Is a Member of Alcoholics Anonymous?
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., August 1946
first edition of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous"
makes this brief statement about membership: "The
only requirement for membership is an honest desire to
stop drinking. We are not allied with any particular faith,
sect, or denomination nor do we oppose anyone. We simply
wish to be helpful to those who are afflicted." This
expressed our feelings as of 1939, the year our book was
that day all kinds of experiments with membership have
been tried. The number of membership rules which have
been made (and mostly broken!) are legion. Two or three
years ago the General Office asked the groups to list
their membership rules and send them in. After they arrived
we set them all down. They took a great many sheets of
paper. A little reflection upon these many rules brought
us to an astonishing conclusion. If all of these edicts
had been in force everywhere at once it would have been
practically impossible for any alcoholic to have ever
joined Alcoholics Anonymous. About nine-tenths of our
oldest and best members could never have got by!
some cases we would have been too discouraged by the demands
made upon us. Most of the early members of A.A. would
have been thrown out because they slipped too much, because
their morals were too bad, because they had mental as
well as alcoholic difficulties. Or, believe it or not.
because they did not come from the so-called better classes
of society. We oldsters could have been excluded for our
failure to read the book "Alcoholics Anonymous"
or the refusal of our sponsor to vouch for us as a candidate.
And so on ad infinitum. The way our "worthy"
alcoholics have sometimes tried to judge the "less
worthy" is, as we look back on it, rather comical.
Imagine, if you can, one alcoholic judging another!
one time or another most A.A. groups go on rule-making
benders. Naturally enough, too, as a group commences to
grow rapidly it is confronted with many alarming problems.
Panhandlers begin to panhandle. Members get drunk and
sometimes get others drunk with them. Those with mental
difficulties throw depressions or break out into paranoid
denunciations of fellow members. Gossips gossip and righteously
denounce the local Wolves and Red Riding Hoods. Newcomers
argue that they aren't alcoholics at all, but keep coming
around anyway. "Slippees" trade on the fair
name of A.A. in order to get themselves jobs. Others refuse
to accept all the Twelve Steps of the recovery program.
Some go still further, saying that the "God business"
is bunk and quite unnecessary. Under these conditions
our conservative program. abiding members get scared.
These appalling conditions must be controlled, they think,
else A.A. will surely go to rack and ruin. They view with
alarm for the good of the movement!
this point the group enters the rule and regulation phase.
Charters, bylaws and membership rules are excitedly passed
and authority is granted committees to filter out undesirables
and discipline the evildoers. Then the Group Elders, now
clothed with authority, commence to get busy. Recalcitrants
are cast into the outer darkness; respectable busy. bodies
throw stones at the sinners. As for the so-called sinners,
they either insist on staying around, or else they form
a new group of their own. Or maybe they join a more congenial
and less intolerant crowd in their neighborhood. The elders
soon discover that the rules and regulations aren't working
very well. Most attempts at enforcement generate such
waves of dissension and intolerance in the group that
this condition is presently recognized to be worse for
the group life than the very worst that the worst ever
a time fear and intolerance subside. The group survives
unscathed. Everybody has learned a great deal. So it is
that few of us are any longer afraid of what any newcomer
can do to our A.A. reputation or effectiveness. Those
who slip, those who panhandle, those who scandalize, those
with mental twists, those who rebel at the program, those
who trade on the A.A. reputation-all such persons seldom
harm an A.A. group for long. Some of these have become
our most respected and best loved. Some have remained
to try our patience. sober nevertheless. Others have drifted
away. We have begun to regard these not as menaces, but
rather as our teachers. They oblige us to cultivate patience,
tolerance, and humility. We finally see that they are
only people sicker than the rest of us, that we who condemn
them are the Pharisees whose false righteousness does
our group the deeper spiritual damage.
older A.A. shudders when he remembers the names of persons
he once condemned; people he confidently predicted would
never sober up; persons he was sure ought to be thrown
out of A.A. for the good of the movement. Now that some
of these very persons have been sober for years, and may
be numbered among his best friends, the old-timer thinks
to himself, "What if everybody had judged these people
as I once did? What if A.A. had slammed its door in their
faces? Where would they be now?"
is why we all judge the newcomer less and less. If alcohol
is an uncontrollable problem to him and he wishes to do
something about it, that is enough for us. We care not
whether his case is severe or light, whether his morals
are good or bad, whether he has other complications or
not. Our A.A. door stands wide open, and if he passes
through it and commences to do anything at all about his
problem, he is considered a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
He signs nothing, agrees to nothing, promises nothing.
We demand nothing. He joins us on his own say-so. Nowadays,
in most groups, he doesn't even have to admit he is an
alcoholic. He can join A.A. on the mere suspicion that
he may be one, that he may already show the fatal symptoms
of our malady.
course this is not the universal state of affairs throughout
A.A. Membership rules still exist. If a member persists
in coming to meetings drunk he may be led outside; we
may ask someone to take him away. But in most groups he
can come back next day, if sober. Though he may be thrown
out of a club, nobody thinks of throwing him out of A.A.
He is a member as long as he says he is. While this broad
concept of A.A. membership is not yet unanimous, it does
represent the main current of A.A. thought today. We do
not wish to deny anyone his chance to recover from alcoholism.
We wish to be just as inclusive as we can, never exclusive.
this trend signifies something much deeper than a mere
change of attitude on the question of membership. Perhaps
it means that we are losing all fear of those violent
emotional storms which sometimes cross our alcoholic world;
perhaps it bespeaks our confidence that every storm will
be followed by a calm; a calm which is more understanding,
more compassionate, more tolerant than any we ever knew
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., August 1946
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