Page 387 of Many Voices, One Journey (B-31) states, “Al‑Anon as we know it today was not born whole and complete. It developed gradually and took shape over many years.” This idea and the numerous examples shown throughout our history have given me great comfort and hope in my personal recovery.

Growing up in the rigidity of the family disease of alcoholism, I felt that whatever I did had to be perfect—even if I was doing it for the first time. Because my first attempts at anything—whether completing a homework assignment, playing a game, or learning to be a friend—were always tentative and often flawed, I assumed I was doomed to be a failure.

When I joined Al‑Anon, I learned that few worthwhile things ever happen instantly. I stopped letting unrealistic expectations—whether my own or those of others—sap me of motive and esteem. Learning about the development of the Al‑Anon Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps gave me a concrete example of gradual improvement that helped me change my attitude. I had always assumed that the Preamble, that inspiring description of our program often read at the beginning of our meetings, had been there from the start. Discovering that, like me, it started small but underwent numerous changes along the way has inspired my personal search for “Progress Not Perfection.”

According to page 63 of Many Voices, a suggestion from the Vancouver Al‑Anon group in 1953 encouraged our Cofounders, Lois W. and Anne B., to develop a Proposed Welcome and a Proposed Preamble to the Twelve Steps. In that first version, the only words the Preamble had in common with today’s version were “relatives and friends of alcoholics.” Instead, most of it ended up in what is now the Suggested Welcome. (See page 64 of Many Voices for the original wording.)

The Preamble and the Welcome were completely revised in 1964, coming much closer to what each contains today, with only small differences, including a sentence in the Preamble that stated, “The only requirement for membership is that there be a relative or friend with a drinking problem.” This version can be found in the Appendix on page 155 of The Al‑Anon Family Groups—Classic Edition (B-5).

In 1973, what was by then referred to as the Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps was revised one more time. These words have become such a standard description of our program that in 1985, the World Service Conference carried a motion “that the Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps be included on the copyright page of all Conference Approved Literature as a statement of purpose.” In 2004, due to limited space on some copyright pages, the Motion was reconsidered and amended so that the Preamble appears in every piece of CAL, “preferably on the copyright page.”

The Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps has kept its current wording for the last 50 years. I am so grateful for the lesson I’ve learned from it: that growth does not have to happen all at once and is worth the wait.

By Tom C., Associate Director—Literature

The Forum, May 2023

“Inside Al-Anon Family Groups” presents news, policy, and commentary from volunteers, staff and readers sharing experience through service. Please feel free to reprint these articles on your service structure website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.