Thank God – Anonymous

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My mother and father divorced when I was 14 years old and from then on I was pretty much estranged from my father. My father was abusing drugs and being arrested frequently until I was in my mid 20’s.  I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God, I will never be like him.”

I always wondered what led my father to drug abuse.  I never asked him.  I did see him from time to time around holidays at my grandfather’s house, but he was never much for catching up.  We had no relationship to speak of.  One time, after I had been clean for a while, I confronted him about the abuse he inflicted upon me when I was a child.  I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God, I am not like him.”

A few years ago my father was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He contacted me from the hospital where he was receiving treatment.  He couldn’t speak without being in pain.  I did not pity him, but I did feel sorry for him.  I was sorry that he never heard the message of hope that I heard when I attended my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. My father lived the last 3 decades of his life a slave to addiction. And then, he got cancer.  He was surely going to die, from one disease or the other.  I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God, I never have to live a life like his.”

My father passed away 2 months ago.  He did not contact anyone when he went into the hospital.  My grandfather called me early one morning to tell me he had passed.  I have so many things I wanted to say to my father.  Maybe some things are better left unsaid.

Truth be told, for a time I was like my father, desperate to change the way I felt, beholden to my addiction. I was constantly pushing away the people who loved me most, consistently making one bad choice after another.  BUT, I received the gift of recovery.  And since then, my life has been nothing short of amazing; and I owe a debt of gratitude to Narcotics Anonymous and God, who I choose to call my Higher Power.

“No addict seeking recovery need ever die from the horrors of addiction.” – Gratitude Prayer


The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 12, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Twelve: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” 

For me, this is the most difficult of the principles to abide by. People bug me, it’s just that simple. It has frequently been said that if you like all the people in the meetings you go to, you aren’t going to enough meetings. It’s funny because it’s true! Not convinced? Just try going to a well-intentioned business meeting sometime; “principles before personalities” not always shines through!

However, it seems as though that is not the original intent of this tradition. It was actually put in place to prevent newly sober members from going out to announce their success publicly, only to then have some sort of reversal and get drunk. Certainly that has occurred with celebrities on occasion. But it wouldn’t take too much of that before the reputation of AA was harmed for good in people’s minds. I always imagine some drunk sitting in a bar, watching the news talk about some movie or rock star who was sober for a while and was arrested for DUI. He turns to his fellow toppers to say something like, “See, that AA stuff doesn’t work!”

There is another spiritual value that does not come easy to most recovering alcoholics and addicts, and that is virtue of humility, some measure of which is necessary to have any chance of overcoming addiction of any kind.

Early on, there were instances of people getting enthused by a new member’s recovery, and then talking openly to each other about certain aspects of his or her case which perhaps should only be shared with one’s sponsor and otherwise kept in confidence. When that happened, the new member felt, rightly, that their trust had been broken. It’s one of the things that I value most about Twelve Step meetings: the fact that I am anonymous there and that what I say in a meeting, stays in the meeting. Here, Here!

The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 11, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Eleven: “Our Public Relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films (and the internet).” 

There’s that word: Anonymity. It’s hard to pronounce, but nevertheless one of the most important features of Twelve Step meetings. The founders of AA got it right, again. And just as the Steps are the opposite of my natural ways, the Traditions are the opposite of what you would expect an organization that wants to get its message out to as many people as possible would do!

It’s difficult to talk about the subject of public relations and AA without mentioning The Saturday Evening Post article written in 1941. See, there used to be these things called magazines….oh, never mind. You could Google it.

Anyway, The Post published an article written by a very famous reporter, Jack Alexander, which was all about AA.  The article was titled “Alcoholics Anonymous: Freed Slaves of Drink, Now They Free Others,” and it really started a major influx of requests for information, not only to the Post, but also to the New York offices of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a major turning point in AA’s early growth.

Once it was explained why, the press has always respected this principle, by blocking out faces and eliminating last names or references to personal details about members’ lives from articles written about them.

The early pioneers of AA, sober alcoholics themselves, knew that there is nothing more irritating than a sober alcoholic who is trying to promote him/herself or an idea! Think of a used-car salesman, wearing plaid pants and yelling about great deals, and you come close! Therefore, Alcoholics Anonymous had to be sure that we got people’s attention by ATTRACTION and not by self-promotion. There is nothing more attractive than a sober member working their AA program and honoring the AA traditions.

