Practically nobody looks forward to going to
their first AA meeting. In most cases this
in fact is an occasion of extreme shame, dread and
despair. There is much fear and trembling. The
majority of individuals going to AA for the first
time are doing so reluctantly, either because they
have promised someone else to go - or because they
have been directed to attend by a judge, an
employer, a therapist or an addictions treatment
program. Even first timers who "go on their own"
are usually in an intensely ambivalent and
negative state. Nobody wishes to require the help
that is provided by AA, nobody wishes to be an
alcoholic, and as a result virtually everyone
attending their first meeting wishes that they
were someplace else doing something else. This
attitude conditions and determines much of what is
seen and heard and how it is interpreted. In
general, and with only a few exceptions, the first
time vistor is alert and looking for evidence that
he is in the wrong place, with the wrong people,
and taking the wrong approach to his drinking
problem by coming to the meeting. He is, in brief,
looking for reasons to justify his desire not to
be there and not to return.
It is in fact an act of great courage to walk
into an AA meeting for the first time. Many
people with severe drinking problems simply lack
the courage to take this first step under any
circumstances. They commonly hide their fear by
critical, often cynical remarks about AA and the
people who do have the courage to attend. They may
indulge themselves with elaborate philosophical,
scientific and even political rationalizations for
why they will never attend a single AA meeting.
But at bottom they are simply too afraid to walk
through the door. Still worse: they are unable or
unwilling to be honest with themselves and others
about their real feelings and hence continue to
cloak their fear behind irrelevant and insincere
theoretical objections. (See Obstacles
to Recovery and
Resistances to Alcoholics Anonymous Attendance
for more about shame, dishonesty and personal
exceptionalism in addictive illness.)
The obvious and best solution to the problem of
the normal anxiety and discomfort that are
associated with attending one's first AA meeting
is to go to the meeting with someone who knows the
ropes. If no friend or acquaintance who happens to
be an AA member is available, contact can always
be arranged by calling the local AA Central Office
and asking for a volunteer to telephone one.
Although many people avail themselves of such
measures to reduce the stress of their first AA
meeting, many others find such logical
preliminaries themselves too frightening and
therefore do not follow them. It is principally to
this last group, to those solitary and always
frightened and confused "first timers," that this
brief introduction is oriented.
Although there is a great deal of information
about AA available on the web and in traditional
print, there is surprisingly little to be found
that deals with the practical concerns and fears
of the individual who is attending or thinking of
attending a meeting for the first time. The result
is sometimes a kind of "culture shock" which takes
place when the newcomer attends and is temporarily
overwhelmed by the newness and strangeness of the
experience. Even worse, people who seriously
consider attending an AA meeting may decide not to
do so because of the natural human fear of the
This guide is neither an
official one nor affiliated in any way with AA
itself. It represents merely one person's attempt
to describe some of the common features of AA
meetings. There will be many individual variations
and exceptions to this or to any other relatively
brief attempt to sketch the principal outlines and
common experiences in a program as diverse and
unregulated as AA. The best way to regard what
follows is as one of those primitive and only
half-correct maps drawn by the early geographers.
Not everything in such maps is correct, and much
that is important is omitted. But in favorable
cases the map does serve as a rough guide to the
territory to be explored, and provides at least
some major landmarks by which the traveler may
hope to orient and guide himself in his own
explorations of the terrain.
An excellent source of "official" AA information
is available at the Alcoholics
Anonymous World Services Web Site.
Anyone curious about AA and contemplating going to
their first meeting should read the brief
descriptive information available there, including
Those seriously interested in this topic are
advised to read The
Addict's Dilemma, Addiction,
Lies and Relationships, Excuses
Alcoholics Make, and
Resistances to AA Attendance for more
information. See also
Original Papers on Addiction for additional
discussion of recovery related issues.
Father Joseph Martin's
videos are available on YouTube.
There is a famous old English recipe for ox tail
stew that begins "First, kill an ox." The first
step in attending one's first AA meeting is to
locate a meeting to attend. The best way to do
this is to have or ask for a specific
recommendation from someone who is familiar with
both the prospective attendee and the meeting in
question. Most cities have what are called
"Central Offices" for AA that are listed in the
local phone book under "Alcoholics Anonymous."
Mental health facilities and hospitals usually
have a current directory of meetings or a contact
number. And the internet is an excellent resource
for locating meetings anywhere in the world.
AA for You? Questions to ask yourself.
Group lists on-line AA meetings,
mailing lists, and also face-to-face meetings by
Anonymous Atlanta is the web site of
the Atlanta, Georgia Central Office. This contains
a meeting schedule that is both searchable on-line
and downloadable. Meetings in the greater Atlanta
metropolitan area are listed and described.
Anonymous in Georgia provides general
information and meeting schedules for Georgia AA.
local Central Office can provide suggestions
for a nearby meeting, a meeting schedule, and
other information about AA.
Anonymous is the official web site of
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.is an "AA Fact
File" that answers many questions newcomers
AA is and is not is an AA fact file.
Anonymous Speaker Tapes is a large on-line
collection of free AA speaker tapes that can be
downloaded or listened to on line.
Grapevine: The International Journal of
of AA Meetings
Meetings can be categorized by their topic and
format, who attends them, and the facilities in
which they are held. It is also useful to consider
the unofficial distinctions of small versus large
meetings and smoking versus non-smoking.
- Open versus closed
- Mixed, men only, women only, young peoples'
- Speaker, Big Book, Step Study or Discussion
- Clubhouse or church
- Small or large
- Smoking versus non-smoking
Meetings may be "Open" (to anyone) or
"Closed"(for alcoholics only). Many groups pay no
attention to this distinction, and it is not
uncommon for regular participants in a meeting to
be uncertain whether their meeting is officially
open or closed. Family and friends of the
alcoholic, along with observers and students of
various kinds are welcome at the open meetings.
Closed meetings are reserved for those who
consider themselves to be alcoholics or who are
investigating that possibility for themselves.
Newcomers are always welcome at closed meetings
regardless of whether they have made up their
minds about themselves.
Meetings may be "mixed"(male and female), men
only, or women only. Meeting schedules indicate by
codes(usually MO or WO) if a meeting is
AA meetings are also characterized according to
- Discussion meetings
- Big Book Study meetings
- Step Study meetings
- Speaker meetings
- The discussion leader introduces a topic with
some brief comments and then throws the meeting
open, recognizing those who indicate their
desire to share by raising their hands.
- Those who raise their hands and are recognized
by the discussion leader normally introduce
themselves by saying "My name is so-and-so and I
am an alcoholic." Some people say "I am a
grateful recovering alcoholic," "I am powerless
over alcohol," or some other variation. Although
it is generally expected, it is not required
that those who wish to share identify themselves
as being alcoholic.
- Sharing usually begins with some reference to
the topic mentioned by the discussion leader or
to comments by a previous speaker, but each
member who speaks is free to change the subject
or to introduce an entirely new topic if they
need to do so. It is expected that anyone having
a particularly hard time, especially if they are
thinking seriously about drinking, will bring
this up regardless of whatever the original
topic or subsequent comments may have been.
- Certain conventions guide the content and
format of sharing in meetings, although these
may be and sometimes are ignored. They include:
- Length around 3 minutes or less.
