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A spiritual entity — Tradition Five

FiveEach Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose—that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

There are four salient questions that arise out of this Tradition: What is a group? Why is Tradition V necessary? What is an alcoholic? Who still suffers?

What is a group?

As a spiritual entity, the group comprises of two or more alcoholics with a primary purpose (and some may add that all they need are a resentment and a coffee pot). The group has ONE primary purpose. Bill Wilson worded it like this:

‘An AA group, as such, cannot take on all the personal problems of its members, let alone the problems of the whole world. Sobriety—freedom from alcohol—through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps, is the sole purpose of an AA group.’ (Problems Other Than Alcohol, February 1958)

While teaching and practicing the Twelve Steps to achieve Sobriety is the primary purpose, AA and its members may still be impactful in other ways, for example, educating the local community about alcoholism, communicating with local health practitioners, and providing a community of mutual support for other alcoholics.

Why is Tradition V necessary?

Other purposes or my own personal agenda will water down the potency of the primary purpose. I find this shows up when I share facts, narratives, or other anecdotes about my life other than to illustrate the application of the program, or if I share negative emotions to secure temporary relief. Furthermore, sharing about politics, social issues, therapy, religion, yoga, other people, other groups, etc. can negatively impact the efficacy of carrying the group’s message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

What, then, is an alcoholic?

The two conditions are outlined in the first paragraph of We Agnostics:

“In the preceding chapters you have learned something of alcoholism. We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 44).

This suggests that anyone who meets either of these conditions classifies as an alcoholic. The Third Tradition is also worded to encompass anyone who has a desire to stop drinking, though the core presumption is that an alcoholic is anyone who wants to stop drinking but can’t.

Who still suffers?

This can mean alcoholics who have yet to find AA, newcomers who have yet to recover, and longer-sober people who are suffering.

Applying Tradition V to sharing and in my life

If the primary purpose is to carry the message, I have to have the message to carry it, however, as an individual, I am not responsible for carrying the group’s entire message. I share one part of it. Newcomers can share the message to the extent they have acquired it. Having them share has the added benefit of letting other, perhaps more experienced members know who is in the room, thus allowing them to adjust their shares accordingly. Furthermore, it encourages a sense of participation in the meeting, belonging, being on equal footing with more experienced members, and service. I share from my own personal experience and refrain from speculating on parts of the program I have yet to encounter.

In my personal life, my purpose is broader than the group’s purposes, but it encompasses my contribution to it. This requires me to stay close to my Higher Power and “perform his work well” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 63).

I have a two-fold mission first outlined in Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, 1) we tried to carry this message to alcoholic[s], and 2) practice these principles in all our affairs. For this to take hold, other purposes including the seven areas of self (pride, self-esteem, etc.) and the seven traps of the ego (sex, money, power, comfort, etc.) must be renounced. Ultimately, I practice Tradition V by practicing Step Twelve as a home group member (service, consistent attendance, fellowshipping, contribution, decision-making), a sponsor, and by being of service within the service structure. In a nutshell, the primary purpose is about giving.

– Adam

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