Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as AA, is probably the best-known model of recovery for helping people who have a problem with alcohol. As an organisation, it has been around since the early mid-1930s, originating in the United States but quickly growing and spreading across the world.
Whilst most people have probably heard about AA, most of its inner workings and language are really only understood by those who are members of it, and attend AA meetings.
The anonymity aspect of AA it is often confused with a degree of secrecy that people who have a drink problem often develop as part of their life.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Anonymity
Anonymity really has two purposes.
One is to give anyone looking for help a degree of space where they can do this without other people knowing, unless they choose to tell them. It is more about privacy than secrecy, and over time most people will be open about their membership of AA to families and friends, but more cautious about telling people that they work with or their employer.
There is a recommendation that people in public life should not disclose their membership of AA, both for their benefit and the benefit of AA. The reasons for this, which are largely historical, are more fully explained in the 12 traditions of AA.
The other aspect of anonymity is one that encourages people to see that their own personal development, and the work they do with other people, as being done in the context of real love and service, as opposed to being a part their own identity as a person.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is the name of the organisation, but in fact the name was taken from the book of the same name. The book was published first during the early growth of the organisation, and once the name was settled upon, the organisation quickly became referred to as Alcoholics Anonymous.
The book quickly became known as as the big book, and there are a few very specific reasons for this, which can be found in AA Comes of Age and other literature that details the early history of AA.
The importance of the big book lies in that it has always been the core experience of the organisation, and the essence of the book has not really changed since its original publication. It still can act as a guide to a process that can save people’s lives, and its integrity lies in its experience.
There are also a number of editions of the book available online, this is a free PDF version.
Finding local AA meetings
For most people in AA, going to meetings is the lifeblood of their recovery. What happens in a meeting, and the different types of meeting can vary, but the availability of meetings and finding them for most people is relatively simple.
Someone who is new may not want a local meeting, but may want to find a meeting many many miles away from where they live and far away from anyone who might know them. Someone who has been in a for a longer period of time may want more local meetings where they live.
People who travel, either in North America or across the world, can also use the availability of meetings as part of their structure when they travel, either in big cities or in more rural areas.
AA Meetings Online
Even before the pandemic, there were some meetings that were online only, that had grown up with the development of the Internet. It is fair to say there were probably fairly marginal, and for most people probably quite difficult to access.
The pandemic and Zoom changed all that. For better or worse, online meetings sprung up almost overnight, allowing people to continue to have some type of access to other alcoholics, and to be able to continue their recovery with online meetings.
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
The other thing that most people know about AA apart from meetings, is that there is something called a 12 step program. Again this can be quite confusing for people who have never been to AA, or read any of the literature.
The fact that there is a programme of recovery, and the language is somewhat unique to AA and other 12-step fellowships, has led to the impression that it is a bit of a subculture.
Understanding the historical development of AA puts the development of the 12-step process in context, and how it has developed over time. Whilst a number of people struggle with the God word and spiritual implications of the 12 step process, it has proved itself to be remarkably effective for healing people of their alcoholism and other addictions.
Its simplicity has allowed many other groups of people with different addictions and behavioural problems to adopt the process, almost always unchanged, apart from the identifying problem which is highlighted in the first step.