- Personal experience, feelings, struggles
valued over opinions, theory.
- Avoidance of direct advice and "cross talk,"
i.e. telling another member what to think or
how to behave.
- Some relation to alcohol or to conflicts in
living that can be related to the Twelve
- In general a "single share" convention is
followed in which no member speaks at length
more than once during a given meeting,
although exceptions to this are not uncommon
depending upon the group and circumstances.
- Identification and empathy with the
experiences of others who have shared. This is
expressed by sharing one's own personal
experiences of a similar nature.
- Occasionally the meeting "goes around the
room" and everyone has the opportunity to speak
if desired, or the discussion leader may call on
individual members and invite them to share.
Those who do not wish to speak simply say
"Thanks, I'll pass" or "I'll just listen
tonight." This is always accepted and pressure
is never exerted to speak.
and Step Study Meetings
b. Meetings usually wrap up
on time and are closed in a manner chosen by the
particular group. A basket is usually
passed around the room for voluntary
contributions to defray expenses. No
contribution is required, and first-timers are
often advised not to contribute. The usual
donation is one dollar. It is common for the
chairperson to read or remind everyone of the
Twelfth Tradition(the principle of anonymity)
and to invite the group to stand, join hands in
a circle, and recite the Lord's Prayer or the
- These meetings are devoted to the study of the
"Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous" or
to the "Twelve
Steps and Twelve Traditions"("12 and 12")
written by Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA.
Participants commonly bring their own copy of
the appropriate book, but there are usually
extra copies available at the meeting for those
who did not bring a copy.
- The typical meeting will involve reading some
portion of the "Big Book" or the "Twelve and
Twelve" and then commenting upon it from the
individual member's experience and perspective.
The discussion leader may read a selected
passage and then invite comments, or members may
take turns reading a paragraph or two from a
chosen section of the work, followed by a
general discussion of the topics covered.
- As in the discussion meeting, sharing that
consists of personal experience and applications
of the text is valued over purely theoretical
and impersonal analysis.
- Also as in the discussion meeting, "cross
talk" is kept to a minimum. The usual etiquette
is for members to remain silent until the
speaker has finished.
- A speaker is selected in advance who agrees to
"tell their story" of drinking and recovery to
the group. Speakers are usually those with a
year or more of sobriety who have previously
been asked and agreed to talk.
- A common format is to devote the entire
meeting after the usual opening readings to the
speaker's story. When the story is finished the
meeting is wrapped up without formal discussion.
- Some meetings are combined "speaker-discussion
meetings" in which a chosen speaker talks for a
quarter or a half an hour, followed by a group
discussion of the themes raised in accordance
with the usual conventions of a discussion
and Church Meetings
are sites specifically dedicated to AA meetings
and usually have a wide variety of meetings every
day, often at all hours of the day. Clubhouses may
be freestanding buildings or rented space in other
buildings. "Clubhouse meetings" typically include
a wide spectrum of recovering alcoholics from
still drinking to recently relapsed to decades of
continuous sobriety. There are usually meetings in
all of the above formats(open, closed, mixed, men,
women, discussion, Big Book, Step Study, speaker,
Young Peoples' &etc.). Often there are special
beginner's or "First Step" meetings that are
attended both by newcomers and those who have been
sober a long time. Clubhouse meetings tend to be
larger than church meetings – though this is not
always the case.
*Some Atlanta area AA clubhouses: Triangle,
are held on the
premises of various local churches by special
arrangement with the congregation, usually
including a nominal rent payment from collections
taken up by the AA group at the end of each
meeting. The meetings are not affiliated with the
church in any way but simply reflect a tradition
in which churches have provided AA with space to
hold its meetings.
Church meetings tend to be smaller than Clubhouse
meetings, though this is not always the case.
Meetings are held wherever space is available –
though seldom in the sanctuary or chapel.
varies from small to large wherever the meeting
may be held and regardless of the specific
format(discussion, Big Book, Step Study, speaker)
and who attends(mixed, men, women, young people
&etc.). "Small" usually refers to meetings of
fifteen or less members while "large" can mean
thirty, forty, fifty or more people.
and nonsmoking meetings.
The "smoke filled room" of AA tradition was a
definite reality but is now becoming a thing of
the past as more and more meetings become
nonsmoking only. Smokers still congregate outside
the meeting before, during and after it is held –
but meetings in which smoking is permitted inside
are becoming rare.
The Diversity of AA Groups
No two AA groups are alike. There is an
enormous diversity among groups reflecting unique
features of the particular group and the
individuals who constitute it. AA's Fourth
Tradition states that "Each group should be
autonomous except in matters affecting other
groups or AA as a whole." This is not just empty
talk, as anyone who has sampled the wide variety
of AA meetings knows well. There is a tremendous
kaleidoscopic variation of emphasis, emotional
tone, meeting philosophy, readings and ritual, and
informal group norms from one group to another.
This seems to be one of AA's "secrets of success"
and guarantees that when there are enough groups
to choose from, a newcomer will be able to find
something that closely matches his needs if only
he is willing to look. Though all are welcome,
groups generally tend to mirror the socioeconomic
and ethnic characteristics of the neighborhoods in
which they meet. Exceptions, however, abound.
Perhaps nowhere in modern society are as much
genuine democracy and class and status-less
affiliation of equals to be found as in the
typical AA meeting.
Rituals and Readings: What
Goes on at a typical AA Meeting
AA meetings vary considerably in their particular
readings and rituals from place to place, even
within the same general geographic location. Each
meeting has its own style of opening and closing.
A common sequence(there are many variations) in
the southeastern United States is:
- Meeting called to order by volunteer
- Chairperson reads "AA Preamble,"
leads group in Serenity
- Reading of
"How it Works," the "Twelve
"The Promises," often by members who were
asked before the meeting to do so.
- Chairperson asks if there are any newcomers or
people attending that particular meeting for the
first time who care to introduce themselves by
their first name. (This is completely optional
and may be ignored by newcomers if desired,
although it is obviously a good idea to
introduce oneself in order for others to begin
to get to know him.)
- AA-related announcements.
- The meeting itself, whether discussion, Big
Book Study, Step Study or speaker.
- Conclusion of meeting proper.
- Chips handed out for length of sobriety(in SE
- "Pass the basket" for optional one dollar
- Statement of
- Lord's Prayer, usually said standing in a
circle, heads bowed, holding hands. Some groups
close with Serenity Prayer.
Problem of Fear
Regardless of the type, size or location of their
first AA meeting, newcomers face a predictable
series of challenges that must be overcome in
order to begin to benefit from AA. By far the
greatest problem most individuals experience
when beginning AA is how to deal with their
Fear is the great enemy of recovery from
alcoholism and indeed from any serious
addiction. Intensely negative emotions such
as fear, shame, and guilt obstruct the road to
recovery and detour the alcoholic-addict away from
what is good for him(for example, AA meetings,
therapy, rehab) and toward what is bad for
him(isolation, secrecy, alcohol and drugs). Even
when a person has supposedly "hit bottom" as a
consequence of his addiction and sincerely,
desperately desires to overcome it and begin
leading a healthy life, the painful and aversive
affects of shame, guilt and fear often conspire
with his addiction to thwart him and bring his
hopes to naught. In all too many cases the fear of
the steps necessary for lasting recovery may be
greater than the alcoholic's fear of relapse into
alcoholism, resulting in the familiar "On again,
off again" pattern many alcoholics and addicts
display as they begin to flirt with but not yet
commit to recovery. (See Why
is Recovery So Hard? and Obstacles
It is the rare newcomer to an AA meeting who
is not at least inwardly quaking in his boots.
