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Thank Goodness for Tradition Three

Audio Version 

‘The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking’ – Tradition Three.

When I came to meetings at first I didn’t think I had a problem with my drinking so there was no desire to stop - if I didn’t see that I had a problem there wasn’t going to be any desire or, as far as I was concerned, the need to do anything about it. However, I did join a group straightaway so even though Tradition Three says what it says, AA allowed me to be a member even before I had that desire. AA gave me time to work out if I did have a desire to stop drinking. What convinced me was going back out for more months of research till I truly realised I was beaten by booze. Then, and only then, did I want to stop drinking.

When I came back to Alcoholics Anonymous I did some of what was suggested (later I found I had to do all that is suggested) and rejoined the same group. At that group Step One and Tradition Three were read out by the chairperson when the meeting opened. I didn’t realise the importance of Steps never mind Traditions then but thankfully I do now. The Steps keep me well; the Traditions keep the Fellowship well. In joining a group I became a member of AA not just someone who attended meetings. I was in AA not just at it.

In the AA book the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12 x 12) it talks about how this Tradition came into being and how, out of fear, some early AA members wanted to keep AA safe from anyone who might damage the Fellowship. “So beggars, tramps, asylum inmates, prisoners, queers, plain crackpots and fallen women were definitely out”, (12 x 12, p144). If that thinking had predominated I wouldn’t have got into AA. I had begged, I was unwashed and skippering on my smelly couch. I’d been in a psychiatric ward, on remand in prison, held in overnight in police cells because I was so drunk, had worked in massage parlours and, when they would no longer employ me, on the streets. Add to that a bad mother, convicted fraudster, drug dealer and shoplifter and I can see how some early AA’s might have thought that I would have given AA a bad name! But AA doesn’t keep people like me out. It wasn’t scared of people like me; in fact AA didn’t even ask me about anything about my life. What I heard when I started to listen was: “If drink is costing you more than money, stick around and find out about the illness of alcoholism and then work out if you’ve got it – because if you have, AA has a solution”. The good people of AA didn’t quiz me and I didn’t need to tell anyone about myself, nor do I need to today if I don’t want to.

I found out that even if you haven’t drunk for long numbers of years or even very often or if drinking hasn’t taken you to lost families, jobs and homes, you’re still welcome. Just because you haven’t drunk seven days a week or first thing in the morning doesn’t mean you haven’t got the illness of alcoholism. It’s not a requirement for membership that we have to have drunk massive amounts. I learned that getting identification from a speaker could help me find out if I was alcoholic or not but that the reverse wasn’t true –  just because I didn’t get identification from a particular speaker didn’t mean I wasn’t alcoholic. I learned that the illness wasn’t about what I did when I was drinking. I learned that it wasn’t about how often or how much I drank. Rather it was about my inability to control my drinking when I drank and my inability to stay stopped when I wanted to stay stopped.

Not only that I didn’t even have to consider myself an alcoholic! Tradition Three doesn’t say that once you’ve admitted and accepted you’re an alcoholic you’re welcome. I don’t have to speak at meetings from the body of the hall. I don’t have to do top table shares. I don’t even have to be sober. I don’t have to put any money in the pot. I don’t have to trust in a Higher Power, a power greater than me or a God of my own understanding. I don’t have to pick up the Programme. No-one said to me that if I didn’t do any of these things I would have to leave AA. In AA I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Incidentally, though I don’t have to do any of these things, I found that doing them was very good for me and my sobriety.

Do I always work Tradition Three? Am I as welcoming to someone just back who is in and out repeatedly and comes back whining: “I can’t get it!” or someone who doesn’t put anything in the pot but gets torn to pieces or someone who pops into a meeting every now and again when they’re having a hard time or someone who says the same thing at length at every meeting? When I criticise others I now know it’s because I’m not good myself and need to look at me rather than have my attention on others. I must remember the times I struggled, the times I wanted something for nothing, the times folk listened to me when I went on and on. I must remember Tradition Three.

One day at a time I try to live the AA Twelve Step Programme and one day at a time I do not need to drink. One day at a time thanks to AA even if I’m angry or full of self-pity I do not need to drink and go back to that horrible coming to out of a drunken stupor, feeling awful and desperate for a drink. The smelly couch and police cells are not in my life any more. Thank goodness for Tradition Three.

Young or not so young, poor or wealthy, working class or aristocracy, low bottom drunk or high bottom drunk, criminal record or not, any religion or none, any race, colour or sexual orientation, convinced you’ve a drink problem or not so sure if you have, there’s a welcome for you in AA because the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.