When I first attended Al‑Anon, it was quite a culture shock to hear that in the program “there are no rules.” Based on my alcoholic upbringing, I expected other members to tell me what to do and how to do it. Instead they said, “Follow your heart,” “take what you liked and leave the rest” and “our groups are autonomous.”

As I became familiar with our Twelve Traditions, I realized that there is a “yes, but…” attached to the group autonomy referred to in Tradition Four. (“Each group should be autonomous, except in matters affecting another group or Al‑Anon or AA as a whole.”) Abiding by the Traditions has helped me follow this caveat that I not bring harm to the program that has helped me so much.

Al‑Anon adapted these suggested guidelines from the hard-earned experiences of early A.A groups, so that we might avoid the same pitfalls they faced and assure that Al‑Anon can continue to exist. While “there are no rules in Al‑Anon,” there is a “yes, but…” to that statement too: “but we remain obedient to the unenforceable.”

Our cofounder, Lois W., first applied the term “obedