Tradition 5: the Purpose of 12-Step Groups

The 12 traditions of AA and Al-Anon

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The primary purpose of any 12-step group is to carry its message and give comfort to others who are still suffering. This is spelled out in Tradition 5.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous Tradition 5: "Each group has but one primary purpose: to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers."
  • Al-Anon Tradition 5: Each Al-Anon Family Group has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps of AA ourselves, by encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives, and by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics.

    The Purpose of 12-Step Groups

    Individual members bring their own needs into the 12-step rooms and each progresses through the journey of recovery at their own pace. Everyone is different. Each member has a personal reason for coming back week after week.

    But as a group they have but one purpose, to reach out to others who are still suffering. Their purpose is to share with others the experience, strength, and hope that they have found inside the rooms.

    An old-timer was once asked why he kept coming back after all these years. His answer was simple. "Because there was someone there for me when I came through those doors."

    Love and Service

    AA groups are made up of a variety of people who, in many cases, are unlikely to mix if it weren't for the common bond of alcoholism. They know that in order to stay sober they must help the next drunk through the door.

    Maryann notes, "Nothing else matters more to your sobriety—not your religion, your politics, or what you do for a living.

    The focus of the group can't waiver from its primary purpose or the group comes apart and becomes individuals and their agendas, then it is no longer there for the newcomer or the members."

    Old Timers

    Some old timers say that they don't need the meetings anymore. But even if they don't need the meetings, the group still needs them.

    One trustee notes that "If you want an old timer in your meeting, keep filling your own chair and someday there will be an oldtimer at your meeting."

    A Pathway for Personal Growth

    Lin, a member of Al-Anon notes these important elements of Tradition 5. The first part of the tradition asks members "to help families of alcoholics." This doesn't mean give them money. It means to be kind to them, listen to what they say, encourage them when they're frustrated, and show them you genuinely care. Listening is very important. As you listen to what another member says, you realize others have had the same feelings and been through many of the same situations as you have. It can help you feel you are not alone.

    When others listen to you, it helps you know they understand what you're going through and where you've been. She notes that some people are very fragile and the smallest thing can interrupt their serenity. Sometimes by just telling them "It's okay" or "I understand" is all they need to regain their serenity. Share your strength with them.

    The fourth section of this tradition asks you to encourage and understand your alcoholic relative. This may be easy to do when that person is in recovery, but more difficult during a relapse.

    You can, however, be understanding, realizing that alcoholism is a disease. Just as you'd show compassion for a relative with cancer or diabetes, you can learn to show the same compassion for one who is alcoholic. You can still love the person and hate the disease. When they say hurtful things, learn not to take it personally. Think: "It's the disease, not him, that's saying this."

    The final part of the Fifth Tradition is "welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics." Welcoming newcomers at meetings is part of this tradition. The chair of the meeting can welcome the newcomers, but other members should do so as well.

    You may remember the despair and hopelessness that brought you through the doors—only to find unconditional love, support, peace, and hope inside.

    In giving comfort to families, you feel better yourself. You can give comfort to others by sharing at meetings, including ways that helped you deal with different situations. Let someone know that you understand. Sponsoring a newcomer will also help you welcome and comfort someone. Focusing on someone else instead of feeling sorry for yourself can help you get healthier.

    The Fifth Tradition is simple yet covers many aspects of ​your Al-Anon growth. It deals with love, understanding, comforting, and working the steps. It can easily apply to achieving harmony in other areas of your life.

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