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March 1994

When Are We Ready?

Tradition Three - The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

"It is part of the cure, to wish to be cured." So wrote Lucius Annocus Seneca more than 2000 years ago.

It is a common general attitude as a result of our experience that, unless the alcoholic has a genuine and determined desire to stop drinking, our chance of helping him is nil, or at the very least reduced to a minimum. In the absence of a consistent demonstrated desire we often say, "He is not ready," and that is quite sound on the basis of our experience.

Yet, it is my notion that none of our wisdom from experience should constitute dogma. There are exceptions to almost everything our experience has established. Although we have "come of age," we are still very young. Our Fellowship has only suggestions--earnest, wise suggestions based on the sharing of our experience, strength and hope--but only suggestions. It is my belief, based upon my own experience, that so long as the alcoholic keeps exposing himself to AA, we should not dismiss him from our most alert attention, or withhold any effort we might make to help him, simply because we state to ourselves and each other, rather easily too, that "he is not ready."

To begin with, who among us feels justifiably competent to determine this question of readiness? The mere fact that the person keeps exposing himself through coming back to meetings or keeping in touch with some of us, or even one of us, may very well indicate a basic, underlying desire to stop drinking. And when the superficial reservations pass away, possibly with our help, that basic desire will assert itself. Possibly, our attitude and the quality of our intended help will make the difference between his ultimate success from this point, or his descent to a lower gutter.

In my case, there were reservations and only a conditional surrender. I came in to save my livelihood, my professional standing, my family and many other things. With me, it was a case of either join AA "or else." And in a month I was drunk. The circumstances were so completely humiliating to me that this final stage perfected my tailor-made gutter. The AA people were so completely kind, understanding and forgiving, despite this mortifying insult to them on my part, that I loved them as I had never loved before. And their advice, suggestions and requests became commands for me which I followed with great eagerness until finally I absorbed enough truth and knowledge to understand that I was here with these wonderful people because I belonged here, and that I was fighting for this sobriety to save myself alone.

My point here is that the sincere desire to stop drinking is an absolute qualification, but it is an element that may be developed as an alcoholic goes along in his early days in this Fellowship, and many might be saved by our refusal to dismiss them easily as "not being ready." I was so saved many years ago when the Fellowship was much younger and smaller, collectively much less wise, perhaps, and surely less able from the standpoint of numbers to give as much dedicated personal attention. Yet through the understanding, love and alert attention of a half-dozen dedicated emissaries of God's grace, my enjoyment of this sobriety was made to stick.

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