Fear of the unknown and of strange situations is a
perfectly normal human response. In fact, it is a
necessary response: for without the capacity for
fear, no individual would survive for long.
Fearful anticipation and resulting hyper-vigilance
serve to protect people from harm in strange
The fear of the typical newcomer to an AA meeting
begins but by no means ends with this normal and
adaptive apprehension in regard to the unfamiliar.
The newcomer is vulnerable to many other fears
which usually cause far greater distress and may
eventually cause him to run away, to adopt a
combative attitude, or simply to be unable to
profit from his AA experience.
It is probably true in general that the famous
"fight or flight" response is the characteristic
response of most higher organisms to perceived
threat. If a danger is spotted one must either
overcome it, usually by attack, or run away to
escape harm and even death.
The majority of alcoholics dispose of their fear
–dread would probably be a more accurate word- of
AA meetings(and alcohol treatment) by the
classical phobic-avoidance method: they stay as
far away from them as possible. This phobic
avoidance is commonly rationalized in various
ways, some of which may be superficially
plausible. But the underlying problem in almost
all cases is fear.
The alcoholic who actually attends an AA meeting,
therefore, is the exception to this rule of
avoidance. The "normal" thing is for the alcoholic
to shy away from AA and anything remotely
resembling AA. And the chief reason for this
avoidance is fear, followed closely by the intense
shame that is characteristic of most advanced
What is the alcoholic so afraid of that he is
willing to go to any length -sometimes even to
die- to avoid AA meetings? Every individual has a
unique story – but there are some common factors
which, while varying in relative importance in
each case, actually constitute the principal
explanation for the typical alcoholic's fear and
loathing of AA.
We should keep in mind that the alcoholic
attending his first AA meeting seldom does so in a
state of mental calm and physical equilibrium.
Usually there has been a drinking-related crisis
of some kind that has prompted the first visit to
AA. A considerable amount of "energy" is required
to lift the alcoholic from his normal, i.e.
drinking "orbit" into the initially much more
aversive AA "orbit." And it is the nature of
addiction that mere rational analysis seldom
provides sufficient energy for such a drastic
change of state. Something more, and often
something painful and undeniable, is usually
required in addition to whatever intellectual
insight the alcoholic may possess. Attendance at
one's first AA meeting does not take place in a
vacuum but in the context of an existence that
more often than not is riddled and riven with
turmoil resulting from alcoholic drinking and
Something else to keep in mind when considering
the first AA meeting is the usually highly
abnormal and unstable physical state of the
alcoholic. For whether he is still drinking, has
attempted to cut down, or has recently stopped
altogether, his brain is seldom in a healthy
functional state. More often than not these days,
drugs besides alcohol are likely to be part of the
picture as well. All of this undermines the
clarity and stability of the newcomer's psyche and
makes the chore of correctly perceiving and
interpreting the meeting environment more
The basic fear of the average alcoholic attending
his first AA meeting is loss of face, i.e.
fear of painful narcissistic injury, humiliation,
or social embarrassment. To attend an AA meeting
means to acknowledge that one is or might be an
alcoholic who has been unable to control his
drinking! This fear originates and is maintained
solely in the alcoholic's head and is largely
independent of external influence – especially
external influence that might be thought to
ameliorate it. Thus the newcomer at an AA meeting
is frequently ashamed to be seen there despite
knowing full well that everyone else present is
also an alcoholic. This is because the "seeing"
that pains him is his own seeing of himself as
someone with a drinking problem who is in need of
help. Well-meant reassurances from other people
are of little help here and may even make the
shame worse. For the alcoholic is ashamed in his
own eyes and before himself, feelings that
commonly overflow and then are projected upon
others. The self-critical and ashamed alcoholic
thus experiences his own internal
self-condemnation as external criticism and
disapproval coming or threatening to come from
A soldier on night sentry duty on the frontier of
hostile and dangerous territory will naturally be
alert to every sound and shadowy movement as
possibly indicating the threatening presence of
the enemy. His attention is focused and organized
to detect and act upon signs of imminent attack.
Everything else has been put on the back burner
for as long as he stands sentry duty. Such a
soldier is not interested in, nor would he be very
good at learning various kinds of new information
about the theory of standing guard, the politics
of warfare, or the geologic history of the
landscape he is presently patrolling. His survival
depends upon the capacity of his mind to weed out
such extraneous or distracting input and to remain
fixated upon the immediate task of survival
through vigilance and readiness for quick
response. Not merely his weapon but the soldier
himself is "locked and loaded," i.e. ready for
In the same way the individual exposed for the
first time to an entirely new and, in his mind,
potentially threatening environment such as an AA
meeting will be in a state of heightened defensive
vigilance, scanning the environment and the
behavior of others for any signs of danger. This
is by no means the optimum state of mind to make
objective assessments and to draw reliable
conclusions about what is going on. People under
conditions of perceived high threat view, organize
and interpret their environment just as the
soldier-sentry described above does: they are
watchful, suspicious, cautious, and prepared to
fight or flee on a moment's notice.
In brief, the high anxiety and selective
attention of many AA newcomers causes them to
experience and evaluate their meeting environment
and the people in it in a distorted fashion. Only
by coming back a number of times with a
diminishing level of fear and anxiety do
individuals unfamiliar with AA meetings begin to
acquire a more rounded, accurate and in-depth view
of what is actually going on – as opposed to what
they fear is or might shortly be going on.
All of the observations made above apply with
even more force to those not infrequent instances
in which the newcomer, in addition to suffering
from alcoholism, also suffers from a significant
anxiety disorder such as "social phobia" or
"social anxiety disorder." A very high percentage
of alcoholics, 50% or more in some studies, show
evidence of an associated anxiety or depressive
condition in addition to their alcoholism. In
these cases faster progress in AA and sobriety is
usually made when separate professional treatment
is obtained for the "dual diagnosis" condition.
90 Meetings in 90
Days? You Must be CRAZY!
The newcomer is frequently shocked and horrified
to hear the recommendation that in order to become
adequately acquainted with AA, he should attend at
least ninety meetings in ninety days – a meeting
every day for three months! This recommendation
amounts to a proposal for the kind of "total
immersion" strategy that is often used in learning
a foreign language: the student is simply thrown
into an environment in which no language but the
one he wishes to learn is spoken.
Also called "90-90" or "doing a 90-90," the
ninety meetings in ninety days suggestion is just
a common sense and experience-derived attempt to
deal with the problems of perspective and
interfering emotions described above. The 90-90
proposition also serves notice that the AA
recovery path is not an easy or effortless one –
and that a major change in daily routine and
therefore priorities is required for success. The
prescription is probably one of those :more
honored in the breach than the observance,"
although a certain number of newcomers do manage
to follow it or something closely akin to it. The
basic idea is that in order to be successful the
neophyte must spend the time and energy required
to become acquainted with AA. A touch-and-go
landing will not be sufficient.
