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December 1976

Do Your Own Thing--Period!

Trouble taught the group:

SOME OF US appreciate our Traditions most when we are in trouble because we ignored them. I'm beginning to think, also, that several of them are aimed directly at AA members employed in the alcoholism field. Each Tradition certainly draws a bead squarely on some aspect of the alcoholic personality (my own, that is). The First, Second, and Twelfth (see inside back cover of any Grapevine), for instance, go right after my grandiosity and excessive self-concern. The Sixth, of particular concern to AAs who work in the field, has a personal application to me, too. It reads: "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."

How would you have felt if, when you first approached our Fellowship, the group had tried to steer you into an AA-sponsored church, halfway house, hospital, clinic, or treatment center you did not like? Luckily, most of us escape that fate, and I'm glad I did. At first, I was highly reluctant to look into myself, to see where my problems really were. I did not want to change me, just things around me. If AA had pushed me toward a club or a new religion or some kind of residence facility, I would have interpreted that as meaning "Yes, it is the institutions around you that need changing, not you." With that conviction, I had drunk.

Instead, AA said in effect, "Look inside yourself. It's not so much in the world around us but in ourselves that we need to and can make changes."

It was unwelcome advice, but I finally learned to swallow the bitter stuff. I doubt seriously that I could have recovered at all otherwise, so I'm sure Tradition Six a large influence on my recovery. It subtly finessed me past an alcoholic tendency of mine, which was to deny my own alcoholism my responsibility for it.

Even though the Tradition (then unwritten) was in operation by the good AAs around me during my first AA days, I didn't see it. I probably would not have heeded it if I had. In fact, I eagerly ran off in the other direction, only to learn that the best intentions are not enough.

Some good AA friends of mine were disgusted at the cruel lack of facilities for alcoholics in New York. So they got hold of an old building, put some cots in, and opened a halfway house of sorts. I wasn't very helpful, but I tried to make everyone think I was.

They called it something like Sponsor House, surely suggesting they saw it as an AA enterprise. But it wasn't, of course, it didn't last very long, despite the best efforts of some wonderful AAs who only wanted to help.

The fights were rough and destructive. Groups divided into opposers and endorsers. Property problems forced the operation to move twice, and all I remember hearing from the committee members who really ran it were money woes and complaints about big-shot-it is. Prestige seemed to get almost as much attention as newcomers got. More than one involved person got drunk, including me. It seems likely that we would have stayed sober If we had let the Tradition literally guide our own personal behavior.

AAs and Al-Anons In a nearby town did much better. They stimulated the interest of some civic-minded Junior League members in the community, and these non-AAs spearheaded a drive culminating in establishment of a halfway house. Everyone saw it as a Junior League project, entirely separate from AA, but those AAs who wanted to help worked behind the scenes. The house is more than ten years old now, and very successful. The problems encountered and solved in running it did not tear up any AA groups or get anyone drunk. It was a classic illustration of the wisdom contained in our pamphlet "How AA Members Cooperate" and in the Guidelines on AA Cooperation with Alcoholism Agencies and Facilities.

In connection with both this Tradition and the Fourth (group autonomy-except. . .), I cannot persuade myself that any AA group has a right to put on its literature rack religious tracts, diet instructions, medical pamphlets, and other such non-AA material, no matter how good it is. This affects all the Fellowship, because it gives the newcomer or visitor the misimpression that AA is a part of certain health or religious institutions.

Of course, the autonomous group would be entirely free to distribute such material, even to award religious medals or set up a fiction lending library or raise funds for a halfway house--if that freedom was not coupled with the group's obligation to the rest of AA. If my group gives a false picture of AA, it seems to me that's unfair to your group.

There is a simple solution to this literature dilemma, suggested often by the AA General Service Conference. If a group simply makes sure that non-AA material is displayed quite separately, apart from AA Conference-approved literature, it lessens the confusion and shows traditional respect for the rest of AA. In that way, the group can distribute anything it pleases without reflecting so badly on the rest of us.

We really don't need the problems of money, property, and prestige that related facilities often bring, do we? I don't. I have enough such problems that are entirely my own doing.

AAs employed for pay in the alcoholism field, I suspect, are more aware of the Traditions than most other members. Perhaps certain concrete problems are more likely to turn up for them than for the rest of us. Since so many related facilities hire AA members, those members simply have more occasion to call upon the principles of AA non-endorsement, self-support, avoidance of public controversy, and the like.

Real experiences with our Traditions are reported in the AA Guidelines for Members Employed in the Alcoholism Field. I think they make great reading for any AA, especially those of us inclined to get emotional about professionalism or outside agencies. These employees have been at the cutting edge or in the front lines, where Traditions may make more difference than they seem to for me at home. It is significant, I think, that the best of these members heartily support the Traditions as a result of actual trial and error with problems of money, property, and prestige. Since they are more visible to the professional world than the rest of us, maybe they have special responsibility to understand, guard, and apply the Traditions.

Some non-AA reading also clued me into the wisdom of the Sixth Tradition. In "A Cross-Cultural Study of Drinking," M. K. Bacon, H. Barry III, and I. L. Child used highly sophisticated scientific techniques to find out which kind of society seems to have a lot of alcohol problems and what are the characteristics of communities where drinking problems are minimal or almost nonexistent. They discovered that the kind of culture virtually free of alcohol problems is very much like the AA world. It is a society in which adults are supportive toward each other, rather than competitive.

My own personality seems to be naturally rivalrous (for prestige and power), so when I use any Tradition that lessens my tendency, or opportunities, to best other people, it helps me recover from alcoholic thinking and acting. Damn clever, those founders!

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