Tradition 7 – Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions
A BIG WORD–emancipation. Whatever does it have to do with whether I put something in the basket at an AA meeting? Why do I have to put anything in the basket in the first place?
Groups went out of their way, so it seemed when I finally came into Alcoholics Anonymous over twenty years ago, to tell me that “there are no dues or fees for AA membership.” That line from the definition of AA (our Preamble) registered on one part of my brain and struck me with awe and disbelief. In another part of my brain, I saw myself going to meetings in the same way I had gone to the Boys Club Friday nights as a child, with a nickel in my hand for the club show. How proudly I used to walk into the auditorium, holding my little ticket aloft as my legitimate entree into that arena of strangeness and power.
Now, at the AA meeting, it was a quarter or half dollar for the basket. I would drop the coin in with a flourish to make sure that everybody noticed and understood that I belonged–that I was not an interloper.
It was a while before I got the message that dropping a quarter in the basket (a dollar or two would be more appropriate today!) was not a requirement for AA membership. Thank goodness for that. I didn’t always have a quarter, or even a dime. In time, I came to see that if I wanted a comfortable meeting hall, if I wanted hot coffee and some cookies, somebody had to pay. On this subject (and this one only), my thinking suddenly became exquisitely clear: The somebody that had to pay was the group; I was part of the group; therefore, I had to put something in the basket whenever I was able.
The first conscious action that I took in the adventure of recovery was to admit my powerlessness over alcohol. My second most important action was to embrace the Seventh Tradition and its implications of personal responsibility, even though I knew nothing about the Traditions in those days.
However often I go back to the account of our growing up in that most exciting of books AA Comes of Age, I am impressed by the unearthly wisdom of our founding fathers and of our trustees who sat on the board in the early 1940s. As co-founder Bill W. recorded it in the book, that was when the principle of corporate poverty was securely implanted in the AA way–all as the direct result of wrestling with real and pressing money problems and then, through the group conscience, accepting the guidance of our ultimate authority.
Early members’ actions laid the foundation for this Tradition. They did the worrying, and the Tradition tells me that I do not have to worry about the future of my group’s treasury if I will do my part, that is, make my contribution just for today.
To avoid needless worry, many groups find it a wise policy to have a financial reserve. If possible, they like to keep on hand enough for one or two months’ rent (or contribution for meeting space), coffee-and-cake money, and regular donations to their local intergroup or central office, their area committee, and the AA General Service Office (GSO). However, some groups find it impossible to have even a minimum reserve. Groups have been forced to close their doors because they could not meet their expenses. You probably know of at least one such group in your area.
I am thinking of a group that had been viable for a number of years when, for a variety of reasons, attendance fell off, and the group appeared to be finished. An old-timer took an interest, and with his help, things were turned around. One of his actions, in order to get the group out of the red, was to insist that every meeting pay for itself. If the collection basket did not yield enough to cover that meeting’s expenses, it was sent around again. I was present when the basket made the rounds three times in one meeting. Some AAs were horrified at the procedure (no dues or fees, remember?), but the old-timer stuck to his guns, and the group became self-supporting again. Eventually, it was in a position to contribute to the local intergroup and to the intergroup’s institution committee literature fund. Their next venture might well have been a contribution to the support of their area committee and our GSO.
I sometimes forget that our service centers rely on my contributions of money and volunteer time. I also tend to forget the one very good reason why I should want to help in their support. By smoothing the way into a multitude of service areas, they make it that much easier for me to enjoy the benefits of AA unity and to strengthen my sobriety at the same time.
I am reminded of another old-timer whose approach was quite different from that of the pay-as-you-go advocate. This story was told me by a longtime AA friend whose home group was once in need of new chairs. The old-timer, who was well-to-do, offered to buy them. That attractive offer was considered by the group but turned down. They told him that they loved him but, from a practical viewpoint, it would not be a good idea for the group’s sake or for his. “What if one day you were to get a resentment against the group,” they said, “and decided to pick up your chairs and go home? Where would that leave the group?” He saw the wisdom of the group conscience and withdrew his offer gracefully.
“Whoever pays the piper is apt to call the tune.” That’s the way Bill W. put it in his discussion of the Seventh Tradition in AA Comes of Age. The context was money matters and power brokerage. Bill’s observation is apropos on other levels as well, and in other areas.
The Seventh declares that it is possible for me, personally, to become self-reliant. It shows how impossible self-reliance was as long as I was drinking. I always wanted to be self-reliant. Oh, how I wanted to be my own person! But I had to keep abandoning my self-reliance in order to hold on to a source of gratification, whether it was money, sex, or alcohol. Why was total freedom always at the bottom of the bottle rather than, say, halfway down?
My list of “outside contributions” was long. They would more appropriately be called handouts. They came from acquaintances, companions, lovers, buddies, friends, and family, and from the most beloved and most dreaded of mortals–the bartender.
A still better word for those “contributions” is loot. Through the emancipation of this Tradition, I learned that I could quit the petty thievery I had practiced for years and still survive.
Standing on my own two feet has been one of the oddest experiences of my life. I had always been totally convinced that the world owed me a living and owed me respect on top of it. Today, I see that it is just the other way around. And my biggest debt is to Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is all so obvious, and yet that nagging old way of mine does rear its head at the darnedest times. That habit pattern can still come uncomfortably close to convincing me that the world really does owe me a living.
Being responsible for my group, and for myself, is still a novelty with me. Is it that way with you?