As it says in the book, this tradition is a constant reminder, because we need constant reminders, that personal ambition has no place in meetings, period.

Way to go, AA!

The Traditions, a Framework for Recovery, Part 10, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Ten: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” 

I know I say this all the time, that the Traditions are a miracle, and “How did we ever come up with this stuff?” et cetera, et cetera.

But… it kind of looks as though it wasn’t that tough to come up with this one. Almost a no-brainer really, if, that is, you happened to be paying attention to history. Okay, maybe it is a miracle.

Anyway, there was a movement prior to AA that had the right idea, mostly. Wikipedia has this info on it:
The Washingtonian movement (WashingtoniansWashingtonian Temperance Society or Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society) was a 19th-century temperance fellowship founded on April 2, 1840. The idea was that by relying on each other, sharing their alcoholic experiences and creating an atmosphere of conviviality, they could keep each other sober. Total abstinence from alcohol (teetotalism) was their goal. The group taught sobriety and preceded Alcoholics Anonymous by almost a century.
“Washingtonian Movement, Wikipedia Contributors, Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia.”

There was, however, one major problem that the Washingtonian Movement was unable to survive; they got their name involved in a few of the “outside issues” of the day. The temperance movement was one, and the other was slavery!

I know! But, believe it or not, what took them down between the two issues was PROHIBITION! That’s right! They took the public position that booze should be illegal, which did not fly with most people for obvious reasons which are too numerous to go into here. Anyway, to anyone paying attention to history (which, by the way, is hardly anyone), it was easy to see that involvement in any outside issues could be potentially fatal to AA.

This is a fact: AA has not been involved in one controversy and has been in existence for over 84 years!

And because of this Tradition, it is very rare to hear people in AA meetings argue about those issues that plague Thanksgiving dinners everywhere: politics, religion or reform of any kind.

I gotta remember that, next time I’m at the meeting where I see that guy wearing that stupid hat with that saying on it that drives me crazy!
I hate fishing.

The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 9, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Nine: “A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.” 

Most everyone in A.A., as well as virtually every other 12-Step fellowship consider the Steps and Traditions to be inspired by a “higher power.” If you dispute this, consider the fact that almost every corporation, small business and virtually ALL governments everywhere have rules, guidelines and laws that must be enforced.  Society is structured in this way, to avoid things like anarchy, for example. Twelve Step fellowships are the exception, and we all have the early A.A. members to thank.

One good look at the world tells you that systems that rely on profits and a hierarchy tend to suffer from a multitude of problems, and these arise from the usual suspects: money, property and prestige (in the form of entrenched power). Those pitfalls had to be side-stepped at all costs for A.A. to survive.

So, in order to avoid the shortcomings of the strategy that has led to so much suffering and misery and failure in the world, A.A. had to learn, through hard lessons and experience, and devise another way.

We alcoholics are a hard-headed bunch, and it took quite a bit of arguing, poverty and struggle to finally create the framework we have in the Steps and Traditions.

But wait….no organization? How can this be? How do you make people do what you want them to do, with no way to enforce it? Or toe the line? Or STAY in line?

The answer is fairly simple; according to our book: “Unless each AA member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant,” period. And the same is true for the A.A. group; unless the group adheres to the Twelve Traditions, the group’s continued existence is in question.

The Steps and Traditions are indeed a miracle!

Way to go A.A.


The Traditions, a Framework for Recovery, Part 8, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Eight: “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.” 

I ask myself on a fairly regular basis how the human race has been able to co-exist (to the extent that we have) for this long. Human civilization has existed for the better part of 3 million years, and we still can’t agree on anything, other than the fact that we can’t agree on anything!

There was a lot of contention and confusion in the early days of AA with regard to the difference between actually doing Twelve Step work and making that work possible.  It was quickly discovered that volunteers became rapidly “disenchanted with sweeping floors and brewing coffee 7 days a week” in clubhouses; that people tend to show up and take their job more seriously if they are paid!

