As we move through our series on the Twelve Traditions, it becomes more difficult to apply them to our own lives. Some of the later traditions don’t apply to our personal lives as well as others. This stands to reason, as the Twelve Traditions primarily dictate how AA/NA groups are to be run. But Tradition Nine, while ostensibly focusing solely on the groups themselves, still regards important principles. Like any other tradition, closer examination may serve us well. We simply must identify the relevant principles. Upon doing this, it may become clearer how we may apply the Ninth Tradition to our personal dealings.
On the surface, the Ninth Tradition appears solely to reference the organization of the program itself. In this manner, it bears some semblance to the Twelve Concepts. This is because it references AA as a whole rather than referencing the individual groups. It also appears to reference governance, which bears some resemblance to other traditions such as Tradition Two. But while governance may be the face of the Ninth Tradition, spiritual principles remain at the heart of it. Because when all is said and done, Tradition Nine illustrates the concept of fellowship.
We’ll cover this in greater detail below. First, we will outline the Ninth Tradition as defined by Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, also known as the 12&12. Then, we’ll discuss a couple of different ways in which this tradition might be perceived. Finally, we’ll conclude by discussing how to embrace the principles of this tradition in your personal life. If we try to navigate recovery without embracing certain principles, we aren’t likely to get very far. That’s why we must take the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions seriously if we wish to remain sober. We hope that the following discussion will aid you in this endeavor.
What Is Tradition Nine?
As defined in the 12&12, the Ninth Tradition states:
“A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
This may seem confusing at first. Many refer to AA as an organization, and the Twelve Concepts exist primarily to outline the manner in which this organization should function. The Twelve Traditions appear to exist for a similar purpose. So what does the Ninth Tradition mean when it says that AA should remain unorganized? The answer is far simpler than you might think.
The 12&12 notes that the Ninth Tradition appears to contradict itself. However, the book points out that groups such as AA and NA do not conform to usual protocol regarding most organizations. Other groups and societies give authority to certain individuals. They impose punitive measures to ensure obeisance to those in charge. Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots do not conform to such restrictions. As per the Second Tradition, they view themselves as servants rather than authority figures. In this manner, the groups do not resemble organizations as we generally define them. When considering AA’s primary purpose, this is important to remember.
At one point in AA’s history, this was not the case. They previously made attempts at formal organization. In fact, the group even attempted to punish members who violated the principles. They tried to tell members how to perform their work on the Twelve Steps. In some instances, they even expelled members. The results of these actions were always the same—failure. As AA tried harder and harder to enforce their tenets in traditional fashion, they found that it simply wouldn’t work. They came to discover a very simple reason for this—they weren’t a traditional group in any sense of the word. This was something new, and needed to be treated as such.
This is why AA and NA now consider themselves to be programs of suggestion. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions provide an important foundation. But at the end of the day, every member must decide for themselves whether or not they will accept this foundation as a part of their recovery. These principles can be suggested, but they cannot be prescribed. Support groups are not in the business of issuing orders. Addicts and alcoholics might accept healthy recommendations, but we do not tolerate mandates. This extends not only to members, but to the groups as well.
So far, we’ve spent much time outlining the apparent contradiction of the Ninth Tradition and explaining its roots. But this caution against formal organization only constitutes one small part of Tradition Nine as a whole. To better understand this tradition, we must also analyze the place of committees and service boards. Note that these boards still do not act as governing authorities. They make suggestions to the groups—especially in the case of potential Fourth Tradition violations—but do not enact any of these suggestions by threat of force.
There are those who interpret the Ninth Tradition as a great weakness. From their perspective, groups such as AA and NA turn a blind eye to lack of principles. They feel that this lack of organization appears crazy, that it rewards defiance. Perhaps some addicts and alcoholics feel the same way, believing that they can ignore suggestions with no penalty whatsoever. And for some time, they might get away with it. But eventually, this course of action catches up with people. It happens entirely on its own, without interference from any human authority whatsoever.
This brings us to the interpretation outlined in the 12&12. The book states:
“Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant. His drunkenness and dissolution are not penalties inflicted by people in authority; they result from his personal disobedience to spiritual principles.”
In other words, no one can force us to abide by the generally accepted principles of recovery. But if we don’t, then we stand a much greater chance at suffering a relapse. This threat hangs over us with far more gravity than any punishment that might be handed out by an organized authority. For while many get back on the wagon after suffering a relapse, the sorrow we feel outweighs the guilt of admonishment by our fellows. This is reason enough to abide by the suggested principles.
The 12&12 notes that AA and NA groups must bear this in mind as well. If the groups as a whole do not practice the Twelve Traditions, they might not last very long. Many groups have fallen apart because they failed to abide by these basic principles. But when they adhere to the principles of the program, they often thrive for quite some time. Our obedience to spiritual principles ultimately decides our fate. And as long as AA has committees and service boards to fulfill the basic duties required to keep them in operation, they can focus on these principles with few distractions.
Following the Ninth Tradition
It is now time to discuss how the Ninth Tradition may benefit our personal lives. To get there, let’s take a look at the following explanation of our service committees:
“Just as the aim of each A.A. member is personal sobriety, the aim of our services is to bring sobriety within reach of all who want it. If nobody does the group’s chores, if the area’s telephone rings unanswered, if we do not reply to our mail, then A.A. as we know it would stop. Our communications lines with those who need our help would be broken.”
In other words, we can’t focus upon spiritual principles alone. They may form the foundation of recovery, but our emotional and physical well-being matter as well. If we aren’t managing our health and happiness, our understanding of the principles will only get us so far. The key is balance. If we’re focusing on the principles while ignoring our health, we might not get very far. By contrast, we can’t focus on career, fitness, or other earthly concerns while completely ignoring our emotional or spiritual life.
This is the one concerning thing about the Ninth Tradition. With no authority to give us orders, we must figure things out for ourselves. We may ask others for guidance and suggestions, but we’re the ones who must follow through. Read the above passage again. Think of the group’s chores as a metaphor for our own personal responsibilities. Just as the group becomes broken if the chores are left undone, we cannot lead full lives while ignoring our obligations. We must pay attention to all of our needs in equal measure.
The Ninth Tradition doesn’t apply to our personal recovery in any sort of literal fashion unless we happen to be very involved in the group. Even so, we can still learn from the chapter itself. We must embrace spiritual principles while remaining fully functional and fulfilling our responsibilities. In doing so, we enable ourselves to be part of something wonderful. Through hard work and service, we become more than simply addicts and alcoholics. We become part of a true fellowship. Such are the benefits of sobriety.