BY: STEVE S. | BLOOMFIELD, N.J. Oh, no! What will these AAs make him do? What does he owe? This newcomer’s first encounter with the Traditions was a pleasant surprise
At my very first AA meeting, two large vinyl posters were hanging on the wall. The Twelve Steps were on one poster and the Twelve Traditions were on another.
With a suspicion-filled mind, I read the words on them. What I gathered from the Traditions was that it sounded like no one in particular was in charge, and the only goal was to help. I figured this was like most organizations; its ideals were posted on the walls. I sat in meetings a long time waiting to spot who actually was going to presume they could boss me around and what they would claim I owed.
Turns out I was wrong. As a dear AA friend likes to share at meetings, “When it comes to carrying AA’s message, we do it for fun and for free.”
My suspicion, which today I consider a fermented form of fear, has never played out. Here and there, AAs might act bossy, but not one is the boss of another. We are each left to our own path of recovery. We are each subject to our own devices, our own consciences.
And we owe nothing. Matters of money, time and talents are also left to each member to decide whether or not, and how much to contribute. Each member is their own boss and chooses if and how to contribute to AA’s collective effort to carry the AA message to alcoholics who still suffer. This approach is best.
There’s a line in the Tradition Eight essay from our book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions which says, “Alcoholics simply will not listen to a paid Twelfth-Stepper.” I identify. This principle of “non-professionalism” when it comes to carrying AA’s message saved me from my fearful, suspicion-driven mind. As I sat reading those Traditions on the poster that day, I decided that if someone attempted to boss me, I wasn’t coming to another meeting. I would take my alcohol-soaked resentments home and not come back!
Thankfully no one bossed me. Rather, many helped, and the Steps provided a path to freedom from alcohol and the resentments that I have continued to enjoy for more than 20 years now.
Another influence, more subtle but as great in importance, also stemmed from Tradition Eight as I look back. The first meeting I attended included about six or seven regulars. I took quick measure of them, as I had to spot who the boss really was among them. The suspicion in my keen alcoholic mind was dulled and ultimately outdone by openness. Not one of the six or seven took on being “the boss” and not one of them was getting paid. The real kicker though, what kicked down my suspicion and made room for some open-mindedness, was the fact that they were there in our meeting every week just to be helpful—and they were having fun.
I wasn’t having much fun in those days. Being afraid and resentful of everyone and everything is serious stuff. Also, I wasn’t interested in doing anything without getting paid, even though I was a lousy employee and hardly employed.
When it came to AA’s message being carried, non-professionalism was in effect at that first AA meeting I attended—no bosses and no one getting paid. There’s more to Tradition Eight, including the whole bit about service centers and employment and support of AA members’ Twelfth Step efforts. But this article is short, so I hope you review for yourself, in full, the Tradition Eight essay in the “Twelve and Twelve.”
Tradition Eight, and all Twelve Traditions on the one poster, were all in effect and a part of the AA group I was so fortunate to find. I am grateful because I know today that those Traditions fostered the group’s environment of love and tolerance as well as singleness of purpose. All of which were essential so I would stick around long enough to experience the amazing gifts along the path described on that other poster, the one with the Twelve Steps.