Anonymity: Our Spiritual Foundation

Presentation given by Erica C., Delegate Panel 67, Area 10 Colorado at the 2017 Southwest Regional Forum, San Antonio, TX

The first time I met with my first sponsor to begin Step work, I arrived fifteen minutes early at the restaurant where we had agreed to meet. I showed up with my brand-new, hot-off-the-press fourth edition Big Book complete with blue and yellow dust jacket. After I ordered my coffee, I placed the book on the edge of the table so that the waitstaff and other customers might see what a sorry state I was in. Poor little Erica, condemned to a life in Alcoholics Anonymous!

When my sponsor arrived, she took a look at the book, looked at me, and told me I needed to put a new cover on it—one that would conceal its title when I was out in public. Conveniently, the dust jacket is sheer white on the inside—I turned it inside out and wrapped my book in it while my new sponsor explained how anonymity was the spiritual foundation of all of our principles in A.A. She said I had no right to break my anonymity as an A.A. member before I had had any experience in recovery to demonstrate A.A. principles to others. Moreover, I never had the right to break another member’s anonymity, including hers, which I had broken by implication when I showed off my Big Book to all of the patrons in the restaurant. Then she asked me to read the essays on Traditions Eleven and Twelve with a laser focus on the principle of humility and self-sacrifice.

As clueless as I had been that morning, I read those two essays in the evening and felt deeply that humility and self-sacrifice—the abandonment of personal distinction inside or outside of the Fellowship as a function of my experience as an alcoholic—were practices that I sorely lacked. I was keenly aware of my desperate need for a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism. And through the guidance of this sponsor and our literature, I learned that one way to assure that I am practicing a genuine humility is to maintain my personal anonymity as an A.A. member at the public level, to be rigorous about practicing the principle of anonymity within the Fellowship, and to continually avoid personal distinction within A.A.

It is easy to think of anonymity simply as a matter of confidentiality. Our anonymity promise assures newcomers they can join the Fellowship without exposure to public ridicule or the stigma associated with alcoholism. There is, however, another dimension of anonymity—the spirit of the principle itself. The spirit of anonymity focuses less on confidentiality and more on humility and self-sacrifice. This can be much trickier because of its subtlety and its demand that we each, as A.A. members, constantly examine our motives in the way that we relate to one another.

As our Big Book says, one way that we help each other is by disclosing our shortcomings, so that others might identify with us and therefore reflect on their own practices. So in the interest of disclosure, I will share a few ways that I have acted outside of the spirit of anonymity as an A.A. member.

First… I once shared a sobriety anniversary with my friends on Facebook. Because my post was private, this act did not break the letter of anonymity. However, because my motive in posting the anniversary was a desire for praise and accolades for this milestone, I did break the spirit of anonymity.

Second… I have put A.A. members on a pedestal and sought prestige by associating with people whom I deemed important in the Fellowship. Again, this has nothing to do with confidentiality, but it reflects a lack of humility on my part as I seek to place others above myself or myself above others.

Third… I have told someone that I was in A.A. to elicit interest, intrigue, or sympathy. Because this was a personal disclosure, I did not break anonymity at the public level. However, my motives were not selfless, as I was seeking personal distinction as a function of my membership in A.A.

Fourth… I have discussed my work and professional life with A.A. members to seem special. Again, this was a subtle attempt to set myself apart from my fellow A.A. members—to obtain special distinction within A.A. One of the advisory actions from the 67th General Service Conference is to add more discussion about the spirit of anonymity, humility, and self-sacrifice to the pamphlet “Understanding Anonymity.” Although the letter of anonymity is simple—we do not disclose our membership in A.A. at the public level—the humility and self-sacrifice involved in the spirit of anonymity provide potential for a lifetime of continuous spiritual growth, both for our individual members and for the Fellowship as a whole.

A.A.W.S. Announces Licensing of Meeting Guide

November 2, 2018

Dear trusted servant,

We are pleased to announce that Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., has licensed the Meeting Guide technology. Meeting Guide was launched in November 2015 and provides a platform for local A.A. entities (Areas, Intergroup/Central Offices, Districts, etc.) to post their local A.A. meetings and currently provides information to more than 100,000 users, reflecting some 86,000 meetings. Since the meeting information is all made available through the app’s mobile-friendly interface, those seeking a meeting have a simple, one-stop place to look.

The collated meeting information will be available in the future through G.S.O.’s website,, and will be a component of the proposed A.A.W.S. app. The intent of incorporating the Meeting Guide component is to make it easier for members to find A.A. meetings.

