“Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”
Tradition Seven might seem a bit strange at first. In the addiction recovery space, we talk a lot about the importance of asking for help, however, the Seventh Tradition is all about self-sufficiency and resisting the dreaded ‘E’ word, enabling. This does not contradict the principles of 12 step recovery programs, but it will most definitely require some explanation if we are to apply it to our own lives.
The Origin of Tradition Seven
In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, groups were struggling for money. When a woman left ten thousand dollars to A.A.’s main office, the members engaged in a lively debate over whether or not they should accept it. Many wanted to take the money, but eventually, came to a decision to decline it.
The threat of outside interference loomed over them, as money rarely comes without at least a few strings attached. These benefactors would hold too much sway over AA’s principles and put the fellowship in jeopardy. Additionally, they feared that accepting all such donations would make the organization wealthy which would compromise the spiritual growth of its members. For if AA became rich, its members would stop donating and would revert back to selfishness and greed—the same defects of character they embodied while drinking.
The 12&12 notes that it was difficult to put this tradition into place. Many addicts and alcoholics have very light wallets when they first get sober (this is one of the consequences of our former lifestyle). Even so, these members did not feel it was right to accept handouts. Although outside donations could do a lot to help the groups, they felt that it would interfere with the organization’s spiritual focus. They had seen this in action already:
“Now and then, grateful benefactors had endowed clubhouses, and as a result there was sometimes outside interference in our affairs. We had been presented with a hospital, and almost immediately the donor’s son became its principal patient and would-be manager. One A.A. group was given five thousand dollars to do with what it would. The hassle over that chunk of money played havoc for years. Frightened by these complications, some groups refused to have a cent in their treasuries.”
While poverty caused disillusionment, handouts caused disruption and chaos with Alcoholics Anonymous groups. Still, it’s impossible to deny the logistical necessity for funding. How could the groups help people if they could not afford meeting places? How could they answer the phone if the company denied service?
What Does Tradition Seven Mean?
Ideals aside, A. A. realized that every organization needs funds to operate, and groups needed a way to ensure there was money in the treasury. This led to the Seventh Tradition as it is currently written. The groups could not accept outside contributions, but by being self-supporting, they shouldn’t need them. It would be unreasonable to expect all members to donate, which is why AA’s pamphlet for newcomers goes out of its way to state that donations are not required. Members with the means are asked to give what they can and A. A. can function thanks to donations from their members—and only their members—to truly remain self-sufficient.
The Purpose of Tradition Seven
Alcoholics Anonymous’ refusal of large gifts and grants is more than simply preventing outside interference within group operations. It instills the principle of independence at the highest level so that it may serve as an example for its members. Further, by relying on internal donations from members, the message of self-reliance also assists with spiritual growth.
There is a story in the 12&12 about a time in the early days of A.A. when they needed money. Founder, Bill Wilson, asked members to donate as little as one dollar per year. The response from disappointing and the lack of generosity made him furious. Though he chastised his peers for being so cheap, he found that when his group was in need of money, he himself was being just as frugal as they were. When the hat was passed that night, he initially put 50 cents in the hat…only to retract and put in a dime.
Earlier that day, however, he had come across his friend who was hungover and had clearly relapsed and gave the man five dollars without a second thought. He realized that he donated to the alcoholic not to help him—if anything, he feared he might’ve enabled him—but out of pride. As a result of this pride, he found himself unable to support his group when they really needed it. He decided it was better for his spirituality that he donates his money to the hat, not to the individuals.
How To Apply the Seventh Tradition
“To people familiar with endless drives for charitable funds, A.A. presented a strange and refreshing spectacle. Approving editorials here and abroad generated a wave of confidence in the integrity of Alcoholics Anonymous. They pointed out that the irresponsible had become responsible, and that by making financial independence part of its tradition, Alcoholics Anonymous had revived an ideal that its era had almost forgotten.”
All around us, there are people who want something for nothing, many of them fit the description of the addict or alcoholic. There are people who live off of their families yet feel they do not get enough. There are people who do not apply for jobs yet frequently complain about the economy and the job market. We recognize these behaviors because many of us did the same thing in our addiction. Many of us who were unwittingly selfish during our addiction yearned for independence without the willingness to make the sacrifices needed for self-sufficiency.
The Seventh Tradition allows us to break ourselves from this selfish behavior. We learn to give instead of take, and it challenges us to make sure that we’re doing it for the right reasons. It teaches us empathy in that we are not the only ones in this world who struggle, there are others like us, and we should do what we can to help them. And lastly, that to provide this help, we cannot sit around and wait for someone else to be a force of good in the world.
On the other hand, we also cannot allow ourselves to be enabled and continue to take handouts we don’t need. We should do our best to earn what we have, asking only for emotional and spiritual support along the way. Perhaps, at times, we will truly need financial assistance from friends and family. But we must assess whether or not this is a true need. And if it is, we should move forward with a solid plan to pay it back. The Seventh Tradition allows us to develop the responsibility needed to stay sober. If we truly care about our spiritual growth, we must never take this responsibility for granted.
The fact that the Twelve Traditions were meant for AA groups does not mean addicts and alcoholics cannot learn from them. In terms of the groups, Tradition Seven falls in line with Tradition Four (autonomy) and Tradition Six (withholding endorsements). In terms of our personal recovery, the major theme of the Seventh Tradition is self-efficacy. We must learn to ask for help when we need it, but we must also learn when we should accomplish something on our own.
It does not matter how we define the Seventh Tradition. Perhaps we see it as a means of gaining spirituality. Perhaps we see it as a way of avoiding outside interference. Neither interpretation is incorrect, for the board considered both of them when forging the Seventh Tradition in the first place. Emotional and spiritual support is one thing. But when it comes to financial matters, sometimes addicts and alcoholics simply must be self-supporting. It may not always be easy, but it is the right thing to do. After all, what good is sobriety if we do not learn responsibility?