When people first join Alcoholics Anonymous, they may raise their eyebrows at some of the common AA slogans and phrases. These slogans can sound cheesy, especially when they get constantly repeated by people who say them without context of their deeper meanings. The newcomer simply hears someone spouting clichés without bothering to explain them. But the most well-known AA slogans exist for a reason. People wouldn’t bother repeating them if they held no deeper meaning. With just a bit of understanding, every newcomer can come to appreciate this. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most common AA slogans, as well as the reasons that they continue to hold weight and why a 12 step recovery program can be so effective in addiction treatment.
1. One Day at a Time
One of the most common AA slogans is “one day at a time.” This simple phrase carries two essential messages. First, we must focus on the present. We cannot see the future, and we cannot control the universe. But we can control our own actions right now. We often meet people with decades of sobriety, and this feels imposing. It’s easy for us to wonder if we’ll ever achieve the same as them. When we worry so much about the future, we can often become despondent. We worry that we may never amount to anything, and we respond by throwing in the towel. By focusing on the now, we forgo this trouble and allow ourselves to maintain our sobriety on a daily basis.
Second, we must realize that life is little more than a series of moments. While this most prominent of AA slogans tell us to take life one day at a time, we often hear AA members say that they must take life one hour or one minute at a time. It may sound like they’re joking, but quite often they are not. Every moment of every day, we must choose to do the next right thing. Continue to focus on what’s right in front of you, and you can continue to live with a clear conscience. Lose sight of this, and you just might find yourself picking up a slip chip at the next meeting.
2. Easy Does It
This might take point as one of the more contentious AA slogans in existence. Brian Whitney, writing for The Fix, includes it in a list of the worst AA slogans for no other reason than its constant repetition. We see it on signs in meeting halls, and we hear people saying it without driving home any sort of a point.
But surely it means something, right? After all, who would repeat such a phrase if they truly believed it lacked substance?
It’s hard to simplify an already simple slogan, but the main point of this particular adage is that we must take things slowly. In this regard, it bears some similarities to “one day at a time.” When we first enter recovery, we sometimes try to get ahead of ourselves.
We try to make amends long before reaching Step Nine. Perhaps we try to get a new job or enter a new relationship, despite the recommendation that we do not seek new commitments for our first year of recovery. Naturally, those who enter recovery often wish to turn their lives around as fast as possible. This slogan reminds us that change is a process. We must respect that process, or else we risk falling flat.
3. Let Go and Let God
This is another one of the AA slogans targeted by Whitney as potentially useless for many addicts and alcoholics. If we find ourselves homeless or out of a job, we cannot simply “let go.” In such cases, we must take control of our lives.
So in some cases, this slogan may not apply to us. But when used properly, this slogan reminds us that we cannot control everything. Perhaps we need to find a job or a place to live, but we cannot make these things happen by sheer force of will. We do our part, and then we hope for the best. After that, it’s up to fate.
Fate, of course, represents God in this slogan. Those who dislike AA slogans such as this one often find the word “God” offensive. We must remember, however, that faith is not exclusively religious. We can maintain faith in the universe without defining our Higher Power as some extraterrestrial deity.
If you believe in God, then you shouldn’t struggle too hard with this slogan. But if you maintain an atheistic or agnostic point of view, simply remember that God doesn’t define this slogan. The point lies far outside of religion. It’s about giving up control. And if you can’t accept that, then you’re precisely the type of person who might benefit from letting go every once in a while.
4. Spirituality vs. Religion
You’ve probably heard this one before: “Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.”
Some people replace the word “spirituality” with “AA.” Either way, those who dislike this slogan tend to focus more on the aspect of living in Hell. To be fair, it does sound rather egotistical for anyone to compare their life of excessive partying to a netherworld of fire and brimstone. Furthermore, it may insult some of the more religiously inclined AA members to hear their faith reduced to nothing but fear.
If you can look past these complaints, you’ll see that this is still one of the more valuable AA slogans in existence. Perhaps our lives were not literally hellish, but we didn’t wind up in recovery because of how well things were going. In the end, you only need to take two things from this slogan.
First, remember that religion and spirituality aren’t necessarily the same. You do not need one to practice the other. Second, remember that sobriety holds the key to a better life. Because whether you liken addiction to Hell, Limbo, Purgatory or otherwise, there’s never a decent reason for going back to it.
5. Keep It Simple, Stupid
This might be one of the more ironic AA slogans, as it’s the smarter members who need it more than anyone. Simply put, this slogan reminds us not to over-complicate our recovery. Some say that recovery becomes more difficult when we possess a high IQ level.
We like to intellectualize our addiction, and we feel that our intellect holds the key to solving our problems. But AA is a spiritual program, not an academic one. Many of us drink and abuse drugs in an attempt to overcome our feelings. We do this because our intellect tells us that it’s a good idea.
