by Rob. I., Toronto, ON
Very early on in my sobriety and membership in CA I was asked to assume a trusted service role on my group’s service committee and soon offered a GSR position and then a junior chair on an Area subcommittee. This I have noticed is a common situation for many of us as new members in this fellowship.
My newly graced spiritual experience was anything but fully stable and comfortable. It was more than a full time job for me just to grasp and apply the steps in the hope of maintaining a semblance of fit spiritual condition, praying to please stay sober. The addition of a trusted servant’s role, with its brand new guiding legacy of Tradition, was frankly, speaking for myself, extremely beyond my capacity at that time. I “coped” with the situation using the thoughts and actions that I had learned in life. Mostly they worked about as well as the self management of my own life up to that time…not well.
I now see my situation with the benefit of hindsight. Since this is such a common experience for many others, I asked myself what better I could have done to evaluate my own suitability to serve, develop my knowledge and skills to serve and how those who had gone before, may best have supported my journey.
These are of course not questions that lead to easy answers and I don’t presume to have them. Perhaps they represent horizons to head for more than questions to be answered. However, I would like to give some thoughts on these questions with the hope to stimulate discussion on how we can avoid the repetition of error from generation to generation and increase our collective effectiveness. This is not meant to judge anyone’s qualification to serve but to help each of us, new and old members, with some ideas for growth. I would love to hear from others about their experience.
“The strength of our whole AA service structure starts with the group and the GSR the group elects. I cannot emphasize too strongly the GSR’s importance. — Bill Wilson on the Area and Group level Trusted Servant.
What was it like to be new to service?
Perhaps the place I can begin with is the dispelling of a myth that I learned early on in sobriety. This was that I needed a service position to stay sober. I was told this by many and I believed it. This idea still exists. This lead to my attachment to having a position and my self centered need as one of my motivations. Not a good start for a servant. My job in recovery is of course to be of maximum service to others. Not myself. I have since found there are many ways to serve that are not formal and I was probably better suited at that time to make different choices based on my personal experience and ability.
The “AA Group Pamphlet,” addresses this situation clearly;
“Each AA group determines the minimum length of sobriety for members to be eligible for any position or office…these jobs have titles. But titles in AA do not bring authority or honor; they describe services and responsibilities. And it has generally been found that giving members jobs solely to help them stay sober does not work.”
I generally have a repulsion to sobriety time requirements, yet in the fulfillment of the GSR and other senior service positions, a sound indoctrination into the principles of Tradition and some time to learn my home group’s, group conscience, is at least partly a function of time. This of course varies greatly by individual and in my case was several years.
Another interesting circumstance I created, from my misplaced desire to serve, was to hold service positions in two different groups. If one service position kept me sober, two positions may make me a spiritual giant!! I found myself conflicted and unsettled when prevailing conscience in one group was different from the conscience of the other. I attempted to settle my conflict by strenuously arguing for conscience that was consistent, creating disunity. I was interfering with the asset of diversity of groups in CA by encouraging a kind of sameness through a form of my own personal governance. We can reach more addicts if we have meetings with different characteristics. Some meetings may be attractive to new prospects, but not to others. I joined my first CA group precisely because of this diversity. Autonomy in the fourth Tradition guarantees the asset of diversity.
Prior experience in the role of trusted servant was not something I had when initially I was thrust into some what senior positions. I had not shouldered any types of responsibility in my own life, never mind the lives of others. I still operated largely on my defects of character and had allowed little time for the process of spiritual transformation to occur. Characteristics like patience and tolerance, which are still illusive, were practically non-existent. Without a clear spiritual direction of my own I relied on old patterns and trying to fit in at any cost. This left me prone to being entrapped by some of the political intrigues and control of some senior members. I confused some persons knowledge of rules and past events with sound principles of service. I heard comments like, “well, this is what World Services says, so this is what we have to do,” “that is the way we have always done it,” “we already decided that before so don’t discuss it” “we are a business and as such must save time and money.” Made perfect sense to me at the time and I would base my vote on issues based on false or incomplete opinions such as these comments. I now know I was used to control an outcome through my inexperience and fear. Often too, I was unwilling to express a point of view of mine, or a group I represented, because louder, more dominant and sometimes caustic personalities would aggressively voice strong disagreement. Points of view and attitudes I have since learned were complete personal opinion and self service, not based in a shred of Tradition. I wonder who I served well.
Continuing, an item I have come to learn, but absolutely had no clue about when new to service, was the Traditions. Ironically this knowledge is probably far and away the most important characteristic of a trusted servant. I only heard the Traditions read in meetings and sometimes a bizarre interpretation from somebody. Frankly seldom, if at all, did I hear other servants discuss their relevance or stress their primary importance or attempt to tutor me as a new servant. I didn’t know, what I didn’t know, and that can be a very dangerous thing for me. My first epiphany came to me at an AA convention workshop where some American’s were discussing the role of Tradition, and I was so shocked at my ignorance, that they may as well of spoken a new language. My goodness, they even had service sponsors, whose job it was to share their experience with the Traditions.
