A Study of Tradition 5

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

Chairs in a circle
Purpose: To Carry the Message. © Getty Images

The primary purpose of any 12 step group is to carry its message and give comfort to others who are still suffering.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Tradition 5 - Each group has but one primary purpose -- to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

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.

Individual members bring their own needs into the twelve-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. 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!"

Visitors to this site have added their comments in our 12 Steps and Traditions study on the bulletin board. Here are their comments on Tradition 5:

Love and Service

Getting sober and helping others do the same is what Alcoholics Anonymous is. The Washingtonians sobered people up but tried to carry too many messages, too many opinions and vanished.

AA Groups are made up of many different people who, in many cases, perhaps would not mix if it weren't for the common bond of alcoholism.

The one truth we know is that in order to stay sober ourselves we must help the next drunk through the door. Nothing else matters more to our sobriety -- not our religion, our politics, or what we do for a living.

The focus of the group can't waiver from our 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.

If heard it said that the whole program can be boiled down to "Love and Service." not much wiggle room in that.


Old Timers

Tradition 5 means a great deal to me as it should all of us. I guess this is why I get upset when the longtimers tell me that they don't need the meetings anymore, I feel that even if they don't need the meetings, we still need them.

It is my way of paying my dues for this wonderful program. I asked a trustee one time what we could do to keep the old timers coming to meetings, His reply to me was "If you want an old timer in your meeting, Keep filling your own chair and someday there will be an oldtimer at your meeting."

Ed J.

A Pathway for Personal Growth

One of the four 12-step meetings I attend regularly is a "Step Study" meeting. We study the steps and the traditions. When I found Al-Anon, the group was on the Fifth Tradition. As a newcomer, many things made sense to me. It gave me a purpose for working an Al-Anon program and a guide for changing my life.

In a broad way of thinking, this tradition is about love and compassion.

It reminded me that I needed to learn to love myself before I could love others. I could then share my love and compassion with others -- the alcoholic as well as families of alcoholics.

The first part of the tradition asks us "to help families of alcoholics". This doesn't mean give them money. To me, it means to be kind to them, listen to what they say, encourage them when they're frustrated, and show them I genuinely care. Listening is very important -- as I listen to what another member says, I realize others have had the same feelings and been through many of the same situations as I have.

It helped me feel I was not alone. When others listen to me, it helps me know they understand what I'm going through and where I've been.

Before Al-Anon, I didn't have anybody I could really talk to. Friends and co-workers didn't understand, so I couldn't share anything with them. By encouraging others, I hear myself and gain the same encouragement. 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.

I try to share my "experience, strength, and hope" with others -- but especially my strength. I feel I have a great deal of strength to share with others. Besides being an adult child of two alcoholic parents, the wife of an active alcoholic for over 25 years, I'm also an elementary school teacher. This has helped me by forcing me to lead two lives.

During the day I was patient, loving, understanding and in control. On good days, I could continue these qualities during the afternoon and the evening. But, sometimes I was impatient, unloving, and out of control. By having an opportunity to work on my assets, I gained inner strength. It's this strength I call on when a friend needs me. It's also this strength that has helped me "hang-in-there" myself when times were tough.

Another way I help families of alcoholics is "by practicing the 12 steps of AA" myself. The 12 steps are a blueprint for changing our entire lives. As we grow and change we become healthier, happier people. I've learned to identify my character defects and work on them. This makes me a nicer person to be around. By facing my resentments, I've learned to forgive and move on. My resentments were not healthy for me and were holding me back.

I can now feel myself changing for the better. The biggest way working the steps has helped prepare me to help others is in my spirituality. As I've come to trust God and rely on Him, I've acquired serenity. Serenity seems to be contagious -- others see it and want it. I know, I did, too. In sharing my spirituality with another person, it helps both of us grow.

The fourth section of this tradition asked me to encourage and understand my alcoholic relative. During the three months my husband was "in recovery", it was easy for me to encourage him. I told him often how happy I was, how proud of him I was, and how hopeful I was. I did this verbally, on cards, in letters, and on posters. Since the time he relapsed, it's more difficult to encourage him because I feel like I'm nagging him or taking his inventory.

I can, however, be very understanding. This understanding for me first came when I realized that alcoholism is a disease. Just as I'd show compassion for a spouse with cancer or diabetes, I have learned to show the same compassion for him. I can still love him and hate the disease. When he says hurtful things, I have learned not to take it personally. I can think: "It's the disease -- not him that's saying this."

By attending several AA meetings, I've learned to understand the struggle it is for an alcoholic to maintain sobriety. By showing my love and support for him, I am also giving him my encouragement and my understanding.

The final part of the Fifth Tradition is "welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics." I remember how much I appreciated the two ladies who came over to me after my first meeting and made me feel welcome. They made me feel welcome. They made me feel that I was among friends who cared and was right where I belonged. As a result, I try to make it a point to personally welcome newcomers after a meeting.

When I chair a meeting, I make a special effort to welcome everyone present -- but especially the newcomers. I remember the despair and hopelessness that brought me through the doors -- only to find unconditional love, support, peace, and hope inside. The strangers I met became valuable friends. I try to pass this friendship on to others.

In giving comfort to families, I feel better myself. I can give comfort to others by sharing at meetings. I share ways that helped me when I dealt with situations. I've let someone know that "I understand". I've hugged people and cried with them. I've listened when they needed to "let something out". Sometimes it only took the squeeze of a hand to give someone comfort. Sponsoring a newcomer has also helped me welcome and comfort someone. It was amazing how good it felt to know how much I cheered someone up by just calling to say "Hello".

The bonus is -- when I am helping others, I am also helping myself get healthier by focusing on someone else instead of feeling sorry for myself. By reaching out to help and comfort others, I gain tremendous rewards myself.

The fifth Tradition is simple yet covers many aspects of my Al-Anon growth. It deals with love, understanding, comforting, and working the steps. It can easily apply to achieving harmony in other areas of my life. I've learned to actually "practice these principles in all my affairs". This tradition is reflected in my personal and family relationships as well as in my career. I believe I was patient and understanding with my students before Al-Anon, but I'm even more patient and understanding now.

I especially reach out to a child who is dealing with a dysfunctional home life. I have a genuine empathy for them and I take special care to show them they are special and I care about them. This tradition helped me early in my program to set a goal. It was an important goal which I've reached many times and in many ways. I'll continue to strive for this goal forever.


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