The Traditions form the backbone of our fellowship. Our fellowship, and others like it, would have degenerated into petty power struggles, if it were not for the Traditions. Yet we so rarely hear the Traditions discussed. If they are mentioned at all it is generally by some old-timer who can quote them verbatim and issue them as a proclamation to justify why a certain thing can or can not be done. Are the Traditions really only for the initiated, or can they be of real and practical use for every member of the fellowship?
It's true that the Traditions do embody principles by which our group can function in a healthy and productive way. However, everyone ought to get involved in the practical details of the group's functioning. Traditions tell us not only that this should be encouraged, but also are the best way to go about doing this so that everyone is empowered by the experience.
What's even more interesting is that because two or more people can make a group, any group interaction can work much more effectively through application of the Traditions. Therefore taken to its obvious conclusion, any interaction I have with just one other person is a group activity. Why then have I not used the Traditions more often to help me with my relationships with others? The Steps help me to deal with my thoughts and feelings. The Traditions show me a path that I might take to share these feeling and thoughts with others.
Ultimately the Traditions describe a possible path to intimacy. This is often achieved through service where and when the Traditions are most often used. However, I have found that the Traditions can also be applied individually in all my dealings with other people. They describe a set of rules that has the interests of all concerned always at heart.
Most of us know what isolation is but haven't a clue what intimacy is. I always thought that having sex was intimacy so I could never understand why sex left me feeling so unfulfilled and even more isolated, the very things I was trying to overcome by having sex. I realized that intimacy was a process not an event (like sex had become for me). Seeing a film with one person, taking a walk with another, taking a walk on my own, laughing with a group of friends were all part of an overall experience of intimacy. Only sometimes did these experiences lead to sex. Even if they didn't, they were still experiences of intimacy. I came to see intimacy as a series of concentric circles where the outer most circle represented the initial contact with another person and the inner most circle represented that contact with another person (place or thing) that seemed to transcend all boundaries but which was not necessarily sexual.
Any interaction I had with another person could be plotted on this map of concentric circles and help me to define or chart the development of my relationships. My compulsive behavior would always want to take me straight to the innermost circle, but this was not always the most desirable or appropriate behavior. It was simply a way of avoiding the emotions, embarrassment, negotiations and exchanges of travelling from the outer to the inner circle over a period of time. This, I discovered, was no longer a desirable modus operandi. The Traditions showed me a healthy, sane and incremental way to get to know people so that reaching the central circle did not become my focus but simply part of the entire journey.
Intimacy is something I have to work at slowly and consistently. It does not happen in a moment of passion. The Traditions provide the means by which I can gradually share and unmask myself so that intimacy ("into-me-see") can develop.
The first three words of Tradition One refer to "our common welfare". What is our common welfare? During meetings we often told to focus on the emotional similarities not the factual differences. Our common welfare then is represented by the common things that unite us. What are some of the things we have in common?
For example, our sense of belonging, our feelings, our shared strengths, our cultures, our families, our sense of powerlessness in the face of the disease of sexual compulsion. Putting these things first enables us not to focus on those things that are different about each of us and have perhaps kept us separate in the past. For most of my life I have put a lot of energy into pursuing and fuelling my "uncommon valor", those things that made me stand out and ultimately kept me very alone. In any situation, I always found myself looking for the thing that I could do or say which would bring attention to me, as the most unusual and extraordinary person under the sun, with the effect that no one ever felt that they could relate to me. The first part of the first Tradition has taught me to look rather for the things I have in common with others as the first step towards cooperation, community and intimacy. This does not deny my individuality but rather gives me a safe context where I can express my individuality to a useful end. (No matter how hard I try I can not repress my individuality. I can however give myself a better chance of having some effect by expressing it within a context where I first acknowledge my similarities rather than using my individuality as a tool to separate myself from others). Our common welfare then supports me being who I am, and gives me a place and a reason to be so.
Progress really does depend upon all of us continually working together. Would the pyramids have been built if only one person had been prepared to do the work? Would we have been able to walk on the moon if only one person had tried to build a space ship? Would we have recovery worldwide if Bill W., the founder of AA, had just kept his recovery to himself? Whenever anyone of us makes any progress it benefits all of us collectively. We contribute to the improvement of conditions for each individual in our fellowship or culture. Any action I take or anything I say or even think, must therefore take into account the best intentions of all concerned as well as all the many parts of my life, which also makes up their own whole system. I can no longer expect to be able to do just any old thing and get away with it. I need to consider the consequences of my actions. I need to consider how they affect my life as a whole, my culture, my gender, my country, the whole planet. Only in ! this way can I contribute to the common welfare and the recovery of myself and others. Ultimately it comes down to me standing on the street deciding whether to drop the chocolate wrapper where I am standing or whether to carry it three block to the nearest garbage bin. Everything I do contributes to the world and the fellowship. So I need to ask myself "Am I contributing to the pile of negative actions in the world or am I contributing to the pile of positive actions in the world?" And as to my compulsive acting-out behavior, I need to ask myself how is this contributing to the positive development of myself, my culture and the world. If my acting out behavior no longer serves me then perhaps I need to find another action that can have a more positive effect on me and my world.
When my life was being run by my addiction. I did not care about anyone else and had no interest in the consequences of any of my actions. All I cared about was that my needs should be met straight away, no matter what the cost to my life or to others. Tradition One helped me to slow down my life. Now I can look at my life in a larger context and make more sensible, long range decisions.
Step One made me see that my life was unmanageable because I was actively and pointlessly fighting my addiction ("yes I will....no I won't...oh what the heck, who cares anyway?"). Only by admitting my powerlessness and not entering into the inner battle did I learn that I am not my emotions. I am more and bigger than my emotions, and learning this taught me also how to manage my emotions.
In a similar way Tradition One points out that while I am acting solely on my own behalf, I can expect to get nowhere. Only when I can admit that I am like others do I become willing to undergo the same rigors as everyone else. Oddly enough when I am willing to admit that I am like everyone else I begin to discover what it feels like to be myself because I feel myself to be part of everyone else because I define myself in relation to others not just myself. Together we learn to be ourselves and to work together to create a new group identity as well.
The First Tradition makes it clear that we can not do it on our own. We have to do it together. How many of us have tried for so long to give up our compulsive behaviors without success? How many on the other hand have succeeded within the fellowship? Clearly Tradition One tells us that it's all for one and one for all. Clearly this applies to all areas of our life too. I can't just pretend to join in. Others will soon see that I am not participating.
When I first realized how far-ranging the repercussions of the First Tradition were, I was thrown into a period of compulsive acting out. It all seemed just too difficult. Then I began to look at my acting out behavior very sharply, and realized that I was basically engaging in mutual prostitution with someone who was just as much a victim as me. I could not achieve intimacy in my life in this way. I began to talk to the people I was acting out with, as well as "talking" to the neglected parts of my life.
This was the first action towards acknowledging our common welfare and the beginning of lifting myself out of instant gratification to long-term genuine connections to the neglected parts of my life and to others just like me.