A large number of alcoholics who attend at least
one AA meetings recoil in disgust from the 90-90
advice. It confirms for them some of their worst
fears about AA, for example the charge that it is
a dangerous cult that succeeds only by
brainwashing the critical judgment of its
participants. The very idea of making time to
attend an AA meeting every single day for three
months offends their sense of proportionality
because it seems to them an absurd, almost
grotesque over-reaction to their alcohol problem.
Of course, the typical alcoholic spends far more
than an hour each day drinking and dealing with
the consequences of drinking.
Arriving Late and
Not everyone is uncomfortable at their first AA
meeting – but most people are. Part of this is the
normal social anxiety associated with unfamiliar
situations; the majority of it is connected with
the intense self-consciousness, hyper-vigilance,
shame and guilt that the prospective AA member
feels for exposing himself as someone with a
significant drinking problem which he is unable to
handle on his own. For there is simply no
satisfactory escape from the painful logic that
announces to himself and everyone who sees him at
the AA meeting that if he didn't have a bad
drinking problem that he was having trouble
handling, he wouldn't be there in the first place.
Just showing up at an AA meeting, therefore, is a
declaration of unmanageable personal difficulty.
And for many people that is an acutely painful
source of shame and stigma.
One of the common ways individuals attempt to
manage their "meeting anxiety" is by arriving late
and leaving early. This strategy not only cuts
down on the amount of time actually spent at the
meeting, it also, and more importantly, eliminates
the unstructured time prior to and after the
meeting itself. Newcomers tend to feel
uncomfortable and awkward in such circumstances
because they don't yet know anybody and aren't
sure how to behave. The simplest and most obvious
solution to this predicament is to avoid it
altogether. This sometimes lead to a pattern of
meeting behavior that resembles a bank robbery:
the getaway car is left running outside while the
robber darts into the bank, grabs the money, and
runs for his life before the police arrive. The
role in this behavior of intense fear and the
resulting phobic-avoidance defense is apparent.
Because the quickest way to overcome such
irrational fears is to confront them directly
rather than to run away and thereby reinforce
them, individuals who are able to force themselves
to come a little early and to hang around and talk
for a while after the meeting tend to become
comfortable more quickly. People vary markedly in
regard to their interpersonal anxieties and social
skills, but even for the most extroverted and
gregarious souls the initial encounter with AA
meetings is almost always a kind of culture shock
that requires some adjustment.
and Confidentiality Concerns
Alcoholics Anonymous categorizes itself as anonymous
for a reason – actually for a number of reasons.
It is the rare alcoholic who, at least in the
beginning, is not acutely concerned about matters
of privacy, confidentiality and anonymity. Most
first timers are afraid of being seen going into a
meeting or of encountering someone they know in
the meeting itself. It is not unheard of for
people to attend their first meetings far away
from their own neighborhood or stomping grounds in
order to avoid what they fear would be an
embarrassing encounter with someone they know.
Such anxieties reflect and result from the intense
shame and stigmatization connected in the minds of
most people with the label "alcoholic."
Going to AA requires courage –or desperation-
because attendance at an AA meeting undeniably
moves the drinker out of the category of "heavy
drinker" into that of "alcoholic" – or a least is
a major step in the latter direction. Thus it
happens that a great many, perhaps the majority of
newcomers to AA are ashamed of themselves merely
for needing to be there. As discussed above, this
intense personal shame and humiliation is commonly
projected onto others and onto the environment at
large in the form of paranoid vigilance and fear
of external criticism, negative judgment and
disapproval, when in fact the greatest source of
negativity is within the newcomer himself.
The shame that is often connected with the first
AA meeting is suggested in the following joke
often told by alcoholism expert Father Joseph
Martin in his famous talks on alcoholism:
A man was attending the funeral of an old
acquaintance he had not seen for some time and
spoke to the deceased's widow, who sadly
informed him that death had resulted from a
drinking problem. The man said "I'm sorry to
hear that. Did he ever try AA?" The widow
recoiled in horror and exclaimed "Oh no! He
never got that bad!"
AA meetings do not take attendance or keep
membership roles. It is traditional to identify
oneself by first name only. All meetings include a
reminder to keep everything that is said in the
meeting confidential. This "Twelfth Tradition" of
AA is taken very seriously by those who are
familiar with and committed to the program.
What Should You Say if You
There is no requirement for newcomers(or anyone
else) to say anything at all. Participation, like
attendance, is purely voluntary( those ordered to
attend by a judge or a treatment program are not
quite so "voluntary," but their actual
participation, if any, is still entirely up to
them.) If one happens to be called upon or
otherwise asked to speak and does not care to do
so, the standard formulas for polite refusal are
"Thanks, I'll pass" or "Thanks, I'll just listen
tonight." Everyone understands and accepts this
and no pressure is applied to try to change the
person's mind who prefers not to speak.
The Third Tradition of AA states that "The only
requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop
drinking." Even this "requirement" may be a little
overstated, as many people attend AA who don't so
much have a desire to stop drinking as they have a
concern about their drinking and its consequences,
and an interest in learning more about themselves.
But those who continue to attend and who
subsequently identify themselves as AA members do
sooner or later acknowledge a desire to stop
drinking. Other than this Third Tradition
requirement, there are simply no formal
qualifications or requirements for membership.
AA meetings are extremely diverse and thus vary
considerably in the attention, if any, paid to
newcomers. Many meetings include a routine
question from the chairperson as to whether there
are any newcomers or people from other meetings
who would like to be introduced by their first
name only. This is meant to offer an opportunity
for those desiring to introduce themselves. It is
not a requirement. Although it is usually a good
idea for the newcomer's own progress and comfort
just to go ahead and introduce himself("My name is
Bill and I think I am an alcoholic. This is my
first AA meeting."), it is perfectly permissible
to remain silent and defer such an introduction to
a later time if one is simply too frightened to go
ahead at that time. (Because such fears are almost
always overcome by facing them and pushing through
them rather than avoiding them, however, newcomers
are wise to face their fear whenever they can.)
It is not required, in order to speak, to
identify or "label" oneself as an alcoholic,
though most members choose to do so. Some people
prefer to identify themselves as "recovering
alcoholics" or even "recovered alcoholic."
Newcomers are entirely free to say whatever they
like about themselves in this regard. Since
everyone present has had and can usually remember
their own "first AA meeting," there is normally a
great deal of empathy and acceptance of newcomers,
whatever their comments or non-comments may be.
If a newcomer does choose to introduce himself as
such, it is a fairly common practice in many
discussion meetings for members to talk either
about their own first meeting and how they got
there, or about the First Step("We admitted we
were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had
become unmanageable.") The hope here is that by
sharing personal experiences and vulnerabilities
group members will help the newcomer to realize
that he is neither alone nor by any means as
different from others as he often feels to be the
case. Though this strategy is a useful and
generally helpful one, some newcomers are made
even more apprehensive by such attention. The
larger the meeting the easier it is to fade into
the woodwork and not be noticed – but this
temporary comfort may come at a high cost if the
individual continues to maintain such a low
profile that he never has the opportunity to
connect with others. The AA recovery method is a
"hands on" practical program that seldom works
very well unless those attempting it sooner or
later let down their defenses and walls and allow
others to begin to get to know them. This may
happen quickly, even in the first meeting; or it
may take a very long time. Much depends upon the
individual history and makeup of the individual
and his degree of comfort or discomfort in social
situations. (Newcomers who are naturally
gregarious do not always fare better than those
who are more shy and reserved, for the more or
less automatic and sometimes superficial social
skills and faÁade of some of the former may
at times actually work against development of the
more fundamental relationships that recovery
almost always requires.)
