The A.A. Program vs. the A.A. Fellowship

There Is an Important Difference Between the Two

AA Meeting
The A.A. Program and the A.A. Fellowship. © Getty images

When I first joined Alcoholics Anonymous, I took the Program and the Fellowship as one and the same. It was a long time before I ever considered there might be a difference between the two.

Today, I know there's a difference, and it's important. The Program, whether it's Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Al-Anon, CODA, etc. is what's written in the books. For A.A. members that's Alcoholics Anonymous, known by most of us as the Big Book, and The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

The Fellowship is when any two or more of us gather to share our 'experience strength and hope.' Meetings are part of the Fellowship. So is conversation over coffee, web sites like this, online meeting, books (including mine), etc.

I'm working the Program when I'm working with any of the Steps or Traditions. I'm involved in the Fellowship anyplace else I'm talking about my Program.

The distinction is important. Without understanding the difference, it's easy to assume that, for example, anything and everything said at a meeting is the last and authoritative word on the subject.

Advice Is Not the Program

If for instance, my sponsor tells me not to get involved in a relationship or make any big changes during the first year of recovery, I may think this advice is part of the Program -- it isn't. It may be good advice or bad, but it's based on my Sponsor's opinion and part of her sharing 'experience, strength and hope.' And it should be viewed as such.

When someone suggests another needs to get ready for an inventory or they have to remain perpetually powerless over everything other than their addiction, they are sharing what they believe, and NOT what's actually in the Program.

Find Out What Is in the Book

This is why I believe it's important for 12 Steppers who are not dealing with alcoholism get familiar with the Big Book and the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions...

even though it may seem odd at first glance. But in truth, those two books are the original source material; when you're dealing with a different addiction/dysfunction, you need only substitute the name of the affliction to discover how they apply to you.

You may be surprised to discover you too have a belief about the Program that simply isn't true.

Anne is the author of

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