Fellowship is an issue that has been coming up quite a bit in our articles lately. If you look at every article for the past couple of weeks and scroll to the tags at the bottom, you’ll see the word in almost every single one of them. Part of this is that we’ve been recently covering the Twelve Concepts (One, Two, and Three, so far). But really, it’s just something that we’ve seen a need for. Many unfortunates out there believe they can recover alone, and the pain it causes their families when this approach fails to yield results is absolutely heartbreaking. This is why, above all else, those who enter sobriety need to bring a sense of unity into their lives.
This is the backbone of the First Tradition of AA, that our personal welfare depends upon AA unity. And while we have covered Tradition One in its own article, we feel that this is not enough. In many ways, the Twelve Traditions are meant more as guidelines for AA and NA groups rather than the individuals themselves. It is one thing to sit back and benefit from the sense of unification that keeps the group going and allows us to feel at home while we are sitting in a circle with those whom we have come to regard as friends. But it is another thing entirely to stand up and declare that we will play our own part, to whatever extent we are able, to keep the fellowship strong.
Commitment is scary, and we often fear commitment because we are afraid of letting other people down. Perhaps we sometimes avoid commitment out of sloth, but many of us who have entered recovery and have taken a look at our character defects will be over this in due time. As for the fear, who are we really letting down? If our personal recovery is dependent upon the unity of the group, are we not hurting ourselves when we stand back and maintain a shield of isolation? This is the issue we presently wish to examine.
How Unity Helps Us
We don’t wish to tread over too much ground that we already covered in our Tradition One article, so we’re going to take a slightly different approach than usual. Instead of espousing all of the wonders of unity and fellowship in the simple hope that you will believe in the joys we have to offer, we’re going to provide you a couple of real-world examples.
Our first example pertains to a man who we will simply call Ed. (It should be noted for those who saw our reading guide to “There Is a Solution” that this is not the same Ed mentioned in that chapter.) When Ed first came to AA, he had been going at it pretty hard for years. And as much as he wasn’t sure that he wanted what AA had to offer, he knew that he wasn’t happy with his current lifestyle. Even so, he simply couldn’t see himself committing to the program. He’d look at an AA member and see some wackadoo who seemed far too happy to be there.
Ed decided to sit in the back, next to a solemn-looking man who looked like he didn’t want to be there any more than Ed did. In talking to this man, Ed soon found out that he was one of the group’s most dedicated members. He may have been quiet, and he had a very direct way about him, but he was far from unhappy to be in that room. Ed took him on as a sponsor, and has scarcely missed a meeting in three years since. Ed now lives for the unity of the group. If you see him at the grocery store, he may seem quiet and reserved. But if you see him at a meeting, he will be the most rambunctious and outgoing person you have ever met. Unity has brought him to a better way of life.
Our second example is much more personal. It is about a quiet young man for whom isolation was a way of life since a very young age. As a child and a teenager, he had been bullied at school. First because his parents were divorced and his father abandoned him. Then because he was a little overweight. He was next bullied for not being Christian in a very Christian part of town. Worst of all, he was bullied for his limp—the product of child abuse at the hands of an angry man. He later discovered what he thought was fellowship with drug addicts and alcoholics. But when the drugs ran out and the bottles were empty, his so-called friends were out the door. He eventually wound up in treatment for addiction. The friends he has made there have stood by him longer than almost any he has had before. He now writes articles for a recovery center, in the hopes that others may discover the same unity that he has found in his own life.
Trust us—when we say that unity is important, we are speaking from experience. There are many among us who might not be living today if not for the unity of AA, NA, and other recovery communities that thrive on friendship, family, and mutual support of fellow sufferers. But what gives us more faith than anything else is the knowledge that our own belief in unity just may be enough to help others such as ourselves.
How Unity Helps Others
When we talk about service work, specifically when we discuss working in the service of other addicts and alcoholics, we are essentially discussing a manner in which we may bring the joy of unity to others who suffer from the same disease that has so afflicted us. When we tell them our stories and share with them the experiences we have had since our sobriety date, we have the potential to touch a life. And if we touch the life of someone who is truly ready to enter sobriety, we may even save them in the process.
By showing newcomers the power of unity, we are inviting them to join a club of sorts. This club is not exclusive—according to the Third Tradition, anyone can join. All they need is a desire to stay sober. Then, once they have entered the fold and enjoyed a level of unity that they likely never encountered with their drinking and using buddies, they just might find themselves seeking a lifelong membership in our little outfit. And while this new life will have to be lived one day at a time, they will be able to lean on the unity of the fellowship for support.
We carry within our hearts, within our souls, a torch that can be passed on to anyone who believes themselves to be in need. The light on this torch never goes out, provided that we help our fellow sufferers fan the flames. And as brightly as it shone when it was first passed to us through the unity and caring of our sponsors and the rest of our fellows in recovery, it will appear far brighter in our eyes when we have seen it in the hands of those we have helped. In this way, our decision to embrace the concept of unity in helping others will have potentially unforeseen consequences—we will help ourselves as well.
A Declaration of Unity
The title of this article, and of this section, is the same as a declaration that you may have seen on the walls of AA groups in the past. “A Declaration of Unity” reads as follows:
This we owe to A.A.’s future:
To place our common welfare first;
To keep our fellowship united.
For on A.A. unity depend our lives,
And the lives of those to come
This is the perfect expression of everything that we have said. Not only will the unity we discover through our experiences in the fellowship do much to help others in our recovery community, but it will do much to help us as well. More importantly, it is this unity that keeps the whole of the AA organization strong. Without it, the group would never have lasted so many decades. It would not have spread like wildfire across the globe. Before AA, alcoholics and addicts were lost. They were forced to seek refuge in asylums, where their disease was often seen as incurable.
To some extent, many do still believe that it is incurable. But it can at least be treated through the unity of the fellowship. By leaning upon each other for support, we can stay sober as a community. Some may stray from time to time, but they often return to the fold once they realize that life in recovery was far greater than a life of addiction. As our support network expands and our sense of unity grows stronger, this belief will feel like a confirmation of everything they told us when we first entered our recovery program—that there is a solution, provided we are willing to believe.
The fellowship gives us more belief in this solution than anything else. Give 12 step recovery programs a chance, and they just might do the same for you.