It is very interesting and enlightening to read this tradition and discover how these issues were gradually (and painfully) resolved; it didn’t happen overnight, either. There were many in AA that had very strong opinions about this issue. Some of the people that were hired to do the day-to-day tasks so vital to the alcoholic seeking help were actually shunned by the ultraconservatives in AA at the time!  I know!

Obviously, it is very important to have recovering AA’s for this work, because when answering phones and other inquiries, it has to be someone who knows “the AA pitch.” Early on, for the so-called secretaries at local central offices, to listen to the spouses of alcoholics go on about their drunken wife or husband, arrange for hospitalization for some and get sponsorship for others, that and more was all in a day’s work.

Even after accepting that people doing this type of work should actually receive remuneration for it, the attitude was: okay, we will pay you, but it won’t be much. It was felt that these folks could “regain some measure of virtue… if they worked for AA real cheap.”  This attitude lasted for years, and I am sure there are those that still secretly believe it!

However, today the idea that getting paid for services that make Twelve Step work possible is accepted and is understood by most, and simply never comes up in the meetings I attend. In fact, it seems like many people who go to AA meetings now are unaware of the history and struggles that allow for meetings to exist.

I will be forever grateful that early AA’s didn’t just give in; they actually did hang in until we DID agree!  Wow!

Way to go AA.

The Traditions, a Framework for Recovery, Part 7, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Seven: “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” 

As I may have mentioned before, the primary purpose of any and all Twelve Step groups is to carry its message to the suffering alcoholic/addict. This tradition especially makes that possible.

The idea here is that we cannot be beholden to anyone, except ourselves. As we say in meetings, we have no dues or fees, but we do have a basket to put them in; in other words, we have expenses. Alcoholics Anonymous must remain independent of outside influence. Also, we must be able to provide our own literature, pay rent for rooms where we meet and have office space for our *central offices.

In the early days of AA, after some bitter lessons with regard to mixing money and spirituality, the AA groups of the day were reluctant to ask the members to contribute, and members were also reluctant to contribute because of the controversy.

However, the need for more people to answer phone inquiries and respond to letters was greatly increased in 1941 by the publication in the Saturday Evening Post of an article written by Jack Alexander about Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Post was, at the time, a major source of information for many in America.

At the time, the Foundation, as it was then called, was located in New York. The article introduced the idea to the mass public that there was an answer to the nightmare that is alcoholism. After the magazine came out, the office was overwhelmed with inquiries. It quickly became evident that there was a great need for what AA was offering.

There have been many opportunities in the intervening years for AA to accept outside contributions in the form of money left to AA in members’ wills, and other sources. However, it was determined that the best policy was one of “corporate poverty,” which means enough money to meet expenses, with a prudent reserve kept for emergencies. This policy is still followed today. The early members knew that whoever “paid the piper, was apt to call the tune,” and chose wisely to avoid any possibility of distraction.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why AA does not have endless pledge drives like PBS, or bake sales or dues or fees, or any other nonsense like that. Members who are able contribute money at each meeting, and each meeting sends contributions to the local intergroup or central office, area office, and General Service Office, so that the message can be carried that there is a way for alcoholics to live and be free.

The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 6, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Six: “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.” 

Hello everyone, John here! It’s time for another episode of the Twelve Traditions made easy. So, let’s get right to it.

As was mentioned in my last post, the primary purpose of any and all Twelve Step groups is to carry its message to the suffering alcoholic/addict.

The concept embodied in this tradition naturally follows the concept embodied in Tradition Five. The idea here is that anything that interferes with the groups’ primary purpose, or confuses people about what is and what is not a Twelve Step group, can compromise its mission. The purpose of this tradition is to ensure we do not associate the group and/or organization with any other groups or organizations, in actuality or in the public’s mind.

Early on in AA when these traditions were first being hammered out, there were many ideas floating about with regard to exactly how we would carry the message.  Some of these included educating the public, getting involved in passing laws and becoming involved with employers.

My favorite is that we would build a hospital chain of our own, then go about gathering up skid row alkies and “sort out those who could get well, and make it possible for the rest to earn their livelihood in a kind of quarantined confinement.”[1]

Every time I read that part, I picture myself in that quarantined confinement scenario! I’d be safe and protected by the hand of AA, instead of facing life on life’s terms. Glorious!