The speaking(or sharing) format in discussion
meetings varies somewhat in accordance with the
size and seating arrangement of the meeting. Large
meetings almost always function in a "raise your
hand to be recognized" fashion in which anyone
wishing to speak indicates his desire to by
raising his hand until he is called on by the
discussion leader. Smaller meetings and meetings
in which the seating arrangement is circular or
around a table sometimes "go around the room"
starting at one side and continuing to the other
unless time runs out. In this case each person is
automatically invited to speak when his turn
arrives. Such an arrangement often causes a great
deal of anxiety in newcomers and in those who
simply have a fear of public speaking. They may
sit in their seats with mounting dread as their
"turn" gets closer and closer, wondering what they
are going to say and how it will be received. This
of course completely defeats the purpose of being
at the meeting – and it is also completely
unnecessary. For if one doesn't feel like speaking
when his "turn" arrives, saying "Thanks, I'll
pass" or "I think I'll just listen tonight" are
common and perfectly acceptable responses. (But
just as in the case of whether or not to introduce
oneself as a newcomer, discussed above, it is
almost always in the best interest of the newcomer
to say a few words if he can possibly make himself
do so. This behavior, that of facing rather than
running away from one's fears, is what eventually
"desensitizes" the socially anxious or shy person
and helps him to become comfortable speaking.)
Occasionally, especially in smaller meetings, the
discussion leader may call upon various
individuals and ask them if they would like to
share. Here also it is perfectly permissible to
say "Thanks, I'll just listen" – although here
also it is usually advisable for the newcomer's
own progress to "take the plunge" and jump in the
pool by saying something if possible.
What should one say if he wishes to speak in a
discussion meeting? Anything that comes to mind
and seems relevant. There are no "wrong" shares in
AA. Nor is there any official time limitation,
although most who share will finish in three
minutes or less. Sometimes more time is needed.
There are no written or rigid rules.
The AA recovery program emphasizes personal
honesty and openness to a degree that is often
startling to those unfamiliar with it. Sometimes
such frankness and candor may give the wrong
impression that a speaker is "beating up on
himself" and running himself down just for the
pleasure of doing so. Occasionally there are
individuals who for reasons of their own seem to
do just that – but the healthy aim of the AA
program is simply to gain control over one's
shortcomings by honestly admitting them and then
doing something about them. Wallowing in guilt and
self-blame is not the AA way, which is briefly
stated as "learning to live in the solution rather
than dwelling in the problem."
Therefore the newcomer who desires to speak need
not and probably should not engage in a
confessional litany of his sins and shortcomings.
The mere fact that he is present at the meeting is
sufficient suggestion that life has not been going
well for him, and quite possibly also those around
around him. A common "share" by a newcomer might
consist of his first name, identification of
himself as an alcoholic if he believes this
fits(otherwise not – it would be dishonest to say
something one did not believe!), followed by a
brief statement of what has been going on in his
life that has brought him to his first AA meeting.
The main point of such an introduction is simply
to "break the ice" and to begin to let others get
acquainted with one. Human beings are diverse and
individually unique, but the experiences of
alcoholics, particularly those at the stage of the
illness at which AA attendance usually begins, are
quite constricted and stereotyped. There are
perhaps a dozen or so major alcoholic scenarios
which, once known, can be "filled in" and fleshed
out with a surprising degree of accuracy by those
intimately familiar with the thinking and behavior
of alcoholics. And no group of people is as
familiar with the thinking and behavior of
alcoholics as those in attendance at the typical
What response does the newcomer usually receive
to his sharing? This of course depends upon many
factors, including the nature of the particular AA
group, those who are present, and what the
newcomer actually says. In the typical scenario,
subsequent speakers may relate what has been said
to their own experience. No one particularly
enjoys receiving unsolicited advice from others,
and alcoholics probably enjoy it considerably less
than average. The usual way of communicating in
discussion groups is therefore by sharing one's
own experiences, not merely his opinions. The
chances therefore are great that whatever the
newcomer specifically shares, others will respond
by relating feelings and experiences similar to
his. The aim is to be nonjudgmental and supportive
as possible by simply fostering an atmosphere of
mutual openness and honesty in which all who are
present acknowledge their humanity and hence their
imperfections. The usual "masks" and social role
personae that may be worn in other situations are,
ideally, temporarily taken off for the duration of
the AA meeting.
God, Religion and Spirituality
Although it is an undeniable historical fact that
AA had its origins in the so-called "Oxford Group"
movement which emphasized a return to the presumed
basic teachings of Christ, it is an equally
undeniable historical fact that AA itself only
began when its founders split off from the Oxford
Group movement. Thus although the Christian
religious influence is omnipresent in AA doctrine
and practice, AA itself is by no means a Christian
or even a religious organization – a fact that has
caused and continues to cause a great deal of
confusion in the minds of those unfamiliar with
The history of AA and the various influences that
shaped and continue to shape the program is a
fascinating and complex topic – but it is seldom
something newcomers have time, interest, or even
mental concentration for. But for those who like
to research the background of what they may be
getting themselves into, the following sites
provide some useful information:
History of Alcoholics Anonymous
A concise overview of early AA history with
special attention to the Oxford Group connection.
A large collection of AA history links, books, and
A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ernest Kurtz. Hazelden Education Information,
January 1998. Clicking on the link will take you
to Amazon.com, an on-line bookseller.
The newcomer only really needs to know that there
is no religious requirement for AA attendance and
that he is free to believe whatever he chooses to
believe. There are many agnostics and atheists in
AA, as well as many members of established
churches and organized religions, Christian and
Third Tradition of AA states that "The only
requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop
drinking." Nothing is said about religion – or
about any other requirement.
What then about all the talk of God and even the
Lord's Prayer that is said at many –not all- AA
meetings? The basic idea is to attempt to relate
to some kind of "power greater than
oneself." The reason for this "Higher Power" is to
acquire a sense of perspective and also support.
Many people say that they use the AA group or AA
as a whole in this fashion. The Eleventh Step
speaks of "God as we understand Him," a
qualification that leaves ample room for personal
preferences. AA members are free to believe
anything they like about God, up to and including
It is commonly said that AA is "spiritual, not
religious." The goal is direct personal spiritual
growth without what many see as the unnecessary
and even harmful middleman and encumbrances of
organized religion. In this respect AA reveals its
Protestant roots and dislike of the trappings and
hierarchy of organized religion.
Many people familiar with the challenges facing
newcomers to AA suggest that the whole topic of
God, religion and spirituality be reserved for a
later and more suitable time in recovery.
