Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 when Bill W., an alcoholic stockbroker, in an effort to maintain his own shaky six-month-old sobriety, reached out to a still-suffering alcoholic physican named Dr. Bob S. AA marks its founding as the date of Dr. Bob's last drink: June 10, 1935.
AA is a fellowship of men and women who have drinking problems. It exists in over 180 countries worldwide, and has an estimated over two million active members. Since 1935, millions have recovered from alcoholism through the practice of AA principles.
AA's Three LegaciesRecovery
First presented in 1939 with the publishing of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, AA's widely recognized Twelve Steps reflect the principles by which the co-founders and early members recovered from alcoholism. The Steps remain the foundation recovery principles of the Fellowship to this day. In addition to many chapters in the first part of the book Alcoholics Anonymous on the Steps, Bill W. wrote a series of essays on the Steps which appear in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Known informally as the "Twelve and Twelve," the forward to the book reads, "AA's Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the suffered to become happily and usefully whole." *
Looking for an AA meeting or to speak with a member? Go to Finding Help.
AA's Twelve Traditions present the principles which support the unity of the AA Fellowship at its group level. The Traditons were first presented in a series of articles by co-founder Bill W. in the late 1940's, which appeared in The AA Grapevine, AA's periodical newsletter. The essays are collected in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. From the Forward to the book: "AA's Twelve Traditions apply to the life of the Fellowship itself. They outline the means by which AA maintains its unity and relates to the world about it, the way it lives and grows." *
Concerning service, AA co-founder Bill W. wrote in 1951:
Our Twelfth Step—carrying the message—is the basic service that the AA Fellowship gives; this is our principal aim and the main reason for our existence. Therefore, AA is more than a set of principles; it is a society of alcoholics in action. We must carry the message, else we oursleves can wither, and those who haven't been given the truth may die.
(From, "AA's Legacy of Service," The AA Service Manual, page S1.)*
The Twelve Concepts for World Service were offered by Bill W. in 1962 as "an interpretation of AA's world service structure." They are the guiding principles by which AA world service activities are conducted. The Concepts are presented in detail in a series of essays by Bill W. in The AA Service Manual combined with Twelve Concepts for World Service.
Taken together, the Steps, Traditions and Concepts embody what are known as the Three Legacies of AA: Recovery, Unity and Service.
"Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities." (From, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "Tradition Twelve," page 184)*
The principal of anonymity offers the often fearful, ashamed and discouraged AA newcomer a safe haven. For the alcoholic who enters AA uncomfortable in his or her own skin, it will take time and the earnest practice of AA's Twelve Steps before the "promises" of AA (see the last paragraph on page 83 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous) are delivered and the alcoholic can hold his or her head up again. The offer of refuge and safety promised in the Fellowship's name makes coming to AA perhaps a bit easier for the struggling alcoholic.
The principle of anonymity also suggests we need to let the program speak for itself and practice true humility, and that there is something greater than ourselves involved. It is not about the individual alcoholic, but the principles by which AA suggests we live.
For more on anonymity in AA, we suggest reading the essays on "Tradition Eleven" and "Tradition Twelve" in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (pages 180-187). The pamphlet Understanding Anonymity, published by AAWS, is also helpful.
Finding more information
Additional information about the AA Fellowship and program and its ideas, principles and activities may be found on the web sites of AA World Services, Inc. (AAWS), www.aa.org (English, Spanish and French), and The AA Grapevine, www.grapevine.org. Also available is a bimonthly newsletter, Box 4-5-9: News and Notes from GSO, with "information about AA service, literature, events, sharing from groups, service committees and individual US/Canada AA members." (From the AAWS/GSO website.)