by Claire A.

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

It’s such a simple statement, but I’ve found that it’s not that simple. Yes, anyone who wants to stop drinking is welcome in A.A. “We may refuse none who wish to recover” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 189). That part is simple. We welcome anyone who wants what we have.

We actively welcome anyone who walks in the door, shaking their hand and asking their name, wishing to keep sober ourselves by sharing our experience, strength and hope. But how do we know who wants to recover? This is a question that has niggled at me for a long time, and sometimes niggles at me still. How can we tell who is ready to put aside her own ideas and try A.A.’s way? How many times have we watched people come into the rooms, state they want to recover, get drunk again, and return to repeat the same process? Does this person really want to stop drinking?

Photos by Emmanuel Bior and Alexander McFeron

Maybe they have wrecked lives

How many people come in to A.A. saying they want to stop drinking, and they would: if only. If only they had the job, the relationship, the home, the car, the money. Do these people want to get sober? To me, this question is what drives home to me over and over again the cunning, baffling and powerful nature of alcoholism.

Anyone who sits in the rooms of A.A. for a few meetings can see it is possible to desperately desire to stop drinking and be incapable of “getting it.” Have we not all been there? Moaning “How did it happen again? Why can’t I just stop?” Who hasn’t, figuratively at least, pounded their fist on the bar in utter bewilderment at being drunk again without meaning to? Where would A.A. be if alcoholics couldn’t fall down repeatedly and still be welcomed back into the rooms?

No idea what path anyone else is on

Well, it would be a smaller group, that’s for sure. And a less compassionate, less honest group. If I am truly honest, I know that relapse is always waiting for me. I get a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of my spiritual condition, and my spiritual condition is contingent on working with others. I need other alcoholics for my sobriety. They don’t need to be sober.

Yes, it’s a joy when a newcomer grabs hold of the program and makes progress in recovery! But my sobriety is not contingent on that outcome. I need only give away what was freely given to me. To me, Tradition Three teaches faith. I have no idea what path anyone else is on. I don’t know what their experience is. Maybe they have wrecked lives, gone to jail, attempted suicide. I don’t know. I also don’t know what is in anyone else’s heart, whether they really want to stop drinking and live sober, or whether they are just looking for a place to recover from the last bender, if they have even thought it through that far. It doesn’t matter.

It didn’t matter when I came into the program. No one grilled me on whether I really wanted to stay sober, or whether I was faking. They called me on my excuses, yes. They told me I could stay sober no matter what. And when I came into A.A., I knew very little about anything except that I wanted to stop drinking. I had no idea how, or what A.A. really was. Thanks to Tradition Three, all I needed was the desire to stop. I didn’t have to have or be anything else.

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