For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as may be expressed in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
Anyone Can Be an Authority (And of Service Too) by Jim U (NY)
This tradition, like all of them, comes to us from Alcoholics Anonymous. Originally they were referred to as "Twelve Points to Assure Our Future." They were not readily received by the A.A. membership: "Though the Twelve Points to Assure Our Future, basis of the traditions, had now been published, they still had not been accepted by the membership. In keeping with the Second Tradition, Bill still had to sell them to the 'Constituency', and this he now set out to do. During the last three years of the decade 1947-50, still coping with his depression, he was out in the groups, "selling" the Traditions, whether his audiences wanted to listen or not. Sometimes they did not. Bill remembered, "I received letters like this: `Bill, we would love to have you come and speak. Tell us about where you used to hide your bottles and tell us about that hot-flashed spiritual experience of yours. But please don't talk anymore about those damned traditions.'"1
Bill's experience with the second tradition had been that in the early 40's, he and Lois were struggling financially: "They had been put out of their flat in Brooklyn and they were living in [one] little dingy room over the 24th Street Clubhouse. It was about as depressing a picture as it could get. The Big Book had been written and Bill wanted to be listed as author because he thought the royalties would recoup the family fortunes and Lois would be able to leave her job. For a man to be supported by his wife in those days-Well, for a Vermont Yankee-was a disgrace."2
He had previously been offered a job by Charlie Towns, the owner of Towns Hospital at 293 Central Park West, a facility for treating alcoholism. This was the hospital where Bill often tried to sober up or dry out. Charlie had offered him a position as a day therapist whereby he could share in the profits. Bill was elated. "Bill thought the offer verified by heavenly guidance. As he rode the subway home, the biblical quote "The laborer is worthy of his hire" came to him. By the time he arrived home, he was convinced that it was his destiny to become a paid therapist.
"He was in for a big disappointment. Lois failed to share his enthusiasm. He was even more surprised by the response of the recovered alcoholics after they gathered for the Tuesday evening meeting. Although Bill's live-in alcoholics were having considerable trouble, a number of recovered alcoholics were not in the area. The group listened with impassive faces as Bill told them of Towns' offer. Then one member volunteered: "We know how hard up you are, Bill…It bothers us a lot. We've often wondered what we might do about it. But I think I speak for everyone here when I say that what you now propose bothers us. Don't you realize that you can never become a professional? As generous as Charlie has been to us, don't you see that we can't tie this thing up with his hospital or any other? … This is a matter of life and death, Bill, and nothing but the very best will do…Haven't you often said right here in this meeting that sometimes the good is the enemy of the best? Well, this is a plain case of it…
"Bill, you can't do this to us," he added. "Don't you see that for you, our leader, to take money for passing on our magnificent message, which the rest of us try to do the same thing without pay, would soon disgrace us all?…Why should we do for nothing what you'd be getting paid for? We'd all be drunk in no time."
Bill did understand, almost immediately, that this work could be done for love only, never for money. He declined Charlie's offer. When Bill described the incident later, he portrayed himself as the impulsive self-seeking opportunist who might have wrecked the fledgling movement had it not been for the wise and timely advice of others. Both Bill and Lois remembered the incident as an early example of the group conscience in action."3
In S.C.A. we also recognize that our leaders are not authorities. They come and go with each new election by the group conscience. They work in harmony with our group conscience. They are trusted servants. Of all the subjects that are dealt with in the 12 Steps and Traditions: admitting, believing, deciding; inventorying; asking; forgiveness and so on, the one that has certainly been one of the largest for me has been the topic of authority. This tradition taken into a personal level revealed an area I had acted out over for a great portion of my life. Probably, as far back as infancy when my mother let it be known that she was in charge which did not sit well with me.
As time went on, older siblings declared their authority. I felt the kids who went to public schools had authority over me as I went to parochial and I felt they had better connections with the city. Teachers, clerics, bosses, adults, all were authorities. Religion, philosophies, political systems, work staff hierarchies, all had authority over me. I found myself choosing jobs that had few if any supervisors. The great authority was a non-loving, judgmental, punitive God and his followers who I later discovered had created Him in their own image. They governed me with their morals and their structures. I didn't know it consciously but subconsciously these factors were all affecting me. Grandparents were there as well as the advertising mega-machine "popular" opinion and general hearsay. When I began inventorying this step I touched upon such a huge area of rage. I wanted to dump my sponsor (an authority figure). So it was becoming obvious that my modus operandi was to reject any authority or run from it and what better escape than my sexual compulsion which could soothe me until the immediate threat passed.
These authorities could rise up at any moment, both obviously such as in a tyrannical boss, and more craftily through my always making choices in life that would please Mommie or Father. All of this was part of the insanity I recognized in Step 2 when I discovered that only God could restore me to sanity. In Tradition Two it becomes clear that this is a Loving God and this Loving God is the ultimate authority. It expresses Itself through our group conscience which means all of us have this expression within us. I became consciously aware of this Loving God through Step 11. I realized that I have access to It; my group has access to It; my boss; my Mother; the American Medical Association; the landlord and even my older siblings. Therefore, we are all trusted servants of this Higher, Loving Power. Further I can bring people into my life to help me. I can contact the dentist who is an authority in that area, far more so than I, to attend to my teeth. I recognize that I allowed that my mom was better equipped than I to change my diapers when I was one. The landlord has authority over the building, however we enter into agreement concerning my living situation and this is outlined in our lease. When my older brother appears to be a mostly vituperative authority figure to me I can stop and realize that age is irrelevant with our ultimate Loving Authority and I can see my brother through the same eyes as I view the sick newcomer.
Slowly I became an authority also. I become the authority of me. Nobody else lives in my skin 24 – 7. I ask for guidance, help and support. I contact my sponsor for reality checks. A new me is emerging as the result of the step and tradition work I have done thus far. When I first came into program, people would say, "How are you?" and I would say, "I don't know." Today, I can say "I am confused" or "delighted" or "troubled" or "I think I need some help." Today I can choose to lightly answer the question if it is simply someone on the street asking merely to be neighborly and I don't wish to speak on the level I may with someone in S.C.A. This is all because today, I am the accepted authority of myself and nobody else is in charge of me. This Loving God shows me the way so I don't have to have feelings that someone else is in control of my life – a feeling that would almost always have me in acting out mode. I can go to my sponsor or group with a dilemma and get clarity on who's in charge, so that today when my boss goes off I can trust the situation to lead me to realizing that there is only one ultimate Authority: a Loving God who is the Author of all of this. We're all equal in God's eyes and just as when in Step Seven I pray to this God that "I am now willing that He should have all of me good and bad to with as he wishes."4 I can see that we are all good and bad in our eyes but in God's eyes it all works out and the point of all these skirmishes is to lead me to this loving God. So I can trust myself in all these situations.
Now that I can trust myself, I have choice and choice is something I never had when I was active. The Steps and Traditions all leads me to a new freedom. They give me me.