Our groups, as such, ought never be organized:
But we may create service boards or committees
Directly responsible to those they serve.
Al-Anon Twelfth Step Work should remain forever non-professional,
But our service centers may employ special workers.
After some reflection, it became clear that the focus was on the wrong issue. It wasn’t about money or even expertise. It was often just practical. Where service centers had work that couldn’t be accomplished by volunteers, they’d have to hire staff and pay them a fair wage. As for distinguishing between service work and 12th step work, the lines were clear:
- “Twelfth Step work takes many forms, including welcoming newcomers, sponsoring another member, sharing at a meeting, serving on a Public Information committee and volunteering time on a telephone answering service. Twelfth Step work is the special task of carrying the Al-Anon message to others.” Paths to Recovery p. 204
Staff personnel who weren’t members of Al-Anon would simply refer a caller to a volunteer if a question touched on issues of program or Al-Anon policy. As for members who wanted to use what they’d learned in recovery in their professional lives as doctors or therapists or teachers, the lines were also clear. As AA had discovered, "The violation in these instances was not professionalism at all; it was breaking anonymity.” As long as members maintained anonymity, they were welcome to practice the principals in all their affairs.
Anonymity guarantees that no one “represents” Al-Anon – whether in the world or in the rooms. While it is true that an “old-timer” may have had more experience practicing the program than a “new-comer,” this experience is only valuable if it is shared subjectively.
- “As experts on living with alcoholism by virtue of our own experience, we help each other by sharing what we have felt and what we have learned rather than by giving advice.” How Al-Anon Works p. 117.
- A member shares, “The word “non-professional” reminds me that Alanon is remarkably simple. Using our quid pro quo system, we listen, study literature, and do service in a confederacy of equals. When called upon to do so, we offer empathy. We avoid "fixing" other adults.”
This is what distinguishes us from professionals - we do not give advice. We listen, we empathize, we share our experience, strength and hope. We do not analyze another person or criticize his or her efforts or try to “fix” anyone. We are neither equipped to do that, licensed to do that or asked to do that in program. In fact we are warned against these efforts.
- “After a while in Al-Anon, I began letting people know about my expertise. It felt good to be appreciated for my profession for a change. Soon I was engaged in therapy appointments all day and calls for advice all evening. My professional advice and my Al-Anon knowledge became hopelessly entangled. Soon neither one was very useful. I became more exhausted and desperate than ever. I began to feel that, if I was the expert, I couldn’t call on those who called me for help. I isolated more and more. Fortunately I had a wonderful sponsor who suggested a closer reading of Tradition Eight. I began to realize that being an expert jeopardized my sanity.” Paths to Recovery p 209
- A member shares, “In my family, the blurred boundaries between paid-professional work and unpaid-non-professional activities have often given rise to drama and resentments. My relationship with the very concept of “work” has always been problematic and somewhat inverted, so the fact that Al-anon is a place where I can never be (or be expected to act like) a professional is an astonishing relief.”
- "We come together as a fellowship of equals, where no one is in charge and no one is an expert. Every member can contribute to the healing power of our program simply by sharing his or her personal story of experience, strength and hope. No special training or qualification other than members is necessary, or even desired.” Courage to Change p. 137
For many of us, Tradition Eight provides a path away from our character defects. We are not expected to “know it all.” We don’t need to do it all alone – or do it perfectly. We don’t need to control the outcome or manage the situation or be hyper-vigilant. We are expected to do an honest inventory, assess what we can and cannot do and then ask for help.
- A member shares, “I sometimes instinctively play savior, forcing my will and neglecting my personal responsibilities. Alanon teaches me that my life minus me is an unhealthy equation, serving no one.”
- A member shares, “It is extremely difficult for me to ask for help. Tradition Eight gives me permission to outsource some of my needs. In fact it allows me to focus on what I love doing and provide work for others who may need it and will no doubt do a more professional job of it.”
- A member shares, “The eighth tradition helps me to stay clear about my role when I encounter someone consistently expecting more than a healthy giving and getting balance. It’s a signal to step back when I find “projects” (AKA damaged, needy people). In these situations, I trumpet my selflessness. I’m a caring person but my efforts are also driven by a self-serving attempt to blame others for my problems. “I can’t attend to my own affairs,” says that unhealthy script. “I’m helping others.” At most, I can be conscious about my part, direct “projects” to special workers in or out of Alanon, and run my own life the best that I can.”
Recovery has many gifts, chief among them serenity. Having achieved a spiritual awakening, however, does not in any way make us “better” or “more advanced” than others in fellowship who might still be struggling.
- A member shares, “There are no experts in Al-anon. Although step work can sometimes feel like an ascendance, there is no graduation and no certification. Although there may very well be a spiritual awakening, there are no privileges granted, no change of status and no worldly compensation.”
- “The love shared in this program is not something that can be bought; it’s a gift, not a commodity. The great and wonderful paradox is that we give it away freely with no expectation of compensation, and we are nonetheless richly rewarded by receiving even more love and recovery than we give away.” Hope for Today p 179
Above all, practicing Tradition Eight helps us become more trusting. And asking for help and entrusting our needs to another person is a bridge back to life.