The problem with Alcoholics Anonymous becoming a major player in the legislation game and hospital management and educating the public, and trying to resolve employer/employee disputes, is that some sort of profit must be made. As soon as that happens, you are in competition with somebody, and pretty soon after that, confusion.
Lucky for us all, AA arrived at the right answers to these and many more dilemmas. I don’t think we got there on our own. Could it be that we had help from a power greater than ourselves?
I think so.

[1] Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg 155

The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 5, by John B.

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The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Five: “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” 

Hello again! John here, and it’s time for another edition of the Traditions explained. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

The chapter on this Tradition in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions begins with a quote, “Shoemaker stick to thy last!” I have always wondered what it meant; so I googled it.

Apparently, a last is “a block or form shaped like a human foot (see image) and is used in making or repairing shoes.” The phrase means, “Stick with what you know”…and has been around since, well, shoes. It most likely originated because there are those people who like to pretend they know stuff when they don’t really know much… take me, for instance. Wait, I know stuff! Just ask me.

Anyway, we recovering alcoholics are in a unique position to help the suffering drunk. It is not only our primary purpose in 12-Step work, it is also our specialty, if you will. The recovering addict or alcoholic has a special ability where others may fail, to help the suffering newcomer.

Sobriety is a life and death proposition to most. It is out of self-preservation that we wish to help the next suffering addict/alcoholic.  If we want to keep what we find in sobriety, we must give it away. The book Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that, in recovery, the alcoholic is like the miner whose pick has  struck something better than gold, they have hit a limitless supply which pays a dividend only if they continue to mine it and give away the whole product.           

The Traditions, A Framework for Recovery, Part 4, by John B.

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Part Four: The Traditions are designed to keep the GROUP from destroying ITSELF; the Steps are designed to keep US from destroying OURSELVES.

Tradition Four: “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting AA as a whole.”

Hello again! John here, and it’s time for another edition of the Traditions made fun! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Simply put, this tradition states that each AA, or NA etc., group can manage their own affairs as they please, as long as the particular issue they face does not affect the entire organization. You know, I think most things are about me anyway, so I am always surprised when some issue that I have does NOT do that!  Affect AA as a whole, I mean.

Anyway, Tradition Four initially contained these words: “[1]Any two or three alcoholics gathered together….may call themselves an AA group, provided they have no other affiliation.” The idea behind this Tradition is that it would be counter to AA’s singleness of purpose if groups began identifying themselves as being Protestant or Catholic, Republican or Socialist, Executive or Blue Collar.

Sobriety and carrying that message is the sole purpose of every AA group.
I love the story contained in this chapter where the people forming up an AA group in some small Midwestern berg had some big ideas about what AA should be in their town. The idea was to build a brand new gleaming AA Center! The first floor would be a club where sober members could gather. The second story would be a detox of sorts where drunks could get back on their feet, and get some bucks to pay back debts, to boot! The third floor would house an educational project. There would be more, to be sure, but this would suffice for a start. Man, I would have been so onboard for that! Free money! Free education! Free stuff!
Of course, the project would take a lot of money, OTHER people’s money, that is. There was, of course, a promoter involved who had all kinds of ideas about how this would look, and who also ignored multiple warnings that others who had tried this approach had failed. Huh! Additionally, to make sure this endeavor stayed between the lines, 61 rules and regulations were adopted. Wait! I’m starting to not like this idea.
As you can imagine, all this did not work out so well.  Some people just wanted to pay back their debts, some just wanted some sort of free education, and others were just lonely!  Before long, confusion reigned. Inevitably the group was on the verge of collapse. It was like when the boiler exploded at Wombley’s Clapboard factory!  Well, I tell you!

Luckily for all us old-timers who get to chastise those newcomers who do it, Rule 62, (don’t take yourself too damn seriously!) was born out of this madness.
This group had, for a short while, enjoyed their right to be wrong. But, because the promoter had sought out AA’s Foundation Office for advice, they survived, and AA was the better for their experience.
John B

[1] Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions Pgs. 146 and 147