In other words, our best thinking didn’t get us sober. If anything, it just made things worse. So if it seems like these AA slogans reek of simplicity, they should. We need a bit of simplicity in our lives.
Because if we continue to try and rationalize everything, we just may wind up in the middle of a relapse. And that won’t do a whole lot to strengthen the intellect in which we place so much pride.
6. Progress, Not Perfection
Whitney actually calls this the best of all AA slogans. It certainly holds some weight, given that we hear it before every meeting. Unlike some of the other AA slogans, this originates from the text of Alcoholics Anonymous itself. Most meetings open with an excerpt from Chapter 5 (“How It Works”) that contains this very phrase. In this specific context, “How It Works” reminds us that we may never fully overcome our spiritual defects—but our willingness to try will elevate us to new heights.
In other words, don’t beat yourself up every time you fail to maintain AA principles. Perhaps you forget one of the common AA slogans and begin intellectualizing your recovery or fretting over the future. This just makes you human.
We are not saints, let alone gods. Nobody can expect us to become perfect. We can, however, try to become better by working the Twelve Steps and attempting to adhere to various principles. Remember that the only true failure is giving up.
Keep your eyes on the enlightened path, and you can always continue moving in the right direction. Even if this, unfortunately, means taking a step backward every now and then.
7. Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes
Despite being one of the more commonly repeated AA slogans, this one might confuse you at first. It sounds simple, yet its meaning can elude those who hear it for the first time. Like many AA slogans, this refers to how we work the principles of the program.
Do we sit around and wait for things to get better? Or do we transform into the person we wish to become by rolling up our sleeves and working at it? We can stop drinking and doing drugs. But if we continue living essentially the same lifestyle, we can’t expect to make much progress as human beings.
We usually hear this one when complaining about our lives. People say this not to blow us off, but to tell us that we possess a choice. We can either let go and hope for the best, or we can make some necessary changes in our lives that may better our circumstances. Most of our problems are of our own making and change will only rectify them.
8. First Things First
Whitney doesn’t mention this one in his list of the best and worst AA slogans. Possibly because, while we often hear it repeated in meetings, it applies just as well to those outside of recovery. In fact, you’ll find this one listed third in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. On his website, he summarizes it thusly:
“To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.”
In this sense, the AA slogans “first things first” and “easy does it” bear some similarities. We must remember that the Twelve Steps go in numerical order for a reason. If we try to get too far ahead of ourselves, we may wind up stressing ourselves out while making very little progress.
Open a cocoon before the caterpillar’s transformation is complete, and you will never see a butterfly. Respect the process of change, and prioritize accordingly.
9. Faith Without Works Is Dead
Religious readers should recognize this one. You’ve seen it before—not on a list of AA slogans, but in the New Testament. In the Bible, James says this to illustrate that faith should change a person. We believe their faith in God not because they tell us about it, but because they demonstrate it through their actions.
Recovery should yield a similar effect on people. We can tell people that we aren’t drinking or doing drugs. They may not smell it on us or catch us in the act. But if they see us living the same life that we lived in addiction, why should they believe us?
Unlike some of the more simplistic AA slogans, many people might actually misinterpret this one. It doesn’t say that faith without works is meaningless. Faith is a powerful thing, and important to our spiritual experience. But our actions are evidence that our faith in the program has paid off.
If we ever feel like others don’t give us enough credit for our sobriety, we should take a look at our actions. Perhaps we simply aren’t doing much to earn the trust of those we love. We must put our money where our mouth is and show people that we are embracing a new lifestyle.
As we do, we’ll find our personal relationships healing. More importantly, we’ll rediscover faith in ourselves. This will make our sobriety much more meaningful, and much easier to maintain.
10. I Am An Alcoholic
Of all AA slogans, this is the most common. After all, we speak it aloud before every single share. But some find this contentious, taking issue with the idea that this label somehow replaces their personal identity. In fact, The Fix published an article not long ago stating that we shouldn’t use the words “alcoholic” or “addict” when writing about substance use disorders. We should remember two things when hearing or using this phrase.
First, alcoholism and addiction do not define us. They only define one aspect of our being. Think of being an addict or alcoholic, in the same manner, you think of being male or female, black or white, religious or agnostic, etc. Think of it in the same way as you think about your job or the city in which you live. These things inform who you are, but you are still a complete person outside of these definitions. Nobody can take that away from you.
Second, remember that identifying yourself within the group helps build a sense of unity. We are all different, but these words remind us that we still have something in common. The members of groups such as AA and NA come in many shapes and sizes.
We are people who might not have met each other if not for sharing a struggle against the same affliction. So don’t think of this as an unfair or offensive label. Simply consider it a reminder that you are not alone. Are there any other AA slogans in which you find a deeper meaning? Feel free to share them with us in the comments below. You can find your nearest local AA meeting by clicking here.