The Al-Anon Family Groups have no opinion on outside issues;
Hence our name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
Our groups, as such, ought never be organized:
But we may create service boards or committees
Directly responsible to those they serve.
- “As newcomers, many of us were surprised by the absence of rules in Al-Anon. Before we found recovery from the effects of alcoholism, a strict sense of order may have been our only way of feeling that we had some control. Naturally we expected a program as successful as Al-Anon to be even more rigid than we were! Instead, as a newcomer, I was told that I was free to work the steps at my own pace. I could ask questions of anyone as they came up. No one was in charge, yet everyone was in charge. It seemed impossible, yet I could see it working more effectively than any organization with which I’d ever been involved.” Courage to Change p. 291
Newcomers were reassured to find that there was a structure to a meeting. They’d hear the same opening every week, the same closing – albeit read by different people. The chairs were put in place and then put away. The meeting started and ended on time. And if the “chairperson” didn’t make it? Someone else knew what to do. So there was order and predictability. And in rooms with good recovery, no one was in charge.
- A member shares, “In reflecting on the 9th tradition what floats into my mind is a key Alanon message: it works if you work it. In Alanon that means applying the steps, traditions, and concepts translates into good governance. Operating outside the structure, no matter how loose it may seem, translates into trouble. Applying that to the “real world,” I note that the ninth tradition is a good model for governance anywhere. Any institution can benefit from a leader who takes input from others seriously and understands what subjects fall in or out of her scope. The situations in which leaders become autocrats, don't listen, or try to take on or delegate too much are often unhealthy systems.”
- A member shares, “When I first found a meeting upon moving back to NYC, they seemed to be a clique and to make decisions when the rest of the group had left the meeting. It was so triggering for me, I had to find another group. I have since revisited that first group and they have come a long way in rotating service and are so much more healthy as a result.”
Meetings have needs. The room has to be rented, the chairs set up, the meeting “chaired.” By rotating these service positions, no one becomes the boss and everyone is given a chance to serve the group.
- A member shares, “Tradition Nine reinforces the equality of the group. A few years back a newcomer attended my home meeting. The topic was a tradition. But in light of our guest, the leader suggested we discuss the First Step. My opinion was that we stick to our original program and avoid trying to fix the meeting to make it right for someone else. We took a group conscience and I was outvoted. Reflecting on this tradition is a reminder that a group conscience acts a “service committee” to make changes on the fly. This story also reflects that committees are responsible for those they serve. True we have different opinions about who we serve and what responsibility looks like, but we usually come to an agreement.”
- A member shares, “If these meetings had been organized, I wouldn’t have stayed. I needed the level playing field – no hierarchy.”
No hierarchy – that’s key. No one is an expert – on Al-Anon or even on how best to set up chairs. We all have something to contribute. And sometimes that something is making a mistake or doing it wrong or not knowing. Giving members permission to “not know” is often the beginning of recovery. As children or partners of alcoholics, we’d too often needed to be hyper-vigilant or super-responsible or in charge. But those old habits had gotten us exactly here. And having permission to do things a different way – even if that way didn’t work at first – was often the first step to asking for help.
- A member shares, “It’s this deep seated uneasiness and anxiety – this is why I need to control.”
- A member shares, “I am naturally quick and organized. But that can lead to impatience. And what is impatience really – ‘I can do it better. You’re not doing it fast enough.’ When everyone has a right to their own way of doing things. Really it’s learning to respect that everyone has a voice.”
Which brings us to the second part of the tradition – “creating service boards and committees directly responsible to those they serve.” As we’ve said, Al-Anon has needs. And sometimes those needs are best served by a group of people dedicated to the completion of a specific task – in other words a service board or committee. For example, an anniversary celebration needs people to divvy up chores to make it a success. An LDC needs people to run it efficiently. An Al-Anon Information Service needs volunteers to manage outreach. And yes, decisions will need to be made. Who will bring the brownies to the anniversary celebration? Who will maintain the website? Who will order the books? But what’s important here is that these decisions are governed by the membership through its group conscience. And volunteers or elected representatives are there not to govern or decide or manage or control but to use their best judgment as trusted servants of the fellowship.
- “If you trust me with a particular job, whether in my Al-Anon group, my home, or other organizations, then I have a responsibility to you to accomplish the task. I can do it in my own way and in my own time, because you trust me. If someone had that job before me, they can share their experience with me. However, nobody needs to stand over me to make sure that I do it perfectly or in a certain way.” Reaching for Person Freedom p. 106
- A member shares, “The ninth tradition is a reminder that I need to identify and carry out my responsibilities to myself and, as appropriate, to others. Yet issues outside my expertise also need attention. So, for example, I’ve researched and hired a “service committee” AKA financial adviser to manage my long-term fiscal health. A parallel concept is when a group elects a liaison to buy supplies or find a new meeting space.”
- A member shares, “Shouldering other people's problems without the necessary skills/resources helps no one. I'm doing the opposite of Tradition 9's dictate of being "directly responsible to those they serve." Yet channeling problems to the appropriate place does not equate to zero responsibility. As Bob Dylan says, "You're gonna have to serve somebody." Alanon reminds me that if I choose to serve someone, it needs to be done with care and respect for self and others.”
Service is often a way for a member to break isolation and become fully invested in program. It’s also a safe way to practice the principles. When we serve on a committee, will we dominate or listen to the views of others? Will we try to take control or share responsibility? Will we judge others according to our rigid standards or will we be flexible and understanding? Will we be open or impatient? Most of all, will we grow?
- A member shares, “When I don’t have the answer, I get to learn.”
- “It is not necessary to force compliance or set constraints. We learn to be more flexible and trust that our Higher Power is working with us to achieve the best results… By practicing this Tradition in all areas of our lives, we begin to feel safe enough to let go and trust one another.” Reaching for Personal Freedom p. 103
Tradition Nine is a blueprint for healthy interaction with other people. And isn’t that why we’re here in Al-Anon?