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The Twelfth Step, the Eleventh Tradition.

27 February 2013

There’s a reason you’ve never seen an advertisement for AA. There’s a reason there’s no such thing as an Alcoholics Anonymous Rehabilitation Facility. There’s a reason we don’t stand on street corners and hand out leaflets. We know we can’t change people. We can’t make your loved one stop drinking. We can’t convince you that you have a problem. We can’t cut the strings jerking you from day to day in a horrid dance of addiction and debasement.

What we can do is live our lives in a new way, and be visible to those would like to have what we have. The two guiding principles here are the Twelfth Step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these step, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”, and the Eleventh Tradition: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we must always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” We have no spokespersons. No grand leader. All we have are a bunch of drunks that don’t drink.

As a bunch of drunks that don’t drink, it turns out that the vast majority of us are capable of incredible things. If you’ve been reading this very long, you know my story (and you can hear me talk about it on the podcasts page). I went from a useless, unemployed drunk making a mockery of his education and responsibility to an effective, engaged man now eager to embrace a larger role in the world, where I am capable of making a real difference in people’s lives both personally and professionally. In five years, my life went from unlivable to incredible. In fact, it did that much faster than that.

I have another friend who has now been sober just less than a year. From the verge of unemployment and eviction, my friend is now taking on enormous challenges with alacrity, and making profound contributions in both professional and personal arenas. It is a story I see replicated over and over again, every time someone embraces the program. My former sponsee (I made him get a new sponsor when I moved to ECC) is now about seven months sober. He has a job working about 30 hours a week after years of unemployment. He is contributing to his home and his community, and finally finished the last tasks required for his Bachelor’s degree.

Lives change in this program. Lives are salvaged from worthlessness to great value. We become people who are capable of doing wonderful, exciting things. But more importantly, we become people who are capable of doing ordinary things. A friend traveled from one city to another this week for a professional obligation, saying: “I can’t believe how afraid of this I used to be, and how capable I am now.” Getting up, showering, and going to work, each day, is a kind of triumph for us in ways that I know that normal people can’t understand. And no: we do not deserve special praise from the world for fulfilling basic obligations. Nor do we want it. We are not to be fawned at like slow children doing well at a game.

But we are allowed to be amazed, and to be grateful, among ourselves. We are allowed to look at our old lives, and cringe at our humiliation and then to straighten and stand and recognize the astonishing transfiguration we achieve. Not by ourselves, none of us rose from degradation to honor alone. But in this community that refuses to recognize alcoholic misery as failure, as wasting irretrievably the spirit of good people afflicted.

Today, I try to live the principles of the twelves steps in my life. I suck at it. We all do. I’m paraphrasing the book Alcoholics Anonymous when I say that neither I nor anyone else has successfully navigated all twelve steps for their whole lives. I remain a dishonest and lazy and panicky person who fears the future too much and lives in the past too much and can’t accept other people’s choices when they’re different from the choices I would make for them.

And I try to live the Eleventh Tradition as well. I am not speaking for AA on this blog. I am only telling you how it worked for me. I am anonymous because my name isn’t important. It’s not about me. I have always said that I don’t believe it is the only path to sobriety. I do not believe that people should be court ordered to meetings, or sent to AA against their will. But I will tell you about my experience, strength, and hope that I find in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, if you care to listen. And if my story, my strange, shameful, stuttering,¬†rising, leaping story of recovery in AA resonates with you, I will help you claim what I have.

It is an incredible thing to me that AA has no lobby. No leader. No profits. We are just drunks. Drunks who don’t drink. Who have repaired the wreckage of our lives (or are in the process of doing so), and move on to live on brighter shores. I am a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I have an incredible, amazing, ordinary life.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 27 February 2013 14:03

    I found myself last year in a situation where I needed to explain AA’s structure, or rather the lack of it, to someone in a professional position who was interfacing with AA. They were bamboolzed frankly. “So who is in charge?” “Who makes the decisions?” “Who checks up on people?” The answers to all of these questions made the questioner more confused than before sadly. He proclaimed “We can’t work with an organisation as disorganised as this, it’ll just fold flat in no time”… I pointed out that 70 years, 100,000’s of alcoholics, 1000’s of meetings etc. seemed to imply the opposite. He couldn’t grasp the “group conscience” ideal or “trusted servents”, service rotation and good old fashion trust at all. He wanted a CEO who would change AA to fit his will…

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