Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide, peer-led support group that is centered on recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD), available to anyone with a desire to stop drinking.
If you’re familiar with AA, then you might have seen its official symbol: a triangle inside of a circle. This symbol is used as an identifying marker to indicate meeting locations and is also seen on sobriety coins.
The sides of the triangle represent the three legacies of AA: the legacy of recovery, the legacy of unity, and the legacy of service, which are enclosed in a circle to represent oneness.
Recovery, unity, and service are the mainstays of AA, and are perceived as equally essential to personal recovery.
The Circle And The Triangle
The symbol of AA dates back to 1955, when it was approved during the General Service Conference in St. Louis.
The symbol was first introduced by William Wilson, or “Bill W,” a New York City stockbroker and one of two founders of AA.
The other cofounder was Robert Smith, known as “Dr. Bob,” a surgeon from Akron, OH. Both Bill W and Dr. Bob had AUD and met in search of a solution for recovery.
The symbol is derived from an ancient spiritual symbol in which the triangle represents the mind, body, and spirit, and is seen as stable when balanced, and the circle represents unlimited potential and open-mindedness.
The co-founders identified recovery, unity, and service as a three-part solution to a three-part disease that affects people physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The three sides of the triangle are also known to represent the 12 steps, the 12 traditions, and the 12 concepts, which are all essential to the program of AA.
The AA Trinity
Recovery, unity, and service are recognized as the AA trinity. These concepts represent the legs that AA is rooted in and continues to stand on.
The Legacy Of Recovery In AA
People come to AA, first and foremost, with the hope to recover from alcohol use disorder. For many people, an AA meeting is their “last stop,” which is how meetings have gotten “last stop” as a nickname.
AA follows a program of recovery that is outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, more often referred to as “the big book,” the official text of AA.
There is often mention made at the beginning of AA meetings about there being “only one suggested program of recovery.” This program of recovery refers to the 12 steps of AA.
The AA program is based on working with a sponsor, or a spiritual advisor with more experience in AA and who has completed the 12 steps, to go through the 12 steps.
Going through the 12 steps is believed to guide members through a spiritual awakening. This experience is underscored by learning to rely on a higher power to overcome addiction.
The Legacy Of Unity In AA
The terms “program” and “fellowship” are often used interchangeably in AA, but they are not to be mistaken with each other. The AA program refers to the 12 steps, but the AA fellowship refers to the people in AA and the connection between them.
Unity represents the fellowship of AA. The accessibility of AA extends to people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, living situations, education, careers, and more.
AA is anonymous, so last names are not exchanged and a person’s life in the outside world does not determine their placement in AA, where everyone is seen as equal.
Because of this level playing ground, all members of AA have the chance to connect and learn from each other by sharing their experiences, strength, and hope to support their common welfare.
To guide the fellowship, AA groups follow the 12 traditions, which provide guidelines for group members, groups, relationships between other groups, the fellowship as a whole, and the outside world.
The Legacy Of Service In AA
Service is the way that AA lives on and AA members continue to carry the message. The big book states that it should be one’s primary purpose to be of maximum service to others and their conception of a higher power, which some members choose to call god.
Service has a two-fold impact: it provides support to those on the receiving end and it helps those providing service to “get out of self” and “do the next right thing,” which are common sayings in AA.
Part of the thought process behind service is that you can’t always change your present situation, but you can take steps toward positive action, which can help to reframe perspective, build self-confidence, and change behavioral patterns.
Getting involved in service is important for all AA members, and is especially recommended for people in their first 90 days of recovery.
There are many ways to participate in service in AA, such as:
- giving rides to and from AA meetings to members without transportation
- taking a “coffee commitment,” or preparing coffee before meetings and cleaning up the coffee pot after meetings
- taking on meeting commitments, such as chairing meetings
- volunteering to participate in conventions and/or conferences
- bringing AA meetings into rehabs, jails, and/or other institutions
- becoming a sponsor
- giving out sobriety coins
- welcoming people at the door of AA meetings
Service in AA is guided by the 12 concepts, which designate Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AA World Services) as the ultimate authority and decision-maker of AA.
AA groups are self-supporting, but they operate within the guidelines set forth by AA World Services to foster cohesion and uphold the AA trinity of recovery, unity, and service.
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Published on January 16, 2024
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- The AA Grapevine – Why Is The Triangle The Symbol Of AA?
- The American Journal Of Psychiatry – My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson – His Life And The Creation Of Alcoholics Anonymous
- Experience The Big Book – Thoughts On Recovery – No. 1 – The Circle And The Triangle And AA Today