Upon attending only a few meetings, the newcomer is sure to hear references to such things as "the Twelve Steps, "the Twelve Traditions, " "slips, " "the Big Book, and other expressions characteristic of A.A. The following Paragraphs describe these factors and suggest why they are mentioned frequently by A.A. speakers.
What are the 'Twelve Steps'?
The "Twelve Steps" are the core of the A.A. program of personal recovery from alcoholism. They are not abstract theories; they are based on the trial-and-error experience of early members of A.A. They describe the attitudes and activities that these early members believe were important in helping them to achieve sobriety. Acceptance of the "Twelve Steps" is not mandatory in any sense.
Experience suggests, however, that members who make an earnest effort to follow these Steps and to apply them in daily living seem to get far more out of A.A. than do those members who seem to regard the Steps casually. It has been said that it is virtually impossible to follow all the Steps literally, day in and day out. While this may be true, in the sense that the Twelve Steps represent an approach to living that is totally new for most alcoholics, many A.A. members feel that the Steps are a practical necessity if they are to maintain their sobriety.
Here is the text of the Twelve Steps, which first appeared in Alcoholics Anonymous, the A.A. book of experience:
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 short-comings.
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.
What are the 'Twelve Traditions'?
The "Twelve Traditions" of A.A. are suggested principles to insure the survival and growth of the thousands of groups that make up the Fellowship. They are based on the experience of the groups themselves during the critical early years of the movement.
The Traditions are important to both oldtimers and newcomers as reminders of the true foundations of A.A. as a society of men and women whose primary concern is to maintain their own sobriety and help others to achieve sobriety:
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.
What are 'slips'?
Occasionally a man or women who has been sober through A.A. will get drunk. In A.A. a relapse of this type is commonly known as a "slip." It may occur during the first few weeks or months of sobriety or after the alcoholic has been dry a number of years.
Nearly all A.A.s who have been through this experience say that slips can be traced to specific causes. They deliberately forgot that they had admitted they were alcoholics and got overconfident about their ability to handle alcohol. Or they stayed away from A.A. meetings or from informal association with other A.A.s. Or they let themselves become too involved with business or social affairs to remember the importance of being sober. Or they let themselves become tired and were caught with their mental and emotional defenses down.
In other words, most "slips" don't just happen.
Does A.A. have a basic 'textbook'?
The Fellowship has four books that are generally accepted as "textbooks." The first is Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as "the Big Book," originally published in 1939, revised in 1955 and 1976. It records the personal stories of 42 representative problem drinkers who achieved stable sobriety for the first time through A.A. It also records the suggested steps and principles that early members believed were responsible for their ability to overcome the compulsion to drink.
The second book is Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, published in 1953. It is an interpretation, by Bill W., a co-founder, of the principles that have thus far assured the continuing survival of individuals and groups within A.A.
A third book, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, published in 1957, is a brief history of the first two decades of the Fellowship.
The fourth is As Bill Sees It (formerly titled The A.A. Way of Life, a reader by Bill). This is a selection of Bill W.'s writings.
These books may be purchased through local A.A. groups or ordered direct from Alcoholics Anonymous, Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163.
What is 'the 24-hour program'?
"The 24-hour program" is a phrase used to describe a basic A.A. approach to the problem of staying sober. A.A.s never swear off alcohol for life, never take pledges committing themselves not to take a drink "tomorrow." By the time they turned to A.A. for help, they had discovered that, no matter how sincere they may have been in promising themselves to abstain from alcohol "in the future," somehow they forgot the pledge and got drunk. The compulsion to drink proved more powerful than the best intentions not to drink.
The A.A. member recognizes that the biggest problem is to stay sober now! The current 24 hours is the only period the A.A. can do anything about as far as drinking is concerned. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow never comes. "But today," the A.A. says, "today, I will not take a drink. I may be tempted to take a drink tomorrow - and perhaps I will. But tomorrow is something to worry about when it comes. My big problem is not to take a drink during this 24 hours.
Along with the 24-hour program, A.A. emphasizes the importance of three slogans that have probably been heard many times by the newcomer before joining A.A. These slogans are: "Easy Does It," "Live and Let Live," and "First Things First." By making these slogans a basic part of the attitude toward problems of daily living, the average A.A. is usually helped substantially in the attempt to live successfully without alcohol.
What is the A.A. Grapevine?
The Grapevine is a monthly pocket-size magazine published for members and friends who seek further sharing of A.A. experience. The only international journal of the Society, the Grapevine is edited by a staff made up entirely of A.A.s.
Single copies of the magazine are usually available each month at meetings of local groups, but most readers prefer to receive their copies on a regular subscription basis. In the U.S. the cost of annual subscription is $15.00, slightly more - in Canada; single copies are $1.50.
Why doesn't A.A. seem to work for some people?
The answer is that A.A. will work only for those who admit that they are alcoholics, who honestly want to stop drinking — and who are able to keep those facts uppermost in their minds at all times.
A.A. usually will not work for the man or woman who has reservations about whether or not he or she is an alcoholic, or who clings to the hope of being able to drink normally again.
Most medical authorities say no one who is an alcoholic can ever drink normally again. The alcoholic must admit and accept this cardinal fact. Coupled with this admission and acceptance must be the desire to stop drinking.
After they have been sober a while in A.A., some people tend to forget that they are alcoholics, with all that this diagnosis implies. Their sobriety makes them overconfident, and they decide to experiment with alcohol again. The results of such experiments are, for the alcoholic, completely predictable. Their drinking invariably becomes progressively worse.
This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature.
The following excerpts are from the A.A. Pamphlet "44 Questions":
Reprinted from the A.A. Pamphlet "44 Questions" with permission of A.A. World Services, Inc.