In Tradition Five, Alcoholics Anonymous admonishes that, “Each group has but one primary purpose-to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
We don’t have to look very far to see nearly endless problems in the world. On a large scale, political and financial turmoil are ruining countries. Closer to home, any one of us may have a long list of physical or emotional problems. Within an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting room we will definitely find folks with drinking problems. We may also find members who have issues with drugs. Others may struggle with psychological problems such as depression or bi-polar disorder.
What do all the problems of the world have to do with Alcoholics Anonymous?
The mandate of each AA group is to do one thing and only one thing…help alcoholics deal with their alcohol problems. They are surely sympathetic to the other problems plaguing their members. However, they are only concerned with the problem they have conquered themselves…alcoholism.
The great paradox of Alcoholics Anonymous is demonstrated by Tradition five. The paradox is that in order for any alcoholic to keep the solution they have found, they must give it away. The “message” of Alcoholics Anonymous is that a solution to the alcoholism problem exists. It involves following a set of steps (the 12 steps) and living by a set of guidelines (the 12 traditions). It involves being rigorously honest with oneself and making a real effort to right the wrongs of the past. Finally, it involves helping other alcoholics who are still suffering.
For the most part, people want to be helpful. I really believe that. When we hear of someone struggling with a problem we want to help. Many of us jump to give comfort and advice. But, when we do not have an appropriate frame of reference, our advice may do more harm than good.
Over a meal with friends recently one member of the group shared that he was having trouble with his wife. The details are not important, but he was quite upset. Another friend who was present quickly piped up, saying something like, “you should dump that crazy woman immediately”.
The irony was that the guy who gave the advice had never been married. He had no idea about the real struggles that go on within a marriage. He had nothing to share in this particular conversation.
Dealing with an active drunk is similar. All the books and theory in the world are useless. But, when that alcoholic encounters someone who can say, “yeah I was the exact same way”, the lights sometimes come on. The primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is for alcoholics to carry the message of recovery to other alcoholics.