Twelve Steps. The Traditions provide guidelines for group governance. They were developed in AA in order to help resolve conflicts in the areas of publicity, religion and finances. Most twelve-step fellowships have adopted these principles for their structural governance. The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows.
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving god as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.