Eight Principles of AA

A few weeks ago, we published an article that life-j wrote for the AA Grapevine entitled “AA and What Really Works.” In that article, life-j identified eight principles in AA that he believes is what helped him stay sober. Today’s post will go into more detail about those eight principles. 

Eight Principles of AA

The 12 steps have helped many people in AA. They seem to work particularly well for people that need, or want to be told what to do, and for people of a religious inclination. Others in AA find them less helpful and rely instead on the fellowship. Either way, there could have been 10, or 14, or 8 steps, and it would have been fine. The important thing is that we work earnestly at changing our lives.

I’m not going to go into whether or not Bill Wilson “accidentally” wound up with 12 steps, like he said, but there seems to be a certain obsession with that number. I have even seen “12 Promises”. But I would like to encourage a bit of thinking outside the groove, and I think it may help loosen things up a bit to suggest that not everything has to come in twelves. To that end I have picked eight principles which guide almost everything in our program, and eight principles which make AA work:

 Honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, humility, service, living by the golden rule, gratitude, and acceptance.

 They are familiar to all and are, in a sense the basis for the steps. This is what we work toward, and the steps can be a good framework for working toward those principles. It is often nice to have someone sit you down and say, “Here is what you do”.

But which are the principles that make AA work? If we know what works, what really at bottom makes AA work, then we can be more effective. Here are some of the most important:

 An alcoholic will trust another alcoholic more than they will trust just about anyone else – spouses, parents, kids, friends, clergymen, therapists, teachers (never mind cops, judges and probation officers) and so as alcoholics we’re in a unique position to help each other in recovery.

  • Helping other alcoholics with their sobriety is one of the best ways to increase our chances of staying sober ourselves.
  • Most of us need a tribe to belong to, and we greatly increase our chances of staying sober by going to meetings and by associating with other recovering alcoholics. If the tribe is defined in such a manner that we are made to feel that we belong, then most of us will indeed feel that we belong, and we are more likely to stay.
  • Don’t take that first drink, that’s the one that leads to a drunk. And there is no problem so bad that alcohol can’t make it worse.
  • For most of us it is not enough to merely stop drinking. First of all, we need to stop doing things that make us want to drink. But then we need to make some real changes in our lives. And it helps our recovery if we can contribute to making this a better world, especially for other alcoholics and their kin. Having a plan or a program of some sort can make it much easier to do.
  • We need to work toward peace and balance in our lives. Neither despair nor hedonistic elation. Neither grandiosity nor self-flagellation. But while it is important that we accept and allow ourselves to feel where we are, where we actually are right now, a life with plain, ordinary, peaceful happiness with time and space for contemplation would be a good goal.
  • Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, even 5 minutes at a time if that’s all you can do. You can postpone that drink 5 minutes, or the argument, or whatever other stupid things you’re thinking about getting yourself into.
  • Doing the right thing helps keep me sober, because I will have no reason to feel bad about myself. At least I won’t be adding to the reasons for feeling bad that I showed up here with, and even those will slowly fade away if I keep working on really changing my life.

 Let’s try to keep it that simple.

About the Author

life-j got sober in Oakland in 1988. He moved to a Northern California coastal mountain village in 2002 and helped wake up the sleepy AA fellowship there. He’s been involved in service work of every kind all along, but now thinks the most important work is to help atheists and agnostics feel safe and welcome in AA.

Events in the fellowship conspired to make him become way more radicalized than he ever wanted to be, and he finds it difficult to settle back down to focus on his own program again, for better or for worse. He’s spent parts of his life as a building contractor, part as a technical translator, and has dabbled a bit in artwork and writing. life-j is now semi-retired on a five-acre homestead together with his sweetie, and his dogs, chickens, and gardens.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Roger C.

    An excellent article. I couldn’t agree more with these eight principles. Thank you, life-j.

  2. Pat N.

    I love you, life-j, and wish we lived closer-I could use a sponsor like you. Thanks for sharing the planet with us for a while.

    Excellent summary of what really works, by the way.

  3. Bob K

    Another excellent, thoughtful essay from life-j. That’s what we’ve come to expect.

    Bill was really trying to sell “divine inspiration” in the writing of the Steps — “The pen just seemed to glide across the page,” etc. One wonders what would have happened if the number had “accidentally” turned out to be 13??!! He’d have edited God, I expect. There were two possible numbers for the total amount of Steps — 12 and 10. Those are numbers with gravitas, with 12 having particular significance to the religion of Lois’s family.

    I am currently still under the spell of the new history book — “WRITING the BIG BOOK — The Creation of AA.” Mr. Schaberg’s 11 years of research takes us to the truth behind Bill Wilson’s mythology. (He should have rounded the years of research to 12)

    Obviously, the number “12,” and the Steps themselves have been oversold. The earliest guys got sober, and not by taking 12 Steps that didn’t yet exist. The principles laid out here are good ones. I think we alcoholics have to do SOMETHING; get engaged in SOMETHING. The particulars are not so important. People, including AA members, get sober and stay sober in a variety of ways. Helping others, and embracing the community of others are HUGE. Bill Wilson acknowledged that in Roger C.’s favorite book, “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

    “. . . I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day.” (p. 15)

  4. John L.

    An excellent summary of what works.

  5. marty nieski

    I’m hoping you will not mind me making copies for our secular meetings. Nice capsule of what works and all we need. Thank you.

    1. John S

      Everything on our website is free to use as you wish.

  6. Dennis M

    A fine article Life, thank you.

  7. jim d

    Thanks, Life J. The principle about tribe rang true for me. I’m an alcoholic who switched addictions to overeating the day I returned to duty after combat in Vietnam and put on 70 pounds in a year. I’ve gone to two or more meetings of Overeaters Anonymous for 31 years, usually with religious folks. This was hard for me as an atheist. i could never get active above the group level and kept a lot of that Vietnam bulge .My life got easier a couple of years ago when I found the secular 12 Step movement. I’ve lost 45 pounds, started an OA meeting here in Bethesda, led regional workshops and begun networking other secular OA meeting nationally–there are only six.

    i am writing because the next Secular AA conference is here in Bethesda in Oct, i have tried repeatedly to contact the organizers to explore a session about growing the secular option in other 12 Step fellowships.

    Might you or someone else reading this comment please give me a hand.

    Jim D, 520-250-0509

    1. John S

      Hi Jim, I will pass this on to the conference organizers.

      1. Jim

        Thanks, John.

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