A.A. Intergroup/Central Offices, Districts and Areas that provide online meeting lists are invited to have their meetings displayed through the Meeting Guide. If you are already synchronizing your meetings through the Meeting Guide app there is no additional action necessary. When the new website launches at some point in 2019, your information will be seamlessly included.

Please note the meeting information database will operate completely independently from the Fellowship New Vision (FNV) database that is currently supported by G.S.O. Meeting Guide is a separate tool that offers A.A. entities full control of their local meeting information and collects it
in one place. Users of this new portal will be linked to the service entity providing the information.

Participation is, of course, voluntary, but the more connected the service is to the Fellowship as a whole, the more powerful a tool it will become.  The current listing of Intergroups and Central Offices and other local entities in “A.A. Near You” on will not be impacted. Those wishing to contact A.A. in their community will still have access to the information that is currently available on the site.

We have developed instructions about how to connect with this new resource at If you have any questions about this initiative or how to synchronize your meetings to this database, dedicated support is in place.

We welcome your input and suggestions.

In fellowship,

G. Gregory T., General Manager
A.A. General Service Office


Service Sponsorship – What Is It?

The following was reprinted from pages 25-27 the pamphlet P-17: Questions and Answers on Sponsorship with permission from A.A. World Services, Inc.

A.A. service is anything whatever that helps us to reach a fellow sufferer — ranging all the way from the Twelfth Step itself to a ten-cent phone call and a cup of coffee, and to A.A.’s General Service Office for national and international action. The sum total of all these services is our Third Legacy of Service. — The A.A. Service Manual/Twelve Concepts for World Service, page S1.

Sponsorship in A.A. is basically the same, whether helping another individual’s recovery or service to a group. It can be defined as one alcoholic who has made some progress in recovery and/or performance in service, sharing this experience with another alcoholic who is just starting the journey. Both types of service spring from the spiritual aspects of the program.

Individuals may feel that they have more to offer in one area than in another. It is the service sponsor’s responsibility to present the various aspects of service: setting up a meeting; working on committees; participating in conferences, etc. In this matter it is important for the service sponsor to help individuals understand the distinction between serving the needs of the Fellowship and meeting the personal needs of another group member.

A service sponsor is usually someone who is knowledgeable in A.A. history and has a strong background in the service structure. The A.A. member is introduced to a new language: G.S.R., D.C.M., area assembly, minority opinion. They will become familiar with the Traditions, Concepts and Warranties, as well as The A.A. Service Manual/Twelve Concepts for World Service, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age and other A.A. literature.

The service sponsor begins by encouraging the member to become active in their home group — coffee, literature, cleanup, attending business or intergroup meetings, etc. The service sponsor should keep in mind that all members will not have the desire or qualifications to move beyond certain levels and, thus, the service sponsor might help find tasks appropriate to individuals’ skills and interests. Whatever level of service one performs, all are toward the same end — sharing the overall responsibilities of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eventually, the service sponsor encourages the individual member interested in this form of service to attend district meetings and to read about the history and structure of Alcoholics Anonymous. At this point, the individual beginning this work should begin to understand the responsibilities of service work, as well as feel the satisfaction of yet another form of Twelfth Step work. Such individuals should be encouraged to take an active part in district activities and consider being elected to alternate positions in the district so as to learn about the responsibilities of various jobs in the service structure.

During this process it is important for the individual to continue to learn about the Three Legacies — Recovery, Unity and Service, and to understand that the principle of rotation not only allows them to move on in service, but also gives newer members the privilege of serving. Rotation also allows them to understand that no one should hold on to a position of trust long enough to feel a proprietary interest and thereby discourage newcomers from service.

Co-founder Dr. Bob said, “I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons:

1. Sense of duty.
2. It is a pleasure.
3. Because in doing so I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me.
4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.”

The basis of all sponsorship is to lead by example. Service sponsors can impart to their sponsees the pleasure of involvement in the work of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is best done by stressing the spiritual nature of service work and by pointing out the usefulness of simple footwork and faith.

Now, through knowledge and experience, the newer member is aware that service is our most important product after sobriety. With this knowledge, the individual is able to share their vision with others and ensure the future of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If God Spoke to A.A… He might have said…

“Into your weak and feeble hands I have entrusted a Power beyond your estimate.

To you have been given that which has been denied the most learned of your fellows. Not to scientists or statesman, not to the wives or for I have mothers, not even into My priests and ministers have I given this gift of healing other alcoholics, which I entrust to you. It must be used unselfishly. It carries with it grave responsibility.

