“Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”The Seventh Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” This is a source of independence, resilience, and durability for every group and for A.A. as a whole. No outside power can cut off A.A.’s money and threaten its existence, because there is no outside source of money. No one can give a lot of money and gain control, because there is no central treasury, and no one is allowed to give more than $3000 a year, so there can be no big givers with big plans. Each group is autonomous, with no central control, so A.A. remains democratic in thought and action.
So what? There is a lesson for our lives as individuals and families. If we are self-supporting through our own contributions, our lives are better. We are free from outside interference, free from worry, and free from conflicts about money.
One of the barriers to this freedom are the nihilistic beliefs we develop as we get sicker with alcoholism and addiction. Nihilism is literally a belief in nothing. As our disease strengthens, we believe in nothing at all, except our drug of choice.
A couple of years ago, I was in the Mall of America, south of Minneapolis. On the ground floor, there was a kiosk which sold t-shirts, mugs, aprons, and other souvenirs, all with alcohol themes. One set of souvenirs read: “A man has got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”
As we come to believe in nothing but alcohol and drugs, we come to believe that we won’t live very long. Because we won’t live past 30, or 40, or 50, or whatever the next decade is, there is no reason to save money. After all, we aren’t going to live long enough to spend it.
Part of sobering up is realizing that we won’t die of this disease. We might live long enough to get old. Now we are responsible for finding a way to pay for it. It is time to become self-supporting through our own contributions.
This is not an easy transition. The Retreat guests who show the most childish behavior are usually the most financially dependent on their parents. Those over 25 years old who cannot or will not get out of bed in the morning to participate in the Big Book study are usually also those who are also still on their parents’ payrolls. Those who are in the habit of getting up at home and going to work will probably get up at The Retreat and go to the Big Book study in the morning.
As we get and stay sober, we can take the money we were paying to the liquor store or the drug dealer and put it into personal savings. We are no longer one paycheck from disaster. A good practice is to save 15% of our income in a tax-sheltered retirement account such as an IRA or an employer sponsored 401k or 403b. Now that we can live long enough to retire, self-support involves being able to pay for it. It feels good to become self-supporting through our own contributions, and it pushes us farther away from the world of drinking and using.
John MacDougall is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at The Retreat