Excessive attention to and analysis of this or any
other abstract subject early on is seldom useful
and may in fact frequently prove harmful to
recovery. Such theoretical or philosophical
ruminations and pseudo-concerns early in recovery
from alcoholism are often manifestations of the
addictive process itself, or of the afflicted
individual's alienation from his own core self and
feelings into an over-intellectualized state where
he feels comfortable and safe.
The important thing is to "keep coming back" to
meetings and to have as open a mind as possible.
Dogmatism and Dogmatists
A discussion of God, religion, spirituality and
AA leads naturally into the problem of AA
dogmatism – actually, the problem of AA
dogmatists. The actual "official" AA program as
described in the Big Book and other approved
literature is conspicuously and consciously
non-dogmatic and broad. The famous Twelve Steps
themselves are merely "suggested as a
program of recovery." But because human beings
tend to have opinions about matters vital to their
welfare, and because alcoholics as a group are
probably more prone to having and expressing
strong opinions than average, it is not uncommon
to find AA members here and there who are
convinced that their understanding of the AA
program is the only possible correct one, and
hence that failure to adhere to their beliefs and
practices will inevitably lead to ruin on the part
of anyone unwise enough to disregard their
Since the whole psychological or spiritual aim of
AA recovery is to gain a sense of perspective on
oneself that leads to tolerance and a
nonjudgmental outlook, individuals who attempt to
compel others to accept their own beliefs cannot
be said to be "practicing the program" themselves.
Such people are often described as "dry drunks,"
i.e. alcoholics who, though not drinking, are
nevertheless behaving the way alcoholics commonly
do when they drink. These "dry drunks" manifest
judgmental and intolerant attitudes and a sense of
personal grandiosity and "know-it-all"-ism that
causes them to believe they know best, not only
for themselves but also for other people. They are
not content to keep their opinions to themselves,
nor even to state them humbly or diplomatically.
In extreme cases they resemble the firey pulpit
preachers of organized religion's yesteryear,
always prepared to thunder forth their
understanding of the one and only Truth to
infidels and unbelievers, coupling their sermons
and admonitions with the direst possible warnings
of what will unquestionably befall those who fail
to heed them. They are unattractive personalities
who violate the AA principle of "promotion by
attraction," i.e. of the responsibility of each AA
member to strive to become the sort of person that
others desire to emulate. The AA newcomer can
safely ignore the often detailed instructions and
advice of such people in favor of the more relaxed
and accepting suggestions of less rigid or
Newcomers should also be prepared for the
diversity and individuality of opinion that is
usually expressed in meetings, and should realize
that nobody in the meeting, regardless of how they
may present themselves and their beliefs, is
officially authorized to speak for AA itself.
Everyone's opinion, from the rankest newcomer to
the most seasoned and sober veteran, is simply
their opinion. In AA there are no generals, no
officers, nor even any non-coms. Everyone alike is
a pfc – "private first class." This certainly does
not mean that everyone's opinion is just as true
or useful as everyone else's – but it does mean
that no one has been officially commissioned with
the AA authority to lord it over anyone else or to
tell them with any authority beyond that of their
personal opinion how they must practice their own
program of recovery.
Sponsors and sponsorship.
There is an
official AA pamphlet on sponsorship
that is usually available in the literature
collection of most AA meetings. It may also be
requested from the local AA Central Office.
Virtually all AA meetings and members recommend
that newcomers obtain an AA sponsor relatively
early in their recovery. As with everything else
in AA, there are no official rules or regulations
about sponsors and sponsorship. The basic idea is
to acquire a mentor or "Big Brother" or Sister who
is willing and able to guide the neophyte as his
recovery progresses. Same-sex sponsors are
generally encouraged except under unusual
circumstances. The suggestion that newcomers have
a sponsor is, like everything else in AA, just
that, a suggestion. There is no requirement that
anyone have a sponsor, and no one checks to see
whether anyone else does.
The usual advice is to look for a sponsor "who
has what you want," i.e. who appears to be sober
and emotionally balanced and who displays the
kinds of beliefs and behaviors that one wishes to
emulate and from whom one hopes to learn something
of value not only about recovery, but even about
life itself. Because of the agitated and anxious
emotional state of many AA newcomers, it may not
be easy to make such determinations until a number
of meetings have gone by and the emotional dust
has begun to settle a bit. There is no real
requirement to "get a sponsor at any cost," so it
is permissible and probably better to take one's
time and look around a bit before actually
selecting someone to ask. This selection is
usually done on the basis of observing and
listening to the potential sponsor speak during
meetings and perhaps noting their interactions
with others before and after as well as during the
Some meetings include in their "readings"(the
formalized way in which the meeting is opened or
closed) the invitation for anyone desiring a
temporary sponsor to contact a particular
individual immediately after the meeting. The
suggestion is often made to newcomers to seek a
temporary rather than a long term sponsor just to
get started in the program. Like so-called
temporary employment, many but not all of these
relationships will mature into lasting ones.
Calling them "temporary" merely makes it easier
for both parties to retire from them if for any
reason they desire to do so.
Sponsorship is a highly individual matter with no
fixed rules or regulations. The style and content
of the "mentoring" vary tremendously from sponsor
to sponsor. Some sponsors have a fairly structured
approach with specific suggestions and even
"assignments" for those who ask them to sponsor
them. They may ask their "sponsees" to call them
every day for a while just to get in the habit of
using the telephone, or they may assign specific
parts of the Big Book or other official AA
literature to be read and discussed with them.
Sponsors and sponsees often meet before or after
the meeting for coffee or meals in order to get to
know each other and discuss recovery. Whatever the
individual style of a particular sponsor, it is
always understood that the sponsee is free and in
fact morally obliged to call his sponsor any time
he is in trouble or about to drink.
Sponsors and sponsees are absolutely free at any
time to terminate their relationship if it is not
satisfactory to either of them.
Principles Before Personalities
AA is an exceedingly diverse and unusually
colorful collection of people with all kinds of
personalities and problems in addition to that
of alcoholism. Individual meetings also
tend to acquire a special flavor and "personality"
of their own. All in all, AA represents a vast
cross-section of the general population. Along
with the many good people who attend and who are
sober are always some who are not so good and who
may or may not be sober. An AA saying wryly but
accurately notes that "If you like everyone you
meet in AA, you haven't been to enough meetings."
Although the natural fear and anxiety of many
newcomers usually serves to protect them from
premature and unwise involvement with those who
may not be good for them, occasionally the
newcomer is so desperate for real human contact
and even affection that he or she may be
vulnerable to exploitation for money, sex or other
favors by unscrupulous individuals. "Thirteenth
Stepping" –there are actually only twelve steps in
the Twelve Step program- is the common term for
sexual exploitation of female newcomers by males
in the program. The reasons to avoid premature
emotional and physical intimacy in early recovery
are obvious and really come down to just one
principal concern: such involvements frequently
become unmanageably complex or turn sour, and the
risk of alcoholic relapse for the newcomer is
extremely high. It is always best to keep one's
life as simple and non-stressful as possible in
the beginning of recovery.
