Tradition 5: Primary Purpose

by Claire A.

Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

“My sponsor sold me one idea … Sobriety. At the time, I couldn’t have bought anything else.” This Irishman’s quote takes me back to working with my first sponsor and her use of the word “sober.” It wasn’t just her. Suddenly, the word “sober” was everywhere I looked. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the book Living Sober, and of course I heard people in meetings talking about living a life in sobriety. This was hard for me to swallow. Actually, I didn’t even believe that people were telling the truth, at first. I thought that they, like me, intended to go home and have a nice glass of wine after all that talk at the meeting.

I wanted to lighten up, not sober up.

I had a different experience from the Irishman in this story, but carrying the message as the primary purpose of each A.A. group still resonates with me. The reason is that no matter how much chaos goes down in a meeting, when it comes to our singleness of purpose, we generally settle down to work. My sponsor’s story and life are totally different from mine, and it makes zero difference: we’re both trying to stay sober by working the program of A.A.

I didn’t like the word sober. It made me think of the Puritans and judges. I didn’t want to be serious and boring—I was already serious and boring enough! I wanted to lighten up, not sober up.

Gradually, though, I saw that we actually aren’t a glum lot. My first sponsor had a great sense of humor. She enjoyed life. And my home group taught me to laugh, even at myself. Especially at myself. I still need groups to help me do that.

I went to a Burning Man fundraiser sober

It took a while for me to understand that life didn’t end at the beginning of sobriety. A big turning point came to me when I went to a Burning Man fundraiser sober for the first time. I could not imagine going to Burning Man sober. I probably wouldn’t have gone, actually, but I was married to a longtime Burner. If I wanted to hang out with him over Labor Day weekend, that’s where he’d be.

So I went to this fundraiser, certain I would not have a good time. Imagine my surprise when the very first person I met was running a sober camp at Burning Man. Would I like to join them for meetings out there? Um, yeah! We had a lovely conversation, and my mind was blown.

That was one of many great early moments for me in early sobriety. The thing is, I thought my life was over. I had reached a depression so murky that I couldn’t continue. I was looking at suicide. If I didn’t want suicide, then I needed to end the drinking life I was leading. That sounded to me like social suicide. Go to a party and not drink? Go to a wedding? Dance? Go out? Talk to people? What would I do with my hands? The Living Sober book helped with those questions a lot, and so did meetings.

So I had to relearn how to be social. I also wasn’t prepared for the sheer joy of being sober. Waking up and knowing everything I had done the day before. Waking up without a hangover. Not needing to buy liquor, not needing to worry about whether there would be enough. That is a freedom I never, ever want to give up.


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