“We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the purpose of this book.” – from the foreword to the first edition of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, written by Bill W. in 1939.
This group of 100 men and women in 1939 has grown to an estimated 2 million people worldwide today. The book of Alcoholics Anonymous, informally referred to as ‘the big book’, is a description of how this original group of alcoholics underwent a spiritual transformation that has helped them recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. The steps that these people took are outlined in the book as ‘the 12 steps’. These 12 steps have been so effective in helping people overcome their problems that they have become the foundation for dozens of other programs, from Sex and Love Anonymous to Emotions Anonymous to Alanon.
The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. 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.
12. 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.
Alcoholics Anonymous also operates under 12 traditions. These traditions are as follows:
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. 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.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. 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.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings
Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous can be found all over the world. Meetings are a safe haven and provide a warm, open environment for anyone who is in need. There are many different types of meetings but the common thread in all of them is the use of the big book, the 12 steps and the 12 traditions. The most common type of Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is the speaker meeting. This is when somebody who has been through the program delivers a speech about what their life was like, what happened and what it is like now. The purpose is for speakers to share experience, strength and hope. Another kind of meeting is the participation meeting, which allows everyone to speak what is on their mind. There are step studies and book studies, which provide a focused environment for people who want to learn about the program. There are also gender specific meetings and even online Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Newcomers to these meetings are welcomed with open arms, and are encouraged to find a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who has completed the Alcoholic Anonymous steps and now helps newcomers through the program.
Your Personal Path to Recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous
All people have a unique, personal experience with AA and other 12 step programs. ‘The program’ is the experience that a person has by working the 12 steps with a sponsor. In the eyes of an Alcoholics Anonymous member, an understanding of the program should be based upon personal experience rather than that of another alcoholic. With that in mind, the following description is one person’s understanding of the AA program:
Alcoholics Anonymous approaches alcoholism with the disease model. The “Doctor’s Opinion” chapter of the big book describes the action of alcohol in an alcoholic as “a manifestation of an allergy”. The disease is considered a physical allergy to alcohol that makes the alcoholic unable to control, or moderate, their drinking. The first step of the program requires the alcoholic to consider their past and admit that they are powerless over alcohol and that their lives had become unmanageable. By believing themselves to be powerless over alcohol, a member of AA begins a program of complete abstinence. They have admitted that if they take one drink, their drinking will sooner or later will be out of control and their lives will be unmanageable.
The tendency of the alcoholic to keep drinking, despite the negative consequences, is a symptom of the disease: insanity. Insanity is often defined in AA circles as ‘repeating the same action, expecting different results.’ The alcoholic may already be willing to admit their insanity: that when they drink they can’t stop and their lives become unmanageable, and that despite this they keep trying to control their drinking. These admissions are, in a way, a surrender to the program. Their way of doing things has not worked for them, so they will dedicate themselves to following in the footsteps of those who have recovered.
Once the alcoholic has made a commitment to this program, their journey begins. They turn their will and life over to the care of the higher power of their understanding. A higher power is a broad spiritual concept that is defined differently by many: some define it as God in a religious sense, some define it in a personal, spiritual sense and others define it in secular terms such as ‘humanity’ or ‘the group of AA’. However the concept of spirituality is approached, a member of AA then begins to change their behaviors and thinking in a way that leads them to a happy, easy and free existence. Members take a moral inventory of themselves and identify behaviors and negative emotions that cause them to lead an unhappy life such as anger, fear or jealously. A member then begins a program of action to rid themselves of these poisons. Learning how to achieve serenity, make amends with others and overcome negative emotions is all part of the AA program. In the final step, a participant carries the message to the alcoholic who still suffers by sponsoring others. Once a person has completed the steps and had a spiritual awakening, the next step in the program is to be of service to others, particularly newcomers.
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