by Sandy B

When I first came into A.A. I was totally mystified. How can something work when there wasn’t a Board of Directors, President, Vice Presidents etc.? In short, a management group responsible for setting the rules to make sure that all were on the same path did not exist. I was told there are no rules in A.A. each group was autonomous. Here was an organization that was responsible for countless miracles and we who worked the A.A. program are blessed with sobriety. Management, as I knew it, did not exist. I was in the corporate world, so this organization made no sense.

Forty one years later my heart is full of gratitude. Over that time, I have come to realize it works because our founders listened to their angels. Ours is a program with Twelve Traditions that keep A.A. on an even keel and Twelve Steps which help us gain sobriety one day at a time. Without the traditions A.A. would have folded years ago. I do not know how I would have been graced with sobriety without working the steps. Yet, there are no rules.

Sometimes it becomes difficult for us to realize that there are no rules. There are times when we want the rules to exist and in those times we may manufacture them to support our concepts of how the A.A. program works.

For now, I am focusing on the rule that “There Are No Rules.” In order to address the concept of group autonomy, it’s important to look at the A.A. traditions.

Tradition One: “ Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on A.A. Unity”

This tradition speaks to the critical nature of the group. “The group must survive or the individual will not.”

Our sobriety depends on each other. We share our experience, strength and hope with each other so that sobriety can be attained. Without the group there would be no way to find each other.

Tradition Two: “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.”

This tradition takes us to another level. Questions such as:
Does A.A. have a leadership body in the form of “Elder statesmen”? or “Bleeding Deacons”?


Does the group conscience speak for itself where the group is led by a Higher Power, whose guidance leads to a working group where there are no rules?

As someone who has been in this program for over 40 years, I can tell you that there are times when it is too easy for an “elder statesman” to start dictating the workings of the program. We create rules along the lines of “it has always been that way!” We become “Bleeding Deacons”, because we have been around this block for some time and have seen what happens when the suggestions are not followed by others in the program. This is life and death and we have said goodbye too often. At some point, we think that rules will prevent people from going off the cliff. Are the “bleeding deacons” right, no. There are no rules. As humans we forget that fact.

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

This is the most basic of all for a group. “Every group manages its affairs as it pleases, except when A.A. as a whole is threatened.”

We get lost in this one. It is assumed that what was done pre-Covid or what is done in other groups are rules that have to be carried across to the current group or other groups. In rare instances we think that every secretary should know the rules otherwise, why are they secretaries? We FORGET that There are No Rules. Overtime the machinations of our favorite group(s) are carried forward in our minds as rules. We forget that each group establishes the format they want to use for their group. Whether it is the meeting format or the way they want to run their business meeting. For example: When conducting a meeting in the SF area, we ask standard questions. When we do, we say: “It is the custom of most groups in the San Francisco Bay area to:” this is followed by asking if anyone is a newcomer, visitor, and celebrating an A.A. anniversary. In other places meetings may not ask these questions. It doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they are doing, it means they have not adopted this part of the format for their group(s). Remember there are no rules.

This write-up came about because I think we have forgotten that since Covid our groups are reformatting and growing again. The guidelines established before Covid are gone. New people have arrived and do not know about the past guidelines. It came to me that, perhaps, we needed a reminder. Please accept the following as a loving message and a reminder. It is, as always, a suggestion. For those of you who know me, you know where my heart is.

If your group wishes to establish a set of guidelines then:

Announce a business meeting to discuss the guidelines for the group. These can include but are not restricted to the following:

How often should a business meeting occur? Who should attend? How long should a secretary hold the position? Can a secretary who exceeded that time run again? How are elections to be held? And so on.

BUT remember there are no rules.

Please refer to the brochure titled “The A.A. Group … where it all begins”. It is available at the Dry Dock and Central Office for more information.

What makes A.A. work? We have a simple program and must protect its simplicity by not overthinking it. Be well and Be safe my friends. Love Sandy B.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email