There seems to be some dissonance between A.A. and treatment professionals concerning the

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1 APNC Fall Conference October 18, 2013 Carolina Beach, NC Austin S. (Presenter) There seems to be some dissonance between A.A. and treatment professionals concerning the efficacy of A.A. compared to, or combined with, other treatment protocols. This exists, I think, for two reasons. First is the concern of treatment professionals that the A.A. program has not been proven, by the scientific method, to be successful. This is in large part due to the fact that A.A., by the very nature of anonymity, cannot and will not keep records or do scientific studies of the success rate of recovery. The second is that there has always been some reluctance on the part of counselors to put much faith in the admission of powerlessness on the part of the client. It is inherent in many styles of counseling that the client is the one who must be ready, willing and able to change their behavior. This creates disagreement between the A.A. focus on a Higher Power and the individual s power. First, I believe the positive benefits of anonymity outweigh the lack of best practices studies. As discussed later in this paper, anonymity offers the newcomer and the recovering alcoholic significant benefits in an age where alcoholism still entails a great deal of stigma. Secondly, the A.A. program is based on acceptance of a Higher Power, but also relies on the member first having the desire to stop drinking (readiness), then being motivated to work for sobriety (willingness), and finally the ability to listen and learn from others who have used A.A. to maintain their sobriety (ability). This is in agreement with the basis of counseling. 1

2 This presentation will share information about Alcoholics Anonymous and how A.A. cooperates with professional counselors. It s important for you to realize that no one speaks on behalf of the entire A.A. fellowship. A.A. Conference-approved literature is the voice of the Fellowship. The comments you will hear are only one person s interpretations of how A.A. has worked for me, and how I personally understand the A.A. position as it relates to professional counselors. I will include some quotations from A.A. literature, which will be cited throughout the presentation. My qualifications are that I am an alcoholic and I attend A.A. meetings; that makes me a member of A.A. That s all it takes. Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety Copyright The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. Reprinted with permission. This preamble was introduced in the June 1947 issue of the A.A. Grapevine magazine and was paraphrased from the Foreword to the original edition of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. 2

3 Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (A.A. Tradition Twelve) At the personal level anonymity provides protection for all members from identification as alcoholics. This safeguard is particularly important to new members. Anonymity has two attributes essential to our individual and collective survival; the spiritual and the practical. On the spiritual level, anonymity demands the greatest discipline of which we are capable; on the practical level anonymity has brought protection for the newcomer, respect and support of the world outside, and security from those of us who would use A.A. for sick and selfish purposes. (A.A. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, P. 187) For me, one of the underlying principles of A.A. is the necessity of having personal humility in order to remain sober. Anonymity equals humility for me. I came to this program with a huge ego, and that ego is a driving force behind my addiction. My ego pushes me to spout my qualifications in offering this presentation, but my vow of anonymity and my duty to my fellow A.A. members requires me to remain anonymous, and let the A.A. program speak for itself. I take a personal vow not to exploit my affiliation with A.A. in order to achieve personal recognition, power or personal gain. A.A. s program is spiritual, not religious. A.A. is not allied with any sect or denomination. But the spiritual experience is basic to our sobriety, without it our sobriety will be precarious. Anonymity is this spiritual foundation. Acceptance of a Higher Power is paramount to success for each individual who works the A.A. program. But as you will see in the A.A. material all references to God are followed by the phrase As You Understand Him. Even the A.A. literature offers the member the option of choosing a Higher Power that works for him or her. 3

4 With the Twelve Steps, Alcoholics Anonymous offers the alcoholic a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol. This is accomplished by members sharing their personal experiences with a drinking problem. Initially newcomers are exposed to this through other members sharing their experiences in meetings. As the newcomer begins to gain an interest in the program they are free to seek out a sponsor to offer them person-to-person service and guidance as they work the program. This program is discussed at A.A. meetings, one-on-one with a sponsor, or with other alcoholics anytime. Your clients can expect to be treated with respect, and offered the ability to participate in the program at their own pace. No one is forced to accept the A.A. principles, and no one is looked down upon for any reason. A.A. members share their common problems with alcohol. There are no lectures, no dues, no outside influences, and no rules or regulations. Through the sponsorship program of Alcoholics Anonymous the newcomer can get a friend and guide to assist them in working the steps. Step One says We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives have become unmanageable, but later on it says that until this fact is accepted his sobriety will be precarious. For many, acceptance means they are ready to do something about it. That s where a sponsor can be a great help. With one-on-one guidance the sponsor can offer ideas or suggestions, share their own experiences with the struggle to stop drinking or to resist the urge to drink again, and offer hope and encouragement. A sponsor is NOT a counselor. They are familiar with the A.A. program, not with any counseling techniques or methodology. They should always avoid offering any suggestions other than what relate to the workings of the program of A.A. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. (A.A. Preamble) 4

5 Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous are the heart of the program and come in all shapes and sizes. Members at meetings generally include newcomers and old timers, those with many years of sobriety, and all stages in between. There is one meeting in Hickory that is a weekly Step Study (only Steps 1, 2 and 3). This meeting has members with 30 years sobriety in attendance and is a regular stop for two or three half-way houses in the area every week. This is a how it works meeting for beginners, yet the old timers regularly say they gain something from the meeting. Meetings are classified as either open or closed and are usually one hour long (although there is no rule on this). An open meeting is just that, it is open to anyone who has an interest in the A.A. program, whether they are alcoholic or not. At open meetings an individual may or may not identify themselves, it s their choice. Open meetings may consist of speaker meetings, where one member offers his or her story. This is usually a short synopsis of what his or her life was like while they were drinking, what and how they changed, and what their life is like now. Speaker meetings are the most anonymous of all the meeting types as only the meeting coordinators and the speaker do any talking. Other meeting formats include discussion meetings and study group meetings. Sometimes these are also open meetings. Family members and professionals are encouraged to attend open speaker meetings. Please attend several open meetings so you ll personally know some of the good things about A.A. Closed meetings are just that, open only to A.A. members. Remember the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Well, that s all it takes, a desire. Closed meetings are usually discussion meetings or study groups. A discussion meeting consists of the choosing of a topic followed by a discussion of that topic and how each participant relates it to their sobriety, or difficulties with sobriety. 5

6 A study meeting typically focuses on either the Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) or the Twelve and Twelve (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions). Some study meetings do both, continually going through the Big Book, then the Twelve and Twelve, and then repeating the process. Some study groups take individual steps and work on one at each meeting. Other study groups focus on various A.A. publications to gain in their awareness of the A.A. program and how it works. Each meeting is known as a group, and most are registered with the A.A. General Service Office (GSO), although, remember there are no membership rosters. A detailed study of how the loose organization of A.A. works from the GSO all the way down to the group level is beyond this presentation, but there are numerous materials available from with this information. The important point is that each group is autonomous, and the group conscience dictates how the group works. Another important point is that no one present at any meeting has to share, or even speak, if they are not comfortable doing so. A newcomer may simply say, I ll just listen and they will be welcomed and accepted on that basis. As the newcomer begins to learn and enjoy the program they may want to choose a home group where they help with the set-up for meetings, making coffee, putting out materials, and greeting other newcomers. This is one of the most beneficial and rewarding parts of membership, the fellowship with others who share a common bond. Again, remember, even if you are a home group member there s no roster. You may share contact information with other home group members to coordinate meeting preparation, but rest assured they all want to honor the anonymity of the participants. Who we see here stays here, but what we hear here we may share, anonymously. 6

