What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Most people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and know that it has something to do with people stopping drinking.

People also have very different and often conflicting views of what an alcoholic is, and also the difference between someone who is an alcoholic and a heavy or problem drinker.

Some people are also wary of Alcoholics Anonymous because they have heard that it is a religious or spiritual organisation, and do not want any involvement with something akin to this.

For anyone really wanting to understand how Alcoholics Anonymous works, there are two important things.

Firstly is to understand the context of Alcoholics Anonymous in today’s world, and do that it is really important to have some sense of the history of AA and how it has developed.

Describing Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as a fellowship of men and women who share their experience strength and hope with each other, in order to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

Whilst this is quite a broad generalisation, there is a good deal of truth in this very simple premise, that AA is about individuals sharing their experiences in the hope of helping others.

History of Alcoholics Anonymous

AA is fairly unique as such, apart from other 12-step organisations, and does not have a traditional form of structure. Understanding the history of AA is a big part of being able to see how the reality of AA functions.

There are a number of history books, some written by AA itself, others written by independent journalists and authors. All will give slightly differing viewpoints as to how AA developed, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

The books written by AA itself are slightly sanitised, but do also carry much if not all of the historical information that is relevant and pertinent to how AA developed.

AA, both in print and in reality, can have a slight gloss to it that is part protective, and in part slightly focused on not wanting to appear divisive or confrontational.

Independent books on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous are quite often written either why people who are members of AA themselves, although not always, and people who are quite unashamedly opposed to AA and everything about it.

The fact there are differing viewpoints about AA is not surprising, and should not of itself be a problem or an issue.

It can become an issue because people tend to become either very hostile or a protective about AA, both approaches tend to blur the reality.

Reality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Anyone wanting to understand the reality of Alcoholics Anonymous should really go to one or more meetings and experience it for themselves.

Whatever meeting they go to, they are likely to experience a different reality to other meetings, and other people’s experiences of them.

This is simply because anyone’s reality is different to someone else’s.

However there is a general shape and form to AA meetings, which largely focus around the definition given at the beginning of this post.

Individuals who have had serious problems and have been able to get sober, meeting together and sharing their experience in the hope of helping others who have had similar problems.

This has always been at the heart of AA, and continues to be in most of the meetings that anyone is likely to attend.

This will vary to an extent, simply because there are literally hundreds of thousands of meetings all around the world, all of which will have a slightly different structure and format.

The other thing that is worth saying about AA is that at most meetings, if not all, there is a mix of both practical and spirit. The practical tends to be the physical reality of individuals meeting and talking and sharing with each other.

The spirit tends to be an underlying energy which pervades the nature and process of the meeting, and for many people is the most powerful element of what happens to them, both in terms of getting sober and staying sober.

This mix of practical and spirit is perhaps the unique element of AA that makes it so difficult to describe. The good news is that people do not have to understand it in order to experience it.

Pretty much anyone can attend an AA meeting, as all are open to anyone thinks they may have a drink problem, and a good number of what are known as open meetings, where anyone who is interested in AA can attend and listen to what is being said.

Potted history of AA

There are a few basic points of history that should probably be flagged up, although none are a substitute to really understanding the full time line of AA.

AA was started in America in the mid 1930s, largely as a result of a chain of individual experiences of people who had a drink problem, and who got sober using a number of spiritual principles.

The best-known of these individuals were the two co-founders of AA, who stayed anonymous during their own lifetimes, but became quite well known afterwards.

Their individual experiences formed the basis of how AA developed, both in terms of individual groups in certain cities, through to the enormous growth of meetings and groups throughout the world today.

These and other individual spiritual experiences were collated into a book, which was entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, which became the name and basis of the whole organisation itself.

Perhaps the most important thing to take from the history of AA is that it has always been a collection of experience.

It has no ideology or belief system or any agenda other than an openness to share its experience in the hope that it can help others.

This sharing of experience is done primarily through the AA literature, which is open for anyone to buy or download on-line, as well as through AA meetings and individuals sharing their experience on a one-to-one basis.


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