No day can be too long, no demands upon your time can be too urgent, no case to pitiable, no task too hard, no effort to great. It must be used with tolerance, for I have restricted its application to no race, no creed and no denomination. Personal criticism you must expect, lack of appreciation will be between yourselves, or your organization whose success depends on numbers, money and position.

These material things are no parts of your creed. The success of material organization comes from the pooling of joint assets; yours from the union of mutual liabilities. Appeal for membership in material organizations is based upon a boastful recital of their accomplishments; you’re on the humble admission of weakness; the motto of successful commercial enterprise is: “He profits most who serves the best.”

The wealth of material organizations, when they take their inventory, is measured by what they have left; yours when you take a moral inventory, by what you have given.

Published by the Cleveland District Office of
Alcoholics Anonymous

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Unity, Diversity, Inclusion

2018 SWRAASA Presentation by Rick W, Area 65, Panel 67 at the 2018 Southwest Regional A.A. Service Assembly (SWRAASA) in Branson, MO on October 6, 2018.

Hello family, my name is Rick, and I’m an alcoholic.  My sobriety date is November 17, 1987 and it is my honor and privilege to serve as the GSR for the Grapevine Unity Group in Grapevine, TX in the Northeast Texas Area 65.

I want to start off with a blanket statement:  “The capacity of Alcoholics Anonymous to accept change – has been central to its ability to remain relevant.”

So, what does a statement like that really mean?  In short form, it means that we have a responsibility to the future of our Society, it’s trusted servants, it’s members, and it’s potential members – to not only be well-informed about who we really are as a people, but who we wish to become, through supporting & sustaining a Fellowship that reflects the diversity found with in it – in all it’s corners.

The very fabric of success in our 12-Step program is founded on our ability to accept change.  When Bill Wilson gave us his two-word definition of what aSpiritual Experienceis on page 567 of our Big Book –“personality change” –in that sentiment alone, we were called to embrace and begin the process of accepting change in our personal lives.  So, I ask you, how is the Fellowship any different?

In Bill’s closing comments at our 1955 Convention in St. Louis, he stated, “Our growth as individuals has depended upon a healthy process of trial and error.  So will our growth as a fellowship.  Such is the universal penalty for the failure to go on growing.  Just as each A.A. must continue to take his moral inventory and act upon it, so must our whole society do if we are to survive and if we are to serve usefully and well.”

Long have we been a group of people that have both embraced change – AND railed against it at the exact same time!  The more activist natured of us want to change everything – whether it be the brand of coffee we use in the pot, or the kinds of toilet paper we use AT the ___!  Conversely, we go to great lengths to make sure that we are making our home groups as consistently welcoming as they can be – creating no barriers of any kind for that sick and suffering alcoholic who’s about to come through our doors.

Our willingness to look at the topic of Unity, Diversity and Inclusion today ALSO calls us to be willing to have the hard conversations.  We need to be willing to talk about those things that have long been a source of fear for so many of us.  We fear those things we don’t understand – so we don’t talk about them.  So, I have a question for you.  Show of hands, how many of you know the REAL source of our Third Tradition, the real source?  Years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of Barry L., author of “Living Sober” when he spoke on “The Origin of the Third Tradition” at the 50th Anniversary Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Montreal in July 1985.

Barry talked about how Bill wrote in the 12×12 these words,“On the A.A. calendar it was Year Two. In that time, nothing could be seen but two struggling, nameless groups of alcoholics trying to hold their faces up to the light.  A newcomer appeared at one of these groups, knocked on the door and asked to be let in. He talked frankly with that group’s oldest member. He soon proved that his was a desperate case, and that above all he wanted to get well.  “But,” he asked, “will you let me join your group? Since I am the victim of another addiction even worse stigmatized than alcoholism, you may not want me among you. Or will you?”

Barry then talked about who that man was and what his other addiction even worse stigmatized than alcoholism was.  How many of you knew that our Third Tradition, that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking was built squarely on the back of a gay man?  We have been having this diversity conversation for years – and we need to continue to have it today.  Not just about gays, lesbians and transgendered members in the Fellowship, but also about accessibility issues for our otherly-abled members, for our young people (which are the future of our Society),for members in the armed services, and the list goes on ad infinitum.  We need to have these conversations at our Areas, our Districts and our home groups so that we are developing practices that help us remain a welcoming lot – or I suggest – relevant.  (Side note: isn’t that what group inventories are, or should be used for?  Think about it!)

I found it interesting that when I looked up the definition of UNITY in the dictionary, it gave two very different definitions.  The first was, “the state or fact of being united or combined into one”,but the second was, “absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character.”  By God’s grace, the Fellowship of A.A. has informally adopted the first definition.

