Frequently Asked Questions About AA
Is it suggested anywhere in AA literature that men only sponsor men and women only sponsor women?
This isn't a rule but simply an evolved custom.
From the AA World Service pamphlet "Questions and Answers on Sponsorship":
Can any member be a sponsor?
There is no superior class or caste of sponsors in A.A. Any member can help the newcomer learn to cope with life without resorting to alcohol in any form.
In most instances, A.A. custom does suggest one limitation, already noted previously: If the group is large enough to allow a choice, sponsor and newcomer should be of the same sex. The reasons are the same from both viewpoints; we A.A. members, no matter how long we have been sober, remain thoroughly human, subject to emotions that might divert us from "our primary purpose."
With gay AAs opposite gender sponsors are common and often encouraged.
Can the alcoholic ever regain the power of choice over the first drink?
Whether the true alcoholic has a choice over their next drink is a matter of opinion (and folks who hold a strong opinion on this question may even disagree with the premise that it is a matter of opinion).
Some read a quote like the following and conclude that they don't have choice: "It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition." (Big Book page 85)
Others read things like the subtitle of the Big Book itself and conclude they are recovered ex-alcoholics and do have full control over their next drink.
The full title of the Big Book is:
Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism
For many, the use of the word "recovered" indicates a condition that is in that past and has been overcome. The first printing of the Big Book also called us "Ex-Alcoholics" instead of "Ex-Problem Drinkers" as it reads now.
There is also the wording of the 1st Step; that we WERE powerless over alcohol - not that we will stay powerless over alcohol.
A third way of looking at it is that we were powerless over alcohol while drinking but after a period of sobriety the next drink becomes a choice.
Some of these things can only be decided by the individual and provide fodder for endless debate. Fortunately the semantics don't effect our recovery - it is the same program of recovery whether or not you believe you have a choice to drink.
Is AA a selfish program?
In meetings I often hear people say that "this is a selfish program" or something like that. Can you tell me where that comes from and if AA is a selfish program?
No, A.A. is not a program that calls for selfishness. We don't know where, why or how the catch phrase got started.
It is sometimes said that one's sobriety must come before others because without sobriety the alcoholic would be worse than useless to the people and things in their life. While sobriety may have to come first it would be a gross misinterpretation to say that A.A. encourages selfishness. We do need to put sobriety first to be of any use to anyone but recovery is not an excuse for behavior typically regarded as "selfish."
In 1966 Bill W. wrote a letter on this subject and as quoted in page 81 of As Bill Sees It he wrote:
I can see why you are disturbed to hear some A.A. speakers say, "A.A. is a selfish program." The word "selfish" ordinarily implies that one is acquisitive, demanding, and thoughtless of the welfare of others. Of course, the A.A. way of life does not at all imply such undesirable traits.
What do these speakers mean? Well, any theologian will tell you that the salvation of his own soul is the highest vocation that a man can have. Without salvation -- however we may define this -- he will have little or nothing. For us if A.A., there is even more urgency.
If we cannot or will not achieve sobriety, then we become truly lost, right in the here and now. We are of no value to anyone, including ourselves, until we find salvation from alcohol. Therefore, our own recovery and spiritual growth have to come first-- a right and necessary kind of self-concern.
Here is what the Big Book has to say on the subject of regular day-to-day selfishness:
Page 82, paragraph 3: "Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough."
Page 69, paragraph 3: "We subjected each relation to this test--was it selfish or not?"
Page 86, paragraph 3: "Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest, or self-seeking motives. . . . Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives."
page 87, paragraph 2: "We are careful never to pray for our own selfish ends. Many of us have wasted a lot of time doing that and it doesn't work."
Page 20, paragraph 1: "Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs."
Page 97, paragraph 2: "Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn't enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights' sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic wives and relatives, innumerable trips to police courts, sanitariums, hospitals, jails and asylums. Your telephone may jangle at any time of the day or night."
Page 14-15: "For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead."
Page 62, paragraph 2: "Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles"
Page 62, paragraph 3: "So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it
Defense against the first drink
Do I, or can I, have a defense against the first drink?
