It might be obvious from the name, but anonymity
is the most important rule of an Alcoholics Anonymous
meeting. You do NOT reveal the names or identities of anyone else you see at a meeting, and everything said in an AA meeting is held in the strictest secrecy. People take this very seriously.
Alcoholics anonymous was co-founded by William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob) in 1935, both of whom had been diagnosed as "hopeless alcoholics*." The founding of AA is usually traced to a business trip Bill W. took in 1935 to Akron, Ohio. When his business meetings ended in disaster, Wilson found himself desperate to find some way to keep himself from drowning his troubles in alcohol. He decided the best way to keep himself from drinking would be to find another alcoholic who was fighting the same fight. By asking around, he finally encountered Dr. Bob, a surgeon who had been fighting his own alcoholism for years. The men first formed a support group of just two, then started helping others, one man at a time, in the top room of Dr. Bob's home. In the next four years, they helped about 100 men. But after the publication of their trademark book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, membership skyrocketed. By 1951, nationwide membership stood at more than 100,000 people.
The ideas espoused in the twelve steps can be traced back to an evangelical religious group called The Oxford Group which emphesized total surrender to God's will. The earliest incarnation of the now-famous twelve steps was at a speech Bill W. gave early in the AA movement, describing how he and Dr. Bob had beaten their alcoholism:
- We admitted we were licked.
- We got honest with ourselves.
- We talked it over with another person.
- We made amends to those we had harmed.
- We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
- We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.
To those who call AA a cult, I'd like to point out that they exhibit none of the dangerous qualities of a cult. They don't want your money (After you've become a regular atendee of a group they ask for small donations to cover operating expenses. But they do NOT, for example, ask you to live in a compound, sign over your earthly goods or to go around selling vegetarian cookbooks on streetcorners). They don't ask you to quit your family or friends (except in cases where your friends are causing you to drink). Cults break families apart. AA brings families together.
I will admit that the slogan-chanting can seem a little hokey to the non-initiated. "It works if you work it, so work it, 'cause you're worth it!" was the one that always made me cringe. But slogans like "one day at a time" and "progress, not perfection" can become a useful mantra for someone fighting addiction.
Take what you like and leave the rest.
* Remember: Alcoholism at this time was considered a mental illness, one that could land you in an insane asylum.