ONE PART of our great program–the Twelve Traditions–has come to mean life itself to me.
The Traditions, as written by our co-founder Bill, define for me clearly and precisely how to get well and stay well. They tell me who God is, what He does, and where He functions. They show me what spirituality is and how I can seek and find it. They clarify what anonymity means.
Perhaps most important of all, they point out the path toward humility. It is helpful that this path is not described bluntly; rather, it is whispered to me in each Tradition.
Tradition One tells me, “Our common welfare should come first. . .” Not second or fourth or tenth, but first. Why? Because “personal recovery depends upon AA unity.” So I learn that after the Twelve Steps have been digested, my group, my AA, comes first; not myself, you understand, but my AA group or groups. My own recovery–my most prized possession, since it means life itself–depends upon my group’s unity.
I am told how to stay well in Tradition One, and to my surprise, it dawns on me that I have received the first gentle whisper nudging me along the path of humility.
Tradition Two tells me who God is, where He is, and what He does. It says, “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.” God expresses Himself in a specific location–my conscience. This is good news to me. I have wondered for over forty years where and who God was and what He did. Now I understand what was meant, long ago, by the command “Be still and know that I am God.”
I read on in the last half of Tradition Two, and I find the second gentle whisper toward humility: “Our leaders [you and I] are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” I love the clarity and force of that simple word “but.” As a leader, I am but a trusted servant; I need not govern. Thank God! For too long, I have been a dubiously trusted leader who felt that he mustgovern; now I can be relieved of all that. As God may express Himself in my conscience, I am His and your trusted servant, who governs only me!
Tradition Three tells me, “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.” To have a desire to stop anything is new to me. So I receive the third gentle whisper toward humility. As I hear and feel these gentle whispers, I settle more and more each day to life size, and as a Los Angeles member has said, “Life comes to be for free and for fun.”
Tradition Four brings me clearly and simply into my own right. It says, “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.” You and I are autonomous. Individually and collectively, we may do as we wish; we are unrestricted–except when we step on someone else’s toes or when we step on a group’s toes. Thus the fourth gentle whisper toward humility says to me, “Brother, the common welfare comes first for the truly spiritually selfish reason that your own recovery depends upon its continued existence.”
Tradition Five defines in clear terms my only reason for existence. There is no other for me. “Each group has but one primary purpose–to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” There is my answer. I need purpose–and I have it! I must carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. So I say to myself, “Thank God for alcohol and for the unrecovered drunk!” And I hear a fifth gentle whisper toward humility deep within me that says, “At long last, you have come to realize that service to others is all you have to offer in this life!”
Tradition Six clarifies the spiritual side of this program. It says, “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 divert us from our primary purpose.” I’m glad to know this, because now I can be on guard, I have a primary spiritual aim that money, property, and prestige can bust wide open and devour. I hear a sixth gentle whisper toward humility that says, “Your primary purpose is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers!” In the role of a trusted servant, I must follow the instructions of a loving authority who lives in the depths of my soul. It says, “In all reverence, carry to the sick alcoholic the message that I have given you.”
Tradition Seven tells me how to obtain peace of mind. It shows me how to regain my self-respect. At long last, I understand the inner peace that comes from being responsible for myself and to myself. Tradition Seven says, “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” What a relief that is! No longer do I need to wait for contributions. I am now free to give contributions.
Tradition Eight gives to me, a professional man, the very keynote of humility: “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.” I know the professional life; I am in it up to my very ears; I love it. But I know one other thing, too: In my life of service, there is absolutely no room for professionalism. In AA, I am an ordinary human being with no more skills than anyone else.
Tradition Nine astonishes me by stating, “AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.” You see, in the past, I have been so well organized (or so I thought) that I almost died from it! I was frightened at first to find that I needed to be in a group that wasn’t organized. But in AA, I am free to be myself as I find myself at the minute, and here I find another whisper toward humility: I can be on service boards or committees, and I can be a trusted servant who is directly responsible to you, my fellow AAs.
Tradition Ten pleases me very much. I read it daily with a joyful smile. “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” Just think, as an AA I need never be drawn into public controversy. I don’t have to worry about being right. Never again! I don’t have to fight any more. I’ve had enough of controversy.
God love our good co-founder Bill for taking it easy on my befuddled brain. He held off giving me Tradition Eleven until I could hear and digest Tradition Ten. I read: “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.” Never again do I have to promote a single thing. I am now free to be myself. I am free to believe what I believe. I am free to say what I believe in my own way. And I hear a whisper (number eleven) deep within that says, “The way to humility is to realize that you need to maintain personal anonymity!” It doesn’t say that I have to, or that I should, or that I must; it says I needto maintain anonymity, as I need the very food and water and air that keep me alive.
And so Tradition Twelve comes into view: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” I’ve been wondering about this anonymity business. Now I know. Anonymity means that I am only Earle. I am just a guy like you. You and I are equal. There are no class distinctions. I am not a professional man; I am just Earle. The weather way up there on the peak of prestige and gain was bitter cold; but down here in the world of anonymity, it is warm and balmy. I can shake hands with you and look you straight in the eye and say, “Hi. My name is Earle.” I am just one guy. No more. No less. I am one of the grains of sand that go to make up our great beach of AA. Without me as a grain of sand, without each of you as a grain of sand, there would be no AA beach. Without the beach of AA, there would be no you and no me.
So I hear the last and best whisper of all. It says: “. . .ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” I smile a deep inward smile. Day after day, I come to know that our common welfare comes first, that my God is a living authority located inside me, that I am His ungoverning, trusted servant who is dedicated to the spiritual activity of carrying the message without fanfare to the alcoholic who still suffers.
I smile because in my organization I am unorganized. I smile because I need not be a professional who has opinions he must cram down your throat. I smile because I can at last be myself, and if I don’t attract anyone, at least I won’t promote anyone.
But mainly, I smile because you–all of you in AA–have given me the opportunity to fight for your principles rather than my personality.