Depending who you ask that question to you would likely get many different answers. Here, however, we will try to answer the question from the AA perspective as the subject is discussed in A.A. literature, specifically The Big Book, the main text of the fellowship.
So then, as seen from our perspective, you can have a defense against the first drink if you are a moderate drinker or a hard drinker as described on Page 21 of Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book).
On the other hand, the real alcoholic described on that same page and on other pages in the Big Book does not have a defense against the first drink. Consider the words beginning at the bottom of Page 24: "The tragic truth is that if the man be a real alcoholic...he has lost control. At a certain point in the drinking of every alcoholic, he passes into a state where the most powerful desire to stop drinking is of absolutely no avail. This tragic situation has already arrived in practically every case long before it is suspected."
"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink."
For a chronic alcoholic, William D. Silkworth, M.D. said the only defense for an alcoholic is to take steps that produce "an entire psychic change." In his considered opinion, "once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules." (page xxix)
Sigmund Freud's protégé, Carl Jung, M.D., said recovery from alcoholism requires "huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them." (page 27)
In the view of alcoholics who recovered using the A.A. program of recovery, the goal is to have the obsession to drink lifted by having a spiritual experience or a spiritual awakening. Steps 4-9, the action steps of the 12-step program, have produced the desired results for countless millions of real alcoholics.
Page 89 also gives this advice for those looking for a defense against the first drink: "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics."
Relationships in early sobriety?
What is the general consensus on new relationships in early sobriety? No rules?—? that I know?—? but what is AA's experience with this and is it written anywhere? I have known people to die over them.
The apparent sentiment of the fellowship is that taking on a relationship in early sobriety is usually a bad idea. There is indeed certainly no "policy" on the subject, and there have been innumerable exceptions to the rule.
It seems this idea of waiting a year or some other period is commonly passed around in treatment centers and among members of the AA fellowship. We don't know of any AA literature that suggests such a thing. Perhaps it may be found in some non-AA rehab oriented literature or books from another program.
The AA program of recovery focuses on having a spiritual awakening and not so much on relationships. As page 98 of The Big Book puts it: "Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house."
Having had a spiritual awakening, the need or desire to drink is removed. As a result, a recovered alcoholic remains sober regardless of relationships, family, friends, work or even free beer.
In AA's earlier years newcomers often began working on Step Nine - making amends - within days or weeks of beginning their recovery. Upon commencing this work, the newcomer began working on steps 10, 11 & 12 every day.
If a person is in a fit spiritual condition there isn't much they can't do, but if a new relationship might keep someone from getting into a fit spiritual condition then they might very well choose to forgo new relations for a while. Ideally important decisions are made based on one's spiritual progress rather than the distance from the last drink.
From the AA perspective it is more important to discern if a relationship is selfish rather than simply "new."
A thoughtful review of pages 68:4 to page 71 addresses the Sex (relationship) Inventory where the goal is to shape a sane and sound ideal for future relationships, always asking whether we were being selfish or not. First, list each of your intimate relationships, maybe all of your
relationships with others, including God.
Next, ask yourself these nine questions for each past and present
1. Where have you been selfish?—?or less than generous?
2. Where have you been dishonest, or less than trustworthy and sincere?
3. Where have you been inconsiderate? Did you thoughtlessly or selfishly
hurt or inconvenience others?
4. Where did you arouse jealousy, feelings of insecurity or envy? How did
you make someone close to you resentful of rivals?
5. Where did you arouse suspicion, the feeling something is wrong?
6. Where did you arouse bitterness, pain and resentment?
7. Where were you at fault? (Fault: responsible for a defect or mistake.)
8. Did you behave selfishly, concerned chiefly with your own personal
benefit at the expense of others?
9. What should you have done instead?
Then ask yourself, "Who have I hurt as a result of my behavior?" Add these names to your list of "Harms Done to Others."
From now on:
1. We ask God to mold our ideals and help us live up to them.
2. We make amends where we hurt others, provided we do not bring
about more harm by making amends.
