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A Great Whole — Tradition One

Editor’s note: In Alcoholics Anonymous, we grow spiritually by working the 12 Steps with a sponsor. Groups come together (and survive) by applying the 12 Traditions. The 12 concepts help us navigate service work (and find helpful principles for all moments in life). In 2023, the ArenA newsletter invited fellows to share about the 12 Steps and different spiritual principles. This year, we’ll hear fellows share their experiences with the 12 Traditions. To mark the first month of the year, Sara-Rivka kicks us off with her thoughts on Tradition One. In a second story, Dereld shares how he revitalized a meeting on a military base in Germany.


Tradition One (The Long Form): Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence, our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.


In 1776 Benjamin Franklin said, “Gentlemen, either we all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Unity. It’s a thing, people.

Alcoholism is an ugly, fatal disease that kills the spirit long before it kills the mind. When I walked into my first A.A. meeting my wounded spirit immediately began to revive. There was laughter. Smiling faces. Holding hands at the end. A surge of hope cut through my pain.

I didn’t know that unity was a major theme of this world-wide organization. However, it was clear that this group of people got along with each other; there was an ease, a lack of tension, a feeling of consensus, a message: We are here, together, now, to help each other. Of course, my impression was that of a newcomer who had never attended a business meeting. Ah. The passionate arguing and disagreements over essential issues. For example, should the chairs be placed in a circle or in straight rows? I didn’t understand the deep attachment to either side, but I had a hunch that these people were not Buddhists; they were attached like superglue to their belief that a) they were right and b) it mattered. Imagine my surprise when, after tabling the issue and revisiting it several times, it was decided to place the chairs in concentric rows, a semi-circle as it were. A compromise. Yes, if we don’t get along, we are in mortal danger. How wonderful that learning to play well with others (many of us failed this in kindergarten) is a lovely by-product of unity seeking; an aid to the ego deflation necessary for sobriety. So, if you have never been to an A.A. business meeting: Hop on over. We’re holding a seat for you. All you risk losing is your overinflated sense of self-importance and the disease of alcoholism. You didn’t need them anyway.

– Sara-Rivka Y.


Back in 2009 I used to attend meetings on a military installation in Germany whenever we flew back to visit my wife’s family. The meeting was open for years and I was happy to have a place to go for fellowship and recovery. Around 2016 I checked the AA Central European website to contact someone and let them know that I would be back on vacation. I could no longer find the meeting listed online and when I messaged  the previous contact person he told me there was no one left to open the meeting so it ended up closing. I had always shared in meetings that when I got there I would start the meeting again. 

I was stationed here in Germany and it is where I met my wife. We ended up moving to the USA in 1990 but decided we wanted to move back to Germany when I retired in 2020. We sold everything we had and moved in July 2020. 

I started looking for meetings again shortly before our move and what do you know, a new English speaking meeting had opened up in a village not far from the Military base. The contact person (Laura) had my email and when Covid  hit in March 2020  they started having meetings online. It was so nice to know I would have a meeting to go to when I arrived. I really got to know the members of the group well but we were still under Covid lock-down when I arrived. I was so happy to be able to give my contact person (Laura) a hug at our first face to face meeting. She asked me if I could take the keys and start opening the meeting when she moved back to the States. Of course I would! 

A  new military member had arrived who was also in AA and wanted to start a meeting on the base. We got a hold of the Pastor on base who offered us a room in the exact same building where the meetings were held all those years ago. Our group has been open now for a year on the base and things have come full circle. From our Big Book I have learned that if I place my reliance on God I will be shown how to create the fellowship I crave. The power of AA never ceases to amaze me. 

– Dereld P. 

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