Sometimes newcomers plunge right into the
after-meeting socializing and personal
relationships among members at a pace that is too
fast for their own good. Non-program related
issues and concerns may sometimes dominate these
friendships and work to the detriment of the
individual's recovery by blurring their focus on
the AA program itself. Conflicts and complications
in personal friendships with other AA members may
even serve to disillusion the newcomer and
undermine his trust in the program itself. It is
therefore always wise to remember the advice,
"Principles before personalities." Individual
human beings are always fallible and hence apt to
disappoint, but the principles of recovery and of
right conduct remain and are untouched by
Before and After the Meeting
AA meetings generally begin and end on time.
Depending on the particular group, its size and
location, some people usually arrive early and
socialize before the meeting actually begins.
After the meeting officially concludes there is
usually a period of time during which people hold
individual or small group conversations about
various program and non-program related topics.
These before-and-after times can be especially
anxious times for the newcomer, who usually
doesn't know anybody and who may be extremely
self-conscious merely as a result of finding
himself in a new and unfamiliar situation.
The best way to deal with such anxieties is the
usually preferred method of head-on confrontation
with the fear, for it is a psychological fact that
what we are afraid of and avoid almost always
gains more power over us, while that which we face
up to and conquer thereby loses its ability to
frighten us. The more actual interactions the
newcomer to AA has, the more data he acquires with
which to refine his understanding of what is
actually going on at the meetings. Thus those who
can make themselves do so are best advised to
arrive early and leave late rather than the common
and understandable tendency to reverse this
polarity by arriving late and leaving early.
If an individual identifies himself as a newcomer
just getting sober he will very often be given
names and phone numbers by other members along
with an offer to be of help if needed. This is a
sort of informal and temporary sponsorship that
reflects the AA tradition of service by helping
others. More than one newcomer totally unfamiliar
with AA has been startled and made temporarily
suspicious by such unsolicited friendliness, even
to the point of suspecting that those offering him
their cards actually desire to sell him something
or otherwise take advantage of him.
Mind Control and Cultism
AA has been accused of all of these, both by
disgruntled former participants and also by those
who have never set foot in an AA meeting. The
newcomer will have to make up his own mind, based
upon his own observations and experiences, about
such charges, at least some of which seem to stem
from negative experiences with the Dogmatists
described above. If one simply recalls that all
opinions expressed by AA members are just that,
opinions; and if he remembers that no one in AA
possesses any official rank or authority to
dictate to anyone else what to think or how to
behave in regard to anything at all, much of the
air in such hostile balloons is immediately
The newcomer who hangs around long enough will
usually have the pleasure of getting acquainted
with as remarkably diverse, independent, defiant
and colorful a collection of personalities as it
has ever been his privilege to know. For far from
it being the truth that all recovering alcoholics
are alike in some stereotyped "programmed"
fashion, it is the recovery from alcoholism that
releases the actual individuality of each
alcoholic. It is in fact the drinking alcoholic or
the defiant newly "dry" alcoholic who is much more
apt to resemble in thinking and behavior everyone
else in the same category as himself. Genuine, as
opposed to merely superficial, theatrical or
pretend individuality actually only begins with
recovery from alcoholism. For there is much more
to being an individual than merely claiming to be
But not everyone is charmed by AA. Here are some
sites with a decidedly different view. Caveat
lector! ("Let the reader beware!")
Slogans and Other
Newcomers are sometimes shocked and even repulsed
at what they take to be the insultingly simple and
superficial nature of many AA sayings and slogans.
There is often a good deal of misunderstanding of
what the slogans actually mean. "One day at a
time," for example, is not infrequently
"translated" by the anxious and not always
clear-headed newcomer to mean something like
"Don't plan and don't take care of important
matters" or something equally erroneous and absurd
which he quite rightly and often indignantly
rejects. Terms like "acceptance" and
"powerlessness" are highly vulnerable to such
distortions and misunderstandings which time and
continued participation in meetings usually
The typical guilt and shame ridden newcomer may
interpret talk from other members about their
"character defects" and the Fourth Step "fearless
and searching moral inventory" as nothing but a
demand to pay for one's sins by confessing them
publicly in the most abject and humiliating
fashion. Individuals who are simply attempting to
be candid and honest about their shortcomings and
their plans to change them may be viewed by
neophytes as "beating up on themselves." It is for
this reason that many people suggest that
newcomers concentrate on attending meetings and
not drinking "one day at a time" rather than
immediately launching into the more complex parts
of the AA program. Time is required to begin to
feel safe and comfortable and to get to know
others. Time, considerably more time than
alcoholics usually realize or believe, is also
required for the physiological effects of alcohol
and alcohol withdrawal on the brain to clear up.
Just as children and young people commonly find
well-known proverbs irritatingly obvious and
ordinary, only to realize gradually as adults the
depth of wisdom contained in their simple,
compressed format, so do AA newcomers commonly
construe the familiar AA sayings and slogans one
way in the beginning and another way later on,
after they have had time and opportunity to
reflect upon them and to discuss them with others.
Simplicity is not always equal to superficiality.
Novice Zen Buddhist monks have been known to
meditate for up to 15 years on koans –sayings-
such as "When hungry, eat; when tired, rest"
before mastering them.
The following collection of slogans comes from
It's hard to be a big shot in an anonymous
That's easier said than felt.
Willpower tells me I must, but willingness tells
me I can.
We're only as sick as our secrets.
Do what you did and you get what you got.
If it's God's will, I will.
Sometimes the only thing between an alcoholic
and a drink is his higher power.
In the beginning I went for my drinking. Today I
go for my thinking.
Time takes time.
Patience takes patience.
You can't think your way into a new way of
living...you have to live your way into a new
way of thinking.
God don't make no junk.
It wasn't my drinking, it was my thinking.
Fake it 'til you make it.
Live for today. Yesterday's history. Tomorrow's
Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.
Use your brain. It's the little things that
A closed mouth gathers no foot.
Little by slowly.
I don't want the morning after the night before.
After a year, you can have your cake and eat it
How does A.A. work? It works just fine.
Do the next right thing.
Drink till you're convinced.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary
Keep coming back, it works if you work it.
Talk does not cook rice.
Sit down, shut up and listen.
Act "as if..."
If you think the program is too simple, go out
and drink some more. By the time you get back
you'll be simple enough for the program.
It's always easier to take somebody else's
Pray daily, God is easier to talk to than most
If drinking doesn't bring you to your knees,
When you sober up a horse thief, all you have is
a sober horse thief.
Gratitude is an attitude.
I've been here a few 24 hours.
EGO: Edging God Out
We came, we came to, we came to believe.
Daniel didn't go back to the lion's den to get
If you stick with the bunch, you'll get peeled.
We suffer from alcohol-ISM, not alcohol-WASM
Some people drink normally, and I normally drink
The person with the most sobriety is the one who
got up earliest this morning.
A.A. is the easier, softer way.
Go to meetings when you want to, and go to
meetings when you don't want to.
There are no elevators in A.A., only steps.
If you don't want to slip, stay away from
The mind is like a parachute, it works better
when it's open.
The only step we have to do perfectly is step
Meeting-makers make it.
You can't save your face and your ass at the
If I don't let go, I lose my grip.
Steps 1, 2, and 3 condensed: I can't, He can, so
We'll love you until you learn to love yourself.
Don't give up before the miracle happens.
You never have to drink again.
If you don't have a Higher Power, borrow mine.