3. We treat sex as we would any other problem. This means we treat
all problems the same: we pray for guidance from God. In meditation,
we get the guidance we need. The right answers will come, if we want
them. See Step 11 on p. 86-88.
Sobriety? What is it?
Does an A.A member still have sobriety if they take diet pills (ephedra free) to manage weight? If not, what is the difference between managing your weight with smoking?
A.A. deals with not drinking alcohol and anyone that is not drinking can be said to be sober.
Coming up with a definition of sobriety that everyone in A.A. could agree upon would be impossible, so in A.A talking about sobriety is usually done in the context of alcohol because that is the only thing we all have in common.
Apart from not drinking, defining "sobriety" is so complicated that in the practical sense it is typically left to the individual to define for themselves.
To illustrate how complicated this can get:
To some "sobriety" is simply not swallowing alcohol.
Some think they are not sober if they use any drugs at all.
Others limit it to illegal drugs or non-prescribed drugs.
Often heard is "any mood altering substance" (which is a phrase that comes from the Basic Text of NA, not the Big Book).
An A.A. member taking prescribed narcotics for severe pain might consider themselves "sober" but would also think they had lost their sobriety if they used the same narcotics to get high in the absence of physical pain.
Some people feel that any addictive behavior destroys their sobriety, as might be the case with an alcoholic/compulsive gambler. A former gambler may consider sobriety lost if they buy a lottery ticket while most people in A.A. would not think of lottery tickets in terms of their sobriety.
A person might even think of themselves as sober if they smoke medically prescribed and legal marijuana but not sober if they don't have a legitimate medical reason to smoke it.
People commonly take drugs like nicotine and caffeine in A.A. meetings but might consider sobriety lost if different stimulants were taken.
Even "emotional sobriety" is a term heard in meetings. Some people include control over behaviors like excessive shopping or sex as necessary for their own sobriety.
Subjects like diet pills (with or without ephedra) complicate the subject further.
With complicated subjects like this the newcomer typically comes up with their own definition of what they want their ideal behaviors to be and that becomes their own unique definition of "sobriety." Sponsors, personal inventory, meditation and prayer can be helpful in deciding what you will consider acceptable for your own sobriety.
Page 69 of The Big Book has a discussion on dealing with problems other than alcohol (like sex). Part of the advice given is:
In other words, we treat sex as we would any other problem. In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The right answer will come, if we want it.
Since this is a website from an A.A. perspective we will leave the answer at that. We do not know what "sobriety" might mean in other fellowships or to people that have problems apart from drinking too much alcohol.
What A.A. Does Not Do?
A.A. does not: Keep membership records or case histories. . . engage in or support research. . . join councils or social agencies (although A.A. members, groups and service offices frequently cooperate with them). . . follow up or try to control its members. . . make medical or psychiatric prognoses or dispense medicines or psychiatric advise. . . provide drying-out or nursing services or sanitariums. . . offer religious services. . . provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, or other welfare or social services. . . provide domestic or vocational counseling. . . provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc.
It's possible to download several items from the G.S.O. website, including PDF versions of various A.A. pamphlets, including P-42, "A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous". That pamphlet contains this text:
What does A.A. NOT do?
1. A.A. does not run membership drives to try to argue alcoholics into joining. A.A. is for alcoholics who want to get sober.
2. A.A. does not check up on its members to see that they don't drink. It helps alcoholics to help themselves.
3. A.A. is not a religious organization. All members are free to decide on their own personal ideas about the meaning of life.
4. A.A. is not a medical organization, does not give out medicines or psychiatric advice.
5. A.A. does not run any hospitals, wards, or sanitariums or provide nursing services.
6. A.A. is not connected with any other organization. But A.A. does cooperate with organizations that fight alcoholism. Some members work for such organizations, but on their own?—?not as representatives of A.A.
7. A.A. does not accept money from sources outside A.A., either private or government.
8. A.A. does not offer any social services, does not provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, or money. It helps alcoholics stay sober, so they can earn these things for themselves.
