They Are Not at Fault
December 22, 2023
impatient woman
Griddle of Life
January 22, 2024

Where it started or who first said it or why, we don’t know. But, we feel deeply that it is a discrediting and distorted opinion of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. We inwardly cringe whenever we hear the statement blithely uttered “AA is a selfish program.”

It came as something of a disconcerting shock the first time we heard it, for somehow it sullied whatever decent motivation had inspired us to accept the 12 Steps as a way of life. We are grateful that we had in our possession the Big Book, for it clearly refuted any such assertion completely. Had we believed it or accepted it, we might have abandoned AA’s design for sobriety and continued a hopeless and fatal quest. We had had enough of selfish living that produced only aloneness, misery, humiliation, and loneliness.

Our early experience in AA revealed something awesome, beautiful, inspiring and rare. We saw it in the eyes of those who accepted us into the group. We observed it in the actions of those who strove to relieve the suffering of other alcoholics with tenderness, patience, and understanding. We sensed it in the kindness and warmth of the fellowship of those who extended a helping hand to us.

It touched and altered the course of our life because it was the living manifestation of unselfishness. It was truly the finest expression of man’s love for his fellow man. It was the giving of self with compassion and concern for the good of another human being without hope of reward.

SELFISH is defined as:

Caring unduly or supremely for oneself; regarding one’s own comfort, advantage, etc. in disregard or at the expense of that of others.

Webster's Dictionary

Nowhere in the Big Book have we been able to find where we can work any part of this program without due consideration of others. In fact, we have counted some 55 places where it underscored that selfishness, self-pity, self-concern, self-aggrandizement, self-delusion, self-seeking, conceit, etc., as being the root of all our problems. Quote from the Big Book: “the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything – we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must or it kills us!”

Many of us do come to AA for positive reasons because we want to be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters – because we are desperately ashamed of the hurt our drinking is causing others – because we are sick of our own degrading conduct and selfish existence and desire something better – and not merely because we can’t continue drinking.

Therefore, we believe it is extremely poor psychology to profound this statement to a new man, if for no other reason than to crush the first “out-going” thought he has had for many years. It could even so discourage him as to destroy his fair chance for recovery.

In our opinion, the great and satisfying rewards that accrue to “self” are the results of unselfish thought, attitude and effort. Some alcoholics may stay dry through development of new techniques by substituting habit or ritual, but we have failed to see them achieve sobriety meaning emotional stability and maturity of judgement.

Their lives continue to be plagued with disorder and conflict for they neglect their real source of power and guidance, spiritual growth and faith in a Higher Power. Our Big Book tells us that the alcoholic’s recovery is not dependent upon people. It is “dependent upon his relationship with God.”

AA does require individual acceptance. It does require individual application of its suggestions. It does require individual action in the practice of its principles. But, neither the tools we use nor the aims we strive for are selfish. Even our Twelve Traditions underline the essential quality of personal recovery, the concern for others. We learn to “give up personal desires for the common good.”

We should even strive to lay aside the very human aspirations for recognition and acclaim – and serve others as humbly and as gratefully as possible. No, even though our human weaknesses sometimes prevent fulfillment of AA’s aims and ideals, its “spirit” of love and service should never be tarnished with selfish motivation or goals.

By Les V., St. Paul, MN., Central Bulletin April 1973

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.