A Study of the Last of the 12 Traditions in AA

The 12 Traditions of A.A. and Al-Anon

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The Principle of Anonymity. © Getty Images

A hallmark of 12 step recovery programs is the offer of anonymity to participants, but the principle goes much deeper than just not revealing last names.

In order to keep the focus on principles rather than personalities, personal anonymity should be maintained at all levels of participation in 12 step fellowship -- in meetings, in 12th step work, and even in sponsorship. Anonymity is maintained not so much for the protection of the individual as for the protection of the program.

Tradition 12

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities.

Visitors to the Alcoholism site were asked to share their views on the 12th Tradition on the bulletin board. Their reflections provide us a glimpse of the underlying principal of this tradition.

No human power...

I cannot think about this tradition without the words "No human power could have relieved us from our alcoholism". It is the principals of this program that will keep me sober and enable me to have a real life, not a person. No guru whether they mean well or ill can provide the power to prevent me from taking the first drink.

I have seen so many people in Alcoholics Anonymous follow a particular sponsor or counselor as if they were the sole authority on "the way" only to have that person prove all too human and inevitably fail as God.

When we put someone on a pedestal we all know what part we will see!

This program is a "we" thing for many reasons. Deifying a person not only harms the followers but the followed, who are then in no position to need anyone themselves.

-- Maryann

A Genuine Humility

The twelfth tradition actually reads (long form): "And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance.

It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all."

I saw this in action here in Australia years ago at an AA Conference. During a break in the talks, a priest member was standing surrounded by other members in earnest conversation. I was passing by when an old-timer went right up to him pushing through the crowd of admirers.

He fronted him by saying: "Take those crosses off your shirt collar, we have no clergy in AA!" There was stunned shocked silence for a few awkward moments.

Then someone said: "Listen, mate, this is Father X, you ought to be treating him with respect." The intruder replied: "We in AA call no one of us 'Father'. We don't call judges in AA 'Your Honour', and we don't wear anything that sets us apart or above anyone else. We are all equal here. Don't big note yourself with us!"

Others were obviously getting angry with this rude member but the priest calmly said: "No, he's right" and started to take the gold crosses off of his shirt. "Just call me by my first name from now on.

He's said all that so I don't forget that I'm just another AA member one drink away from being drunk just like the rest of you. Thank you, sir. Now, what were we talking about?"

The tradition says that we practice this tradition for three reasons: so we can actually practice genuine humility, so we don't get too up ourselves (spoiled), and so that we can always keep our gratitude in mind. That older member and the priest both showed one aspect of the 12th tradition in action.

-- Aussie Chuck

Principles First

More often than not I have heard people share on this that Tradition 12 means that I have to put AA's principles first, rather than someone's personal opinion so I can protect the very roots of AA as a whole.

Since everyone is not well at the same time it becomes very hard to decern the truth, also I feel it is the hardest times to do this is when it is someone we really care about and respect a lot that may, for real sincere reasons want to deviate from the principles and we tend to back them, because they are already hurting too much, so we let a little more of our principles slip away, and sadly AA has lost a little more of its foundation.

That's why we need to have that unconditional love for the principles, so we may love each other unconditionally, and that love comes from taking the risks of resting on the principles rather than giving in, playing God because we feel that the person we care so much for is loved less by God because we don't give them the chance to grow in the truth of AA's wisdom we allow them to create their own, and it may appear to be helpful, but it is just as damaging and unloving to the individual as it is to AA on the whole.

-- Alethea

Focus on Giving

For this alcoholic it HAS to be something "spiritual" that would cause me to put anything ("principals before personalities) before my own selfish thoughts, ideas, OPINIONS etc... This Keeps my focus on how I can GIVE rather than my normal mode of behavior, taking.

-- Lucretia

We are All Equals

Regarding Tradition 12, anonymity being the spiritual foundation, to me, means that when we walk into a meeting, we leave "what we are" at the door and walk in as "who we are". There is no rich man or poor man, we are all equals. How far you have gone with you education, or how successful you are in life has no bearing on what you can get from or what you can contribute to the program. We are all honors graduates from "The University of Hard Knocks", sitting shoulder to shoulder.

-- Mary

Carrying the Message

The anonymity in tradition 12 [in my opinion] is not referring to use of my last name but rather to being anonymous as an "individual" in a "we" program. If I "become" the message instead of "carrying" the message, then my sobriety is at risk; and so is AA as a whole. I have seen that in action... guess what... that person is now painfully coming back.

-- Lyn

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