Tradition One in Action

by Carla H.

Although Tradition One is about group unity and how we must all hang together or we shall surely hang separately (undoubtedly misquoting Benjamin Franklin), my experience of this paradoxical tradition was supremely useful in getting me to embrace A.A. fully. I had to set aside my fear of being stripped of my 30 years of sobriety because I hadn’t done the steps nor had a sponsor.

I was sobbing on the phone

“No A.A. can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled.” These words are in Tradition One on page 129 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. I heard them a little differently some years ago from my younger sister, also 30 years sober. She had done the steps with a sponsor or three and had sponsored other women. She suggested I go to a meeting when I was sobbing on the phone that no one in the world had ever understood me like she did.

The backstory: I had 30 years but zero emotional recovery. I was scared I was going to go out, for no reason, and just pick up a drink. It was a dark time in my life when I woke up in fear every day, a tight ball of nerves and panic.

I was terrified of what my life had come down to—60 years old, underemployed during the Great Recession, living partially on my savings, with no close friends in San Francisco any longer. My therapist of 25 years was dead and my beloved sister was leaving the Bay Area for good. I had no skills or tools to deal with my fear. It was my sister’s idea I could try a meeting, where I’d find other people like her.

I was skeptical, of course. “But I can’t prove I have 30 years. They won’t let me keep that, will they? Won’t I have to start over?”

She said, “Nobody can take that away from you. I’ve spent some years not going to meetings and I don’t subtract them. I’m still sober.”

“But nobody wants to hear I’m sober when I didn’t do it by working the steps or anything.” Her voice got fierce. “You can say anything you want. Nobody can kick you out or tell you to shut up. Nobody can tell you what to say or do.”
“There are no rules in A.A. If anyone criticizes you, tell them to work their own program, not yours.”
And that’s how I got up the courage to go to a step meeting near me. Three days later, I accepted a woman’s offer to sponsor me. I started working the steps and reading the literature.

During my 30 “dry” years, I assumed a sponsor would try to turn me into an A.A. zombie. But the first tradition also says, “Surely there is [no organization] which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk and act as [s/he] wishes.” Hooray! Since that time, I’ve always felt free to say exactly what I want to about my own experience, strength and hope. What’s more, I now listen for all kinds of thoughts and opinions, including the “minority opinion” I’ve learned is also encouraged and valued in A.A.

We’re the anarchists that hang together and carry the message so this life-saving organization can continue. As Tradition One says, “Neither he nor anyone else can survive unless he carries the A.A. message.” So yes, our common welfare always comes first.

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