What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page xiii)*
The Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous took its name from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, printed in 1939. At the time the book was published, over 100 men and women had recovered from alcoholism through practice of the Twelve Steps. 70 years later, the worldwide membership of AA is estimated at about two million people.
We are not an organization in the conventional sense of the word. There are no fees or dues whatsoever. The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking. We are not allied with any particular faith, sect, or denomination, nor do we oppose anyone. We simply wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Pages xiii-xiv)*
How do I know if I am an alcoholic?
If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 44)*
How can AA help?
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. This is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 17)*
Sobriety – freedom from alcohol – through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of our program.** Each AA group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose – that of carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. This is our primary spiritual aim. Our job as a group is to provide people with a place to learn about and work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our experience, we have found that by following the direction of the Twelve Steps, we live better, sober lives.
How do I become a member of AA?
The long form of our 3rd Tradition states that: Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 563)*
If you are unsure of whether or not you suffer from alcoholism, the short form of our 3rd Tradition states that: The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 562)*
How do I become a member of your group?
You are a member of Simply AA when you say you are a member of Simply AA.
I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic, may I still attend your group?
All of our meetings are open meetings and all members of the community are welcome to attend. The single most important aspect of A.A. recovery, however, is the principle of one alcoholic relating to another alcoholic. Therefore, only alcoholics actually participate in our meetings. If you are unsure about your alcoholism, an experienced member of our group would be happy to help you understand the disease of alcoholism to allow you to make your own self-determination.
I’m a drug addict; may I attend your group?
Yes, all of our meetings are open to anyone interested in our program of recovery. However, if your primary problem is other than alcoholism, we think it would be helpful for you to contact an anonymous organization which more specifically deals with your addiction. We would love nothing more than to avoid having to exclude anyone from membership. However, despite our deepest interest, sympathy, and desire to be helpful, there are many aspects of drug addiction (and other outside issues) that lie outside the focus of AA’s singleness of purpose. One of the greatest features of our program is the ability for one alcoholic to relate to another. If two members are unable to relate to one another by a common problem, then Twelfth Step work becomes nearly impossible. It is through identification that many of us were able to recognize the hopelessness that would fuel our willingness to recover. You may find that some of our members had problems with addictions beyond the scope of Alcoholics Anonymous. Feel free to inquire about such members so that they can assist you in finding a 12-step Fellowship which may better suit your needs. In any case, we hope what you learn in our meetings may be helpful to your recovery and understanding.
Also, please see our LINKS page for a list of other 12-step Fellowship websites.
Can my family attend meetings with me?
Yes, we believe that families can learn a lot about alcoholism and our program by attending our group. However, we ask that only alcoholics participate in our meetings. We ask that all non-alcoholics also please observe our tradition of anonymity. Please remember that who you see and what you hear at our meetings is private and confidential and should remain there.
The judge required that I go to AA. Are you able to provide verification that I attended your group?
Yes. You may put your court card or meeting attendance sheet in our 7th Tradition basket, and pick it up at the close of the meeting. It will not be signed until after we have closed. We ask that you please do not disrupt the meeting by requesting that it be signed during the meeting so you may leave early. Additionally, we ask that all non-alcoholics also please observe our tradition of anonymity. Please remember that who you see and what you hear at our meetings is private and confidential and should remain there.
I heard AA is a religious program and I’m an atheist (or an agnostic). Am I still welcome?
Again, anyone is welcome to attend our meetings. AA is not tied to any particular sect, denomination, or religion. AA does, however, require the practice of principles that are spiritual in nature.
To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face. But it isn’t so difficult. About half our original fellowship were of exactly that type. At first some of us tried to avoid the issue, hoping against hope we were not true alcoholics. But after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life – or else. Perhaps it is going to be that way with you. But cheer up, something like half of us thought we were atheists or agnostics. Our experience shows that you need not be disconcerted. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 44)*
Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 45)*
What can I expect at your meetings?
All of our meetings are Big Book studies – each with their own individual formats. We believe that long-term sobriety can be found and maintained in part through continual and in-depth study of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our founders paved a road for us through clear-cut directions as to how they had recovered from alcoholism. Although our group makes an effort to not veer far from this path, whatever is said at our meetings expresses our own individual opinions. We do not speak for A.A. as a whole and you are free to agree or disagree as you see fit. In fact, it is suggested that you pay no attention to anything which might not be reconciled with what is in the Big Book.
What should I bring?
Yourself, a Big Book, and an open mind. If you do not have a Big Book, we have some available that you may borrow or purchase.
Where can I get a Big Book?
I’m interested in the Big Book, but I don’t read very well. Is an audio version available?
Yes. The Big Book is available in audio format from the Kansas City Central Office, www.aa.org, and iTunes. Another powerful way of hearing AA’s message is through recorded audio of talks given by AA members who are well-versed and experienced in regards to the Big Book and the Twelve Steps. Copies of speaker CDs can be obtained from some of our group members. There are also a number of websites with AA talks available for download. See our “Downloads” page for direct links to some recommended speakers.
