Just what is Alcoholics Anonymous and how much do you know about it and their group and individual philosophies and programs? Could it be the right fit for you or someone you love who struggles with alcohol substance abuse?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international non-professional organization solely devoted to helping individuals beat alcoholism and lead sober, productive lives. The only requirement for joining the group is the desire to stop drinking.
While the name is very well known, there is still mystery and misconception about the organization. How does AA work? Read on for more information.
What Is AA
AA started in 1935 by two men (Bill and Bob) from Ohio who used their friendship to stop drinking. They then went on to help a third friend and the concept grew from there.
They wrote a book to explain their process and mission statement. It is called The Big Book. Once it came out, their numbers grew quickly and groups were formed in almost every city.
The book, and the concept behind it, was that people could turn the corner and become sober. The biggest motivation was accountability to others who had walked in their shoes and knew the struggles, temptations, failures, and then success.
That is the purpose of the AA meeting.
The AA Meeting
The AA Meeting is the backbone of the program. They are classified as either ‘open’ or ‘closed’.
An open meeting is just that, open to everyone. This allows for family members or those with a public interest to come and sit in and learn more about the organization.
A closed meeting is only for members. It is a safe place where those who struggle with sobriety can go and be welcomed, accepted, and encouraged to stay on point.
The only requirement is admitting one has a drinking problem. There are no racial, political, economic, or social status restrictions. It is all-inclusive and a community of support.
For newcomers, it can often be scary and overwhelming to walk in. However, they are very quickly brought into the fold and discover the power there is being around others who were also new once.
How Does AA Work?
The basic core of AA is that alone people suffer in silence, but together they can thrive. Accountability, both as an individual and a group member, is highly stressed.
Each meeting has a leader who leads the discussion. There may be some inspiration or motivational readings to start. Then everyone in the room is allowed to share their stories.
It is not a requirement to speak up, but it is encouraged that people talk about their struggles, triggers, and what has worked for them in the past.
Since the beginning of any program is the hardest, AA recommends 90 Meetings In 90 Days. This lays the foundation for a commitment to sobriety and also allows for connections to be formed that can often last a lifetime.
Established members often become sponsors to those just starting. They agree to be available and offer support and even tough love at times, to keep those in their care motivated and moving forward in recovery.
The 12 Steps
Books, TV, and movies often refer to the 12 steps, but few people actually know what they all are.
When Bob and Bill wrote out the first draft of the 12 steps, they did so not with the requirement that all had to be followed by everyone. They were designed as stepping stones to allow for the individual to walk through the circumstances and patterns that led to the addiction and then break free to live a sober life.
Here is a summary of the 12 Steps.
- Admitting you have a drinking problem.
- A belief that a higher power (God) can help
- Decide to find and follow God’s will in whatever terms you see Him
- Take an honest look at yourself
- Admit to God, ourselves and others of your addiction
- Allow God to work in your life to recover from said addiction
- Ask God for forgiveness
- Make a list of everyone you have wronged through the addiction
- Go to those on that list and do your best to make amends
- Work every day to accept responsibility for your actions
- Continue on your journey to understand God and His will for your life
- Take what you learn through this process to help others
Due to the highly religious nature of the steps, some do not fully agree or accept them. However, that does not necessarily mean the organization will not help. There have also been alternative groups started that leave out the religious aspect.
Receiving AA Coins
Another familiar concept surrounding AA is the giving out of AA coins.
Coins are given out as tokens for milestones along the way. There is even a 24-hour coin given to highlight the courage it took to even show up for the first meeting.
Coins are not used within every group, but they can be traced back to the beginning. A nurse, Sister Mary Ignatia, worked with one of the founders (Bob), at a hospital in OH. It is reported that she gave a coin to those who worked to stay sober with the admonishment they had to return it to her if they ever drank again.
The coins come in different colors to mark the ongoing time of sobriety. The front of the coin has a triangle with the numerical milestone it represents. The wording on the triangle states Unity, Service, and Recovery.
The back is a copy of the Serenity Prayer that is recited at most meetings. The significance of the growing collection of coins inspires those with substance abuse to stay the course. They are badges of honor for the battle they fight every day.
Unless someone has experienced the gripping disease of alcoholism, it is hard to truly relate and many still ask, “how does AA work for those struggling”.
The answer is that it works by creating a non-judgmental support system for those who have walked ahead and know there is light at the end of the tunnel. That benefit alone is priceless.