7 Proof of attendance at meetings is at the discretion of each group. Many groups allow the chair (a rotating position) to initial or sign an attendance slip that has been furnished by the member or the court. This slip can be given to the member, or can be mailed back to the appropriate authority if a self-addressed stamped envelope is provided. There is no set procedure, each group is autonomous. Meeting schedules are available on-line for every area of North Carolina, as well as all other areas around the world. All can be accessed from For North Carolina the web link is: Carolina&country=United%20States A review of the meeting schedule for Area 51 (NC) District 12 (Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties) revealed that there are eighty-three (83) different meetings each week. These consist of 5 open speaker meetings, 26 open discussion meetings, 11 open study meetings, 26 closed discussion meetings, 3 closed study meetings, 6 Hispanic meetings, 5 meetings in correctional facilities and 1 meeting in a treatment center. These meetings start as early as 9:30 AM with the last one starting at 8 PM, and there are meetings seven days a week. Times overlap for many of these, but you can see that even a small area like District 12 offers a substantial amount of support to the recovering alcoholic. Most meetings are non-smoking; however, there are a few meetings in District 12 that allow smoking. 7

8 A.A. groups offer opportunities to celebrate special days without alcohol. District 12 offers two large gatherings each year, one during June when Bill W. and Dr. Bob are honored with Founders Day or Unity Day as some call it. This day usually consists of workshops, a covered-dish dinner, a speaker meeting, and lots of fellowship. The other is the Alcathon, held each New Year s Eve. Alcathon is a 24-hour event that includes food, fun, fellowship, speaker meetings, discussion meetings, and even dancing; all without alcohol. A.A. members see that life can be fun without alcohol. Here s what A.A. does not do: *A.A. does not solicit members or furnish any initial motivation for alcoholics to recover. It is an individual choice program. *A.A. does not offer any medical or psychological diagnoses or prognoses; they do not provide any detox or nursing services, hospitalization, drugs, or any medical or psychiatric treatment. *A.A. does not promote any specific treatment program or facility. *A.A. does not sponsor any research. There are no attendance records, case histories, membership directories or other sign-in sheets. *A.A. does not offer any religious services, promote any religious dogma, or support any denomination. *A.A. does not engage in any education about alcohol other than the published A.A. materials. *A.A. does not provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, or any other welfare or social services. *A.A. does not provide domestic or vocational counseling. *A.A. does not accept any money for its services, or any contributions from non-a.a. sources. 8

9 *A.A. does not provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc. Although many A.A. meetings are held at religious facilities there is no connection to any such facility. A.A. groups are encouraged to pay rent to such facilities, and to distance themselves from the facility if the host organization attempts to associate itself with A.A. A.A. members are not qualified to instill in your clients a desire to stop drinking. They must come to A.A. with that desire. It is your job as professional counselors to help them gain that desire. A.A. does offer your clients a daily means of reinforcing their desire to remain sober. It offers them a cup of coffee and an open ear to share their struggles and their journey into sobriety. Your clients can benefit from hearing other people with the same problems share their journey and all its pitfalls and successes. A.A. offers your clients a new group of friends who share a common goal, not drinking. An A.A. member can be there for your client when you cannot; but with the assurance that they will not undermine your efforts. Alcoholics Anonymous and professional counselors share a common purpose; to help the alcoholic stop drinking and lead a healthy, productive life. A.A. is in a position to serve as a resource to you through its policy of cooperation but not affiliation. A.A. can serve as a source of personal experience with alcoholism as an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics. You are encouraged to contact your local coordinator for Cooperation with the Professional Community (CPC). Hopefully each district within North Carolina has one, but if not you can visit for the Area 51 coordinator. You are welcome to me at for help. 9

10 All the publications quoted and used for this presentation are available from The following list is offered as a suggested reference library that should be available in any alcoholism addiction counselor s office. Pamphlets: If You Are a Professional This is A.A. Frequently Asked Questions About A.A. Is A.A. For You? A.A. for the Woman Too Young? (for teenagers) A Newcomer Asks A.A. For The Black and African American Alcoholic A.A. For The Older Alcoholic, Never Too Late A Member s Eye View of A.A. Do You Think You Are Different? Periodicals: About A.A. (Newsletter for Helping Professionals) The A.A. Grapevine (the international monthly journal of A.A.) And if you have not read them you should: Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions 10

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