Bill Wilson would state this importance in an AA Grapevine article, 1955;
“The Twelve Points of Tradition are little less than a specific application of the spirit of the Twelve Steps of recovery to our group life and to our relations with society in general. The recovery steps would make each individual whole and one with God; the Twelve Points of Tradition would make us one with each other and whole with the world about us. Unity is our aim.”
I have come to see that not knowing this truth about Tradition, and serving as I did, was the equivalent of sponsoring and never to have taken the Twelve Steps. A lot of room for chaos existed. Our Traditions show us the problem, solution, and way to the solution, exactly as the 12 Steps. They are, perhaps only way out, as a fellowship.
Another shortcoming I had early on was my lack of enthusiasm and keen interest to learn about Tradition and its application. I see this now as a great asset for any trusted servant. I was keen and interested, unfortunately this enthusiasm was misdirected to the detriment of me and others I served. Concepts like unity, which now humble me, were nothing more than any other word in the language. If asked I certainly would have said I new the depth of meaning of unity. The term group conscience was really a phrase I had never encountered in my entire life. I was completely, and I mean completely ignorant of the layered aspects of this concept. Group conscience is at the core of our solution. A principle like the spirit of rotation, inherent in Tradition Two but not overtly expressed, was completely lost to me. Like wise was the built in control of our service structure Bill Wilson infused in Tradition Seven, out of my awareness. I was operating largely in the dark, reliant on my own self knowledge, athough with the best of intentions to help. On many occasions I asked members about the Traditions and often the response could be summarized by, “Well I am not the one to ask, I don’t know much about Tradition” or “go read the Twelve and Twelve.” As I mentioned previously, I also received some bizarre personal interpretation of Tradition. I accepted these answers as adequate and have come to believe they are not at all adequate.
What happened for me?
Fortunately, while attending an AA convention Tradition workshop, I heard some audience members speak to Tradition in away that startled me. It had great depth and weight as we say, and I honestly new I didn’t know a lot. I was graced with enough humility and open-mindedness that day to ask one of these members how I might begin to learn. Without hesitation, he replied, “Read the history from where they came. See the problems they solved. Start with The Language of the Heart.” This was a new approach I had never encountered. It made sense. Certainly I had confidence in his direction because I had heard him speak with authority and confidence. This was similar to my experience receiving the Twelve Step message from an individual beginning my recovery. Unfortunately some in service positions completely dismiss this AA experience as valid. Later I would learn that Bill Wilson states this in the AA Traditions pamphlet, 1955;
“But AA unity cannot automatically preserve itself. Like personal recovery, we shall always have to work to maintain it. Here too, we need honesty, humility ,open-mindedness, unselfishness and above all vigilance. So we who are older In AA beg of you who are newer to ponder carefully the experience we have already had of trying to live and work together.”
Bill Wilson also refers to history in an AA Grapevine article, 1955;
“The Twelve Traditions are the distillate of our experience of living and working together; the platform upon which we expect to stand in unity for as long as God may need us…I held the pen that wrote the words, but the words are yours because they are but a mirror that reflects the experiences we have had over the years.”
Furthermore, Bill Wilson refers to the study of history in An AA Grapevine article, 1952;
“As we had once struggled and prayed for individual recovery, just so earnestly did we commence to quest for the principles through which AA itself might survive. On thousands of anvils of heartbreaking experience ,the structure of our society was hammered out…These live today in the Twelve Traditions of AA, which-God willing-shall sustain us in unity for as long as he may need us.”
What do I do now?
The answer seems to me, that to better implement Tradition, I must study Tradition history and mentor others in that pursuit. My own thoughts and actions must vigilantly reflect the pursuit of Tradition adherence. My own ideas and opinions and notions learned in non-spiritual organizations must be smashed. The inherent tendency I have for self-centered pursuit of power and prestige from my service, I must rid from myself, with God’s help. The opportunity to serve, and the willingness to do it, are unfortunately not adequate in themselves to function as a trusted servant. I am responsible to send prepared individuals to service positions. I must accept historical context is invaluable.
Where to begin to review AA Tradition history?
This is by no means a comprehensive or expert list on where to read about Tradition history. It is only the place I started and where my journey lead me. I am certainly a work in progress. I hope it is helpful to some.
“AA Tradition, How it Developed”, AA pamphlet, by Bill Wilson.
The Twelve Traditions Illustrated, AA pamphlet “The Language of the Heart, Bill’s Wilson’s Grapevine Writing’s”, AA World Services.
“Not-God, A History of Alcoholics Anonymous”, author Ernest Kurtz, Book published by Hazelden Foundation.
“Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”, AA World Services.
“It Works, How and Why — The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Narcotics Anonymous”, book published by NA World Services.
AA Grapevine Digital Archives, subscription website. Thousands of articles on Traditions, $15.00 per year http://www.aagrapevine.org/da