Bill Wilson tells us in Tradition One, “the unity of Alcoholics Anonymous is the most cherished quality our Society has.  Our lives, the lives of all to come, depend squarely upon it. We stay whole, or A.A. dies.” He goes onto say, “Does this mean that in A.A. the individual doesn’t count for much?  Is he to be dominated by his group and swallowed up in it?  We may certainly answer this question with a loud No! There is none, which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk and act as he wishes.  No A.A. can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled.”

So, do I get to bring MY better way to the service work I am doing?  Do I get to offer suggestions on possible alternatives to the way things have always been done?  Sure I do – BUT I need to remember to offer those suggestions from the standpoint of how it can be beneficial to the whole and not just beneficial to me.  I need to remember that there are always other points of view that are valid as well.  I need to remember that there are other very smart and talented A.A.’s who can bring wonderful ideas to the table.  I also need to remember that in A.A., there is always room for the minority or dissenting opinion, for sometimes that minority opinion could sway the group conscience in a way that we could never have dreamed of.

I love that the Traditions Checklist asks me to ask myself how I’m doing at that.  What am I doing to promote unity in the Fellowship of A.A.?  Am I allowing diversity and inclusion to be a part of A.A., or am I keeping my mouth closed in my group conscience and then campaigning against it outside the room to fellow members?

The diversity we already have in our Fellowship is one of our greatest assets.  Bill said it best when he said, “we are a group of people who would normally not mix.”

We’ve heard people say that a million times as a badge of honor, yet when given the opportunity to embrace that very same DIVERSITY– they find every GOOD reason why it shouldn’t be so.  But as Bill also said, “sometimes – the GOOD is the enemy of the best.”

One of the primary tenants and most key components of  INCLUSION is lack of judgment – or the eradication of judgment.  I would suggest that in this conversation of unity, diversity and inclusion we’re having here today – there are not just two “A’s” (A.A.), but that there are three.  For our Society to get to a point where we are doing not just enough to get by, but where we are going to great lengths, greater lengths than what has gotten us here – to THIS day – we must begin acknowledging that inclusion truly does have three A’s:

We need to accept, adapt and adjust:

  • Accept that everything DOES happen in God’s world exactly like it’s supposed to…
  • Adapt to the ever changing face of the real alcoholic walking through our doors… and
  • Adjust NOT the spiritual principles that got you and I to this point in our recoveries, but adjust our attitudes and beliefs that keep others from having that very same gift given to them.

When I had the honor of serving as Chairperson for South Eastern New York – Area 49 in Panel 65, I met some wonderful trusted servants.  One of them was Past NE Regional Trustee, J. Gary L.  Gary was given the privilege of delivering the keynote address at the 2015 General Service Conference.  In his comments to the body, he talked about some of the challenges facing Alcoholics Anonymous, and how those challenges were of a nature and magnitude that our founders could never have even imagined – specifically regarding DIVERSITY IN MEMBERSHIP and DIVERITY IN SERVICE.

This is what he said:

“While AA is no longer the collection of white males that it was in the beginning, our membership does not yet reflect the diversity of society at large.  If we believe that the disease of alcoholism does not acknowledge the boundaries of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, economics, education, disability, or sexual orientation, then we have much to do in terms of making our program attractive to those who are underrepresented in our rooms. Having said that, however, are we willing to invest the effort, the resources, and the open-mindedness necessary to create a welcoming, safe, and nurturing environment for everyone? If the only requirement for membership is simply a desire to stop drinking, then what are the impediments that are keeping so many who need us from not coming in? 

If our general membership is not reflective of society as a whole in terms of diversity, our trusted servants seem even further removed in this regard.  In 1967, Eastern Pennsylvania sent Louis R. to the General Service Conference.  Lou was the first African American Delegate to participate in service at this level.  It is said that Bill W. shed tears when he first greeted Lou.  That historic moment opened the door to at least greater racial diversity within our service structure. 

But how far have we come in the intervening years?  As far as we should?  As far as we can? I invite you to simply look around.”

So I’ll say it one last time – the capacity of Alcoholics Anonymous to accept change – has been central to its ability to remain relevant.  For us as a Society to remain relevant, we must be willing to open our hearts and minds to the possibility, the REALITY, that we are all different – AND – at the exact same time, all the same.  We are here for one purpose and one purpose only – to get, keep and give away this precious gift that has been so freely given us.

So, I challenge each and every one of us in this room today – let us SPEAK unity, diversity and inclusion with our lips – and let us REALIZE unity, diversity and inclusion through our actions, so that never again does an alcoholic come to us and not feel a part of.

Thank you for allowing me to serve.