Progress, not perfection.
Unless I accept my virtues, I will be
overwhelmed with my faults.
We are not human beings sharing a spiritual
journey, but spiritual beings sharing a human
Let God save your soul...we're here to save your
Practice makes progress.
Sometimes you have to get on your knees to rise.
If you don't talk about it, you'll drink about
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but
thinking of yourself less.
In A.A., for every nut there's a wrench.
Some other common slogans are:
Expectations are like resentments in escrow.
It's OK to look back at the past - just don't
My mind is like a bad neighborhood: it's not
safe to go there alone.
It's a WE program.
The only thing I need to know about God is that
I ain't Him.
K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple, Stupid
H.A.L.T. = (Don't let yourself get) Hungry,
Angry, Lonely and Tired.
Fear is the opposite of faith.
I don't need to have an opinion about everything.
Easy does it.
Think the drink through.
If you can't remember your last drunk, you
haven't had it.
Don't drink, and go to meetings.
Trust God, clean house, help others(Dr. Bob).
AA is a simple program for complex people.
Nobody is too dumb to get sober but plenty of
people are too smart.
One of the commonest stumbling blocks for AA
newcomers is the AA vocabulary itself. Familiar
and everyday terms such as acceptance,
powerlessness, and humility are used in AA in ways
that are somewhat different from ordinary usage.
This causes a good deal of confusion and
misunderstanding in some minds, as for example
when the term "acceptance" is mistakenly supposed
to mean merely rolling over and playing dead, or
letting other people walk all over one; or when
"humility" is misunderstood to mean
self-condemnation, groveling, or putting oneself
down. Although most newcomers, after a few
meetings, seem to pick up the context and the
actual meanings of such terms when used in AA,
others have great difficulty understanding the AA
usage and continue to misconstrue them in ways
that are often antithetical to their intended
meaning. The word "powerless" has probably
resulted in more confusion than any other single
term used by AA.
A brief unofficial
lexicon of the actual AA meaning of such terms
might go something like this:
Acceptance. Recognizing and admitting the
actual facts of the case rather than clinging to
what one would prefer to be true. Starting from a
reality base. Behaving like an adult in the face
of disappointment and frustration. It is
acceptance to make other plans when it rains on
the day one had planned a picnic. Lack of
acceptance would be manifested by self-pity,
sulking, and brooding all day on the unfairness of
the rain shower. Far from being passive,
acceptance in this sense is active and creative.
Humility. Seeing oneself and one's
concerns in correct perspective. Behaving in
accordance with such a correct understanding of
oneself rather than in accordance with a falsely
inflated or deflated idea of oneself. Humility
thus understood is merely perspective - sanity -
honesty. It is comparable to a scientific
investigator doing his best to collect, analyze
and report his findings objectively, no matter how
he might wish them to turn out. It
represents a net gain rather than a loss in the
adaptive repertoire of the individual, hence a
potential augmentation of his personal power.
Powerlessness. Lack of complete control
over events, especially one's intake of alcohol
once he has started to drink. Powerlessness is
seldom absolute. But even relative or occasional
powerlessness is sufficient to do great harm. The
valid identification, admission, and acceptance of
circumstances in which one is absolutely or
relatively powerless actually increases one's
actual power. "Nature, to be commanded, must be
obeyed." Francis Bacon.
The AA subculture differs in many ways from the
wider culture in which it is contained. A kind of
"culture shock" is thus inevitable for those who
have no prior familiarity with AA or 12 Step
programs. Wise newcomers adopt a patient,
wait-and-see attitude before arriving at definite
conclusions about phenomena they may never have
encountered before. The predicament of the
newcomer is in fact akin to that of an
anthropologist living among and wishing to
understand the habits and mores of a strange and
unfamiliar tribe. Time and open-mindedness
are required to gain a correct understanding in
Alcoholics Anonymous and its co-founders Bill
Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith from the beginning
held and sought earnestly to maintain good
relations with the medical community, including
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous itself
contains a famous introduction called
"The Doctor's Opinion" by William D.
Silkworth, M.D., a psychiatrist. The
official AA position has consistently been one of
humility and cooperation -rather than grandiosity
and exclusivity- in regard to various ways
of helping the alcoholic.
It is well known that individual physicians vary
greatly in their understanding of alcoholism and
addiction and that those who lack such an
understanding may be less than helpful with their
alcoholic and addicted patients. However, there
are many physicians and psychiatrists who do
possess an excellent grasp of the principles of
addiction treatment and who are therefore highly
skilled in their treatment of their alcoholic and
The individual experiences of AA members at
meetings reflect this broad array of professional
abilities and range from highly favorable to
highly unfavorable. In this and in other instances
newcomers should keep in mind that opinions of
others are just that: opinions. AA does not claim
to have, and individual members are not competent
to give -unless they have acquired special
training- professional advice regarding mental
health disorders other than alcoholism - including
advice on the question of appropriate usage of
medications for depression,
manic-depression(bipolar disorder) and anxiety
Occasionally individual AA members will express
the erroneous opinion that "you can't be sober as
long as you are taking any mind-altering
medications." Newcomers may even be advised
by some people to discontinue medications without
discussing this with their physician. Such advice,
should it be encountered, should be regarded as
simply the private and personal opinion of the
person tendering it. There is nothing in the
official AA literature that prohibits the
alcoholic from taking appropriately prescribed and
required psychiatric medications.
Attitudes toward psychiatry and psychiatric
medications, while always an individual matter,
tend to vary somewhat in relation to specific
groups. Up to 50% of alcoholics suffer from an
associated "co-morbid" or "dual diagnosis"
condition such as depression or severe anxiety.
Newcomers in treatment for such conditions will
generally feel more at home in meetings whose
members respect the stated limitations of AA in
regard to their diagnosis and treatment.
The AA Preamble
"ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS is a fellowship of men and
women who share their experience, strength and
hope with each other that they may solve their
common problem and help others to recover from
alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is
a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or
fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting
through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied
with any sect, denomination, politics,
organization or institution; does not wish to
engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor
opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay
sober and help other alcoholics to achieve
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.
The Twelve Steps
- 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
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Traditions of AA
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal
recovery depends on AA unity.
2. For our group purpose there is 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 AA membership is a
desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in
matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose - to
carry its message to the alcoholic who still
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 divery us from our primary
7. Every AA group ought to be fully
self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever
nonprofessional, but our service centers may
employ special workers.
9. AA, as such ought never be organized; but we
may create service boards or commmittees directly
responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on
outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be
drawn into 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.
"If we are painstaking about this phase of our
development, we will be amazed before we are half
way through. We are going to know a new freedom
and a new happiness. We will not regret the past
nor wish to shut the door on it. We will
comprehend the word serenity and we will know
peace. No matter how far down the scale we have
gone, we will see how our experience can benefit
others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity
will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish
things and gain interest in our fellows.
Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude
and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people
and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will
intuitively know how to handle situations which
used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that
God is doing for us what we could not do for
"Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
They are being fulfilled among us, sometimes
quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always
materialize if we work for them."
Five of "The Big Book of Alcoholics
Forum: A place to talk about going to and
getting started in Alcoholics Anonymous.
back to top