9. Alcoholics Anonymous lives up to the "Anonymous" part of its title. It does not want members' full names or faces to be revealed on radio, TV, newspapers or on new media technologies such as the Internet. And members do not tell other members' names to people outside A.A. But members are not ashamed of belonging to A.A. They just want to encourage more alcoholics to come to A.A. for help. And they do not want to make heroes and heroines of themselves simply for taking care of their own health.
10. A.A. does not provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc.
Why is AA called a “fellowship?”
Why is it so important that AA is a "fellowship" and not an "organization?"
A fellowship is, by definition, "the condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences... The companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms... a close association of friends or equals sharing similar interests." Compare this with the language on p. 17 of our basic text:
"We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful... The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined... The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action."
On the other hand, an "Organization" is "a group of persons organized for a particular purpose; an association." The word describes a group of people working together; it doesn't reflect common experience or social involvement.
A college fraternity or a group of war veterans could be a fellowship while a group of garbage truck manufacturers working to achieve their common goals would only be an organization.
All fellowships are organizations, but only organizations with a deep social bond are fellowships.
Please explain the concept of anonymity. What does it mean to break anonymity? Does breaking anonymity mean telling someone outside the rooms (for example someone's employer) that so-and-so is drinking and/or in AA? A sponsee tells me that I broke her anonymity when I told my sponsor that she was drinking and lying to me.
This question actually addresses anonymity and confidentiality.
Anonymity is outlined in the Traditions to mean two things:
-That in regard to our AA membership we should not use our last names outside the fellowship.
-That we do not divulge to people outside the fellowship who else is an AA member. You can "break" someone's anonymity by telling an "outsider" who you met in a meeting. Everyone has a reasonable expectation that their membership in AA won't be divulged to folks outside of AA.
We are not anonymous with each other. Within AA, we are a fellowship - much like an extended family.
Here is an excerpt from the GSO website at http://www.aa.org:
Why Alcoholics Anonymous Is "Anonymous"
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of A.A. It disciplines the Fellowship to govern itself by principles rather than personalities. We are a society of peers. We strive to make known our program of recovery, not individuals who participate in the program. Anonymity in the public media is assurance to all A.A.s, especially to newcomers, that their A.A. membership will not be disclosed.
The sponsor/sponsee relationship is different.
There are those who feel that what they share with their sponsor should be treated with full confidentiality -- that whatever is shared between the two stays between the two. There are those who feel the sponsor relationship should be treated with the same level of confidentiality as you would expect with a priest, lawyer or doctor.
The Big Book is silent on this. "Sponsorship" is not a word to be found in the Big Book, though some say that everything after the first page of Chapter 7 - Working With Others is the sponsor's guidebook.
There are those who believe the sponsor's role is to help a newcomer have a spiritual awakening or a spiritual experience by working through the steps, nothing more, nothing less. This view suggests that sponsors are not and should not be considered to be advisers (medical, legal, financial, etc.), counselors (of any sort), or confidants because that is not their role.
By sharing something you learned, you may or may not have broken her confidentiality. It depends on what the parties believed about the relationship. If your disclosures were part of an effort to seek the advice of your sponsor - a more seasoned member of our fellowship, there are those who would commend your thoughts, words, and deeds.
Some people expect that what they share with a sponsor will go no further. Others may have no such expectation. Clearly stating the terms of the relationship in its early stages can go a long way to eliminating confusion and unwarranted assumptions.
There are no "rules" about what a sponsor can tell other people. The level of privacy and confidentiality you expect in a relationship with a sponsor needs to be spelled out clearly. This because there simply isn't a rule book a sponsor can refer to when trying to figure out what he can share but a wise sponsor will err on the side of caution when deciding what they should repeat.
For some things there is a reasonable expectation of confidentiality but those things come from typical societal customs/norms and not our principles of anonymity. An example of that could be you telling a sponsor you cheated on your wife - and he tells your wife. That "just is" something obviously spoken in confidence where one could have a reasonable expectation of privacy. What falls in that category will differ depending on the larger local culture.
It is always best to remind folks in AA what you want kept private - even for those things that are "obviously" confidential because many folks in AA have broken ideas of what is "normal."
There is an online pamphlet on understanding anonymity on the AA.org Website.