What Are The Twelve Traditions And Why Are They So Important?

In this program of daily spiritual growth we found a way to avoid a perhaps long, slow, and painful death; alone and in our addiction. As we grew in this program, as we progressed in this spiritual path, we came to some natural conclusions about recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. We realized that to live free each day meant that we had to learn to practice the principle of humility. We realized that in order for the individual member to have a better chance of surviving the disease of sex addiction that there had to be a strong connection between our vital spiritual growth and primary purpose of the group to which the individual became a member.

How grateful we were to find that the alcoholics had once again blazed a trail for us to follow. We often jokingly say, “The Steps provided us a way to not kill ourselves. The Traditions provided us a way to not kill each other.” These Traditions are a natural progression of the principles provided for us in the Twelve Steps. When we thoroughly followed the path of all the Steps and began to apply them in all areas of our lives, we found their practical application manifested as the Traditions. The Steps are a way for the individual addict to survive his or her addiction. The Traditions are a way for the groups within a Twelve Step fellowship to keep from destroying themselves.

The Steps were a way to reduce our egos such that God could be present in our lives. The violation of these Traditions is a clear indicator that our egos are beginning to re-assert themselves. They are clear warning signs as to how our respective egos can get caught in a trap. When our egos swell, our sobriety becomes unstable. How each Tradition addresses these ego traps is a subject too extensive for this brief article and can be addressed in articles specific to each Tradition. The study and practice of these principles helps us to increase the humility necessary to keep pace with the progression of our spiritual malady. Without that essential growth our spiritual illness began to dominate us again, the obsession returned and a loss of sobriety was sure to follow. We have come to see the Steps as life saving and the Traditions as life sustaining.

It is important that we understand the gravity of these Traditions and honor how we got them. The alcoholics learned these lessons the hard way, out of their experience. Loss of sobriety is what followed when they failed to pursue this humble way of life. Before the Traditions were published many groups were on their own. Operating without a definite purpose became difficult. Outside issues began to wreak havoc on early AA groups. Many groups failed and most of the men and women died in their alcoholism as a result. How many more alcoholics died because there was no group to which they could go for a solution to the fatal illness of alcoholism? The headstones of countless alcoholics who drank themselves to death memorialize the lessons of these 12 Traditions. Our in-adherence to these principles only serves to trample upon their graves and dishonors the sacrifice they made. Our experience is that these spiritual principles are not outdated but still necessary for the healthy function of a 12 Step group of any kind.

Here are the Traditions as the A.A. Fellowship originally approved them in 1950:

Tradition 1: Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on A.A. unity.

Tradition 2: For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern.

Tradition 3: The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Tradition 4: Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

Tradition 5: Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

Tradition 6: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

Tradition 7: Each A.A. group ought to be fully self supporting, declining outside contributions.

Tradition 8: Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

Tradition 9: Alcoholics Anonymous, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Tradition 10: Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues, hence the A.A. name can never be drawn in to public controversy.

Tradition 11: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion, we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
Tradition 12: Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Appendix I, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Many believe that the Traditions apply only to the group. To such folks we are eager to remind them that the group is comprised of individuals. As individual members of a group our actions reflect the health of our home group by our adherence or lack of adherence to these principles. Our history indicates that we were unable to find recovery in groups that disregarded these principles. We even had difficulty in groups that too loosely interpreted these Traditions.

We each began by practicing these Traditions in the business of our home group. As we grew in recovery, we began to see the benefits of applying them to our personal and professional lives. We continue to see nuances to their wording that cast new perspectives on our daily living. We have found our personal and professional lives much less tumultuous and chaotic as we improve on our ability to execute their instructions.

Bill Wilson wrote in the Feb 1958 edition of the A.A. Grapevine, “Groups have repeatedly tried other activities, and they have always failed. It has also been learned that there is no possible way to make non-alcoholics into A. A. members. We have to confine our membership to alcoholics, and we have to confine our A.A. groups to a single purpose. If we don’t stick to these principles, we shall almost certainly collapse, and if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.”

Dr. Bob (one of the co-founders of the 12 Step movement) once said, “It is far better that we do one thing well than many things poorly.” Central to all of these Traditions is our 5th Tradition. There is no other reason for a group to exist except to find, seek out, go to the still suffering sex addict who wants and needs what we have to offer. Most of the Traditions are designed to support that work. Some of them bring our attention to the things that can distract us from that work. The long form (not published here) carry a great deal more information and to offer our solution to these distractions. These were the original form of the Traditions and help us to see more of their spiritual intent. The second portion of “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous” (a.k.a.: the 12 and 12), covering the Traditions, can also cast a great deal more detail on their meaning. That portion of the book is based on the experience of the entire fellowship that existed when it was published in 1955.