Can AA help with my [insert legal, medical, financial, relationship, or other non-alcoholism-related problem here]?
However, we have found that if we follow through with the program of action contained within the first 164 pages of the Big Book, we begin to be given direction in how to deal with these problems. We also believe that good sponsorship provides us with a person whom we may discuss our “issues” with. If you have questions about sponsorship, please see the answer to the question which follows this one.
I’ve been told that I need a sponsor. What is a sponsor, and how do I go about finding one?
At Simply AA, we truly believe that sponsorship unlocks the door to freedom. This relationship is very important to the future of your sobriety.
A simple explanation is that a sponsor is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who has been blessed with a spiritual awakening as a result of completing the Twelve Steps. This member is qualified through his/her experience to help you through the steps and attain the very same awakening that has removed his/her obsession, giving you the opportunity to help still others.
There are many myths in AA about sponsorship. We find that it is not so much important that you find someone with the same interests, job, ethnic background, or social status. A sponsor is someone whose primary purpose is to show you how to recover from alcoholism. If you were drowning, would you need to know the movies and music tastes of the person throwing you the life preserver? We recommend you find someone with working knowledge of the Big Book.
An early member of Alcoholics Anonymous once said that, “I do not function as a therapist, doctor, or spiritual guide. I function as one beggar showing another beggar where there is bread.”
There are also no requirements on the length that someone must be sober to qualify as a sponsor. The book “AA Comes of Age” gives a historical account of Alcoholics Anonymous during the early days. The book states that: “It was soon evident that a scheme of personal sponsorship would have to be devised for the new people. Each prospect was assigned an older AA, who visited him at his home or in the hospital, instructed him on AA principles, and conducted him to his first meeting. But in the face of many hundreds of pleas for help, the supply of elders could not possibly match the demand. Brand-new AA’s, sober only a month or even a week, had to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in hospitals.” We believe that a person who is sober only a month or two, but has completed the Twelve Step Program, would make a more qualified sponsor than someone who has multiple years of sobriety, but has never worked the steps.
At the end of every Simply AA meeting, we ask for those who are available to be a sponsor to raise their hands. We ask that you please ask one of these members (preferably a member of the same gender) if they would be willing to sponsor you. Most all AA members will not be bothered by this request. In fact, many AA members will say that being asked to be a sponsor is one of the biggest compliments that one may receive in AA. Not only the function of AA, but the very lives of our members, is contingent on carrying the message to other alcoholics.
“Both you and the new man must walk day by day in the path of spiritual progress. If you persist, remarkable things will happen. When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned. Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 100)*
What is the donation basket you pass during meetings?
The basket you see being passed around is the “7th Tradition Basket”. AA’s 7th tradition states, “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions”. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 564)* While contributions cover each group’s rent and other expenses, the 7th Tradition is essential at every level of AA service. It is both a privilege and a responsibility for groups and members to ensure that not only their group, but also their Intergroup or Central Office, Local Services, District, Area, and the General Service Office remain self-supporting. This keeps AA free of outside influences that might divert us from our primary purpose – to help the alcoholic who still suffers. The amount of our contribution is secondary to the spiritual connection that unites all groups around the world.
We please ask that only alcoholics contribute. Because AA is self-supporting, we must respectfully decline donations made by non-members.
Am I required to contribute to the 7th tradition basket?
No. As previously stated in this FAQ, AA’s only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. However, as you progress in your sobriety, we believe you will find a sense of responsibility and a sense of humility by contributing to the greater whole of Alcoholics Anonymous. We find in the 7th Tradition that spirituality and money can truly mix, without conflict.
I’m a little shy; am I required to share when called upon in the meetings?
No. You are welcome to sit and listen. We do, however, ask toward the beginning of our meetings, that newcomers and visitors kindly introduce themselves. This is not to embarrass you, but an opportunity for the group to learn your name. You will find, as time passes in our program, that you will feel more confident to share as your knowledge of our program and involvement with our Fellowship grows.
Who are Bill and Bob?
Bill Wilson was a New York City stock speculator who was relieved of his obsession to drink by a sudden spiritual experience in Townes Hospital in December of 1934. His experience had been produced following an honest effort to go through the spiritual program of action that would become our Twelve Steps. This program had been impressed upon him through the tutelage of his first sponsor, Ebby Thatcher, a member of the Oxford Groups movement of that time. Upon his release from the hospital, he took to the streets of New York City to help other alcoholics. He was unsuccessful with all cases, and only managed in keeping himself sober. He returned to Townes Hospital, and following a conversation with Dr. William D. Silkworth, Bill realized that his method in helping other drunks needed to be altered. Bill had been dragging men from bar stools, shouting with elation of his “white light” experience that had brought him from the depths of hell. Dr. Silkworth made the suggestion to Bill that he tone down discussion of his experience, and focus more on the disease aspects of alcoholism. In AA, we call this “giving someone a good case of hopelessness”. The doctor said, “Once you have achieved that, then maybe they would be interested in hearing about your miraculous recovery.
