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In my early days, still very unsure that I could sustain this new way of living and fearful of a repeat of failed past attempts, I found great comfort in the story behind the growth and development of the Fellowship.
I became aware that this new way of living had been well tried and tested by awkward, confused, frightened, arrogant, sick people just like me and had proved to be the solution to the problems of the many. I found a deep security in the knowledge that nothing was new.
On page 17 of the old AA Service Manual (now replaced with the AA Service Handbook for Great Britain) and in page 563 of the Big Book, the Twelve Traditions (long form) it says 'Our A.A. experience has taught us that: 1. - Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward'.
The First Tradition is a bit of a double-edged sword, referring to both the 'individual' and the 'group' but as page 130 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions tells us 'It becomes plain that the group must survive or the individual will not'.
The history of AA is quite the most wonderful and amazing story. There is no fiction. It is all fact and I am privileged to be part of that story. I have daily witness of its viability in my life. I can see that what worked then still works today, if I keep it simple. I have experienced the fulfilment of those same promises. I am fortunate that it was all devised, tested and proven before I came along with my need for guidance toward a safe and secure way of life. The guidance is all written in plain language for me to follow, if I so choose.
The Traditions have always been special and personal to me as they give clear and precise directives on how I should conduct myself with others. I had never really belonged to anything or any group, not even the human race, and had little idea how to behave as an integral part. I knew plenty about being the boss and had a natural instinct for doing things the 'correct way'. Now, if I wanted to live and get better, I had to learn how to become a useful part of this Fellowship for the common good.
As the Fellowship grew, it became obvious that some degree of common policy was needed to ensure the future. Some groups had long lists of 'protective' rules and regulations. It was obvious that something had to be done and, as usual, out of a desperate need, good was born.
The Grapevine had come into existence in 1944 and two years later, in 1946, Bill W began to write a series of essays for the Grapevine, entitled 'Twelve Points to Assure our Future'. They were to become the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous and were published in 1953. Bill described them as 'A set of general principles, simply stated, that could offer tested solutions to all of AA's problems of living and working together and of relating our society to the world outside'.
On page 13 of the AA Service Manual there is a letter to Bill –'Bill, we'd love to have you come and speak. Do tell us where you used to hide your bottles and all about that big, hot-flash spiritual experience of yours. But for heaven's sake, please don't talk any more about those blasted traditions'.
In 1950, at the first international convention, they were adopted by the movement. Five years later, on 3 July 1955, as described on page 226 of 'AA Comes Of Age', the Three Legacies of Recovery, Unity and Service were turned over to the Fellowship by the old timers and by the same resolve, General Service Conference became the Guardian of the Twelve Traditions.
The voice of the group conscience was now responsible for the future of the Fellowship.
I personally owe my sobriety, as much if not more, to the Twelve Traditions than to the Steps. The Traditions helped me to participate as a part of the Fellowship. They have also instilled in me a degree of humility, albeit enforced, by showing me that personal survival was dependant on acceptance of the will of the majority (the group conscience) as being correct at that time, and genuinely going along with it.
I was never given the Big Book to read by my sponsors, but I was given AA Comes Of Age, The AA Way of Life and the AA Service Manual with The Twelve Concepts.
In AA most of us are ordinary people who are not used to speaking or reading out loud in large gatherings and we sometimes get our wees and wubblewees mixed up. I often see a deeper hidden meaning in such mistakes. Like many others I was in the building game. When a wall or the sides of a deep excavation needed shoring up, we used a piece of timber which measured 12 inches by 12 inches. It is very strong and can sustain great fluctuating pressures which the rigidity and inflexibility of steel could not. Therefore, when I hear people saying the "12 by 12" instead of the "12 and 12", I think it very appropriate. After all, they have done a not bad job of propping me up!
Today I still like to keep handy:
1. The AA Service Manual with the Twelve Concepts for World Service
2. The AA Service Handbook for Great Britain
3. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
4. The AA Way of Life, now renamed, As Bill Sees It
5. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
Stirling No.7 Tuesday and Milnathort/Kinross Friday