In June of 1935, toward the end of an unsuccessful business trip, Bill found himself pacing a hotel lobby in Akron, Ohio. He had been sober about six months, and was beginning to feel shaky in his sobriety. He pondered walking into the hotel bar, but decided that his best option was to find another alcoholic to work with. After calling a number of names from a church directory, Bill was finally put in touch with a woman named Henrietta Seiberling, who introduced Bill to Dr. Robert Smith, an Akron proctologist, and a hopeless alcoholic. Dr. Bob, or “Smitty”, agreed to give Bill fifteen minutes of his time, and they ended up talking for 6 hours. Bill talked of his own drinking experiences, and how hopeless he had been. When Dr. Bob agreed that he possessed many of the same symptoms, he asked what could be done about it. Bill then explained the “formula” which had brought him back from that hopeless condition of mind and body.
Dr. Bob did not immediately accept the “formula” of the Twelve Steps. He went to Chicago to attend a medical convention and found himself drunk for the final time. When he awoke from his blackout in the home of his nurse and her husband, he had little recollection of his trip to Chicago. He was scheduled to be in surgery the next day. That next morning, Bill gave Dr. Bob a bottle of beer and a “goofball” to help with his tremors, and he went to perform his surgery. Following the surgery, he was nowhere to be found. Bill waited until the late hours of the night, almost certain that the bottle of beer had triggered the allergy, and Bob was drunk. Finally, Dr. Bob showed up at home. He had spent the afternoon and evening walking up and down the streets of Akron, making amends to all those he had harmed. Bob never drank again. This was June 10th, 1935 [or June 17th, depending upon the historical documentation].
Bill and Dr. Bob set out to help other alcoholics, with numerous failures, but a few successes. These men began to gather in the homes of one another on a regular basis, and thus the Fellowship was formed. Bill returned to New York City, founding a group there. The Akron group eventually split into another group in Cleveland, and groups began popping up everywhere in between. The early members saw a need to capture the “Program” which had worked in keeping them sober. So, they decided to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which has come to be known as The Big Book.
I know your group studies the Big Book, but I’d really like to discuss [insert problem here] in a meeting. Can I still do that?
If you have a problem that you need to address, we suggest you take it to one of our members before or after the meeting. Our meetings are designed to be a platform for those interested to learn about the program of recovery contained in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. We understand that issues come up in our lives, and we may feel compelled to discuss these events during our meetings. We do not want to discourage you from talking about your “issues”. However, we do ask that you do not discuss them during our Big Book studies. If you are experiencing problems in your life, we have found the solution to ALL of these problems is found in the Twelve Steps. Please keep an open mind and God will not let you down.
I was told that “Meeting Makers Make It”, why doesn’t your group meet every day?
Contrary to popular belief, AA meetings do not actually “treat” alcoholism. Our meetings are set up to provide AA members a place to learn about the program of action contained in the first 164 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is by learning the Program that we become more effective members of AA. The real “work” of the program does not take place in our meetings. It takes place when an experienced member of our group carries the message to a newcomer. It takes place in jails, hospitals, treatment centers, and homeless shelters. It also takes place in living rooms and coffee shops, with one person sitting across from another, studying the path that our Founders laid down for us more than 70 years ago.
There is no chapter in the Big Book called “Into Meetings”, “Going to Meetings”, or “90 in 90”. There is a chapter called “Into Action” and another called “Working With Others”. It is in these chapters that we find the treatment for alcoholism. We follow the direction of the steps, and having had a spiritual awakening, continue to enlarge our spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others.
“My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 15)
How do I volunteer for a service position with the group?
Our group holds business meetings on the last Saturday of each month. If there are service positions available, you may volunteer, and must be approved by the group. We are always in need of meeting leaders, coffee makers, clean-up people, and greeters. We ask that only home group members volunteer for service positions.
Who is in charge of AA? Who is in charge of the group?
AA has no officers or executives who wield power or authority over the Fellowship. There is no “government” in AA. Each group has elected officers, but these officers have no authority over the group. They are trusted servants, who represent the group conscience. You will notice that each meeting has a meeting chairperson. This person facilitates the meetings to ensure that they start on time, end on time, and run smoothly. If you are interested in chairing one of our meetings, please join us for our business meeting (the last Monday of the month). If you have made Simply AA your home group, we would love for you to be involved in AA’s legacy of Service.
Is AA a cult?
Why don’t you guys chant “Keep Coming Back – It works if you work it” at the end of The Lord’s Prayer?
Many of our members followed that advice, “Keep Coming Back”. However, each time they came back, they had a new sobriety date.
Plus, it annoys us.
Don’t you guys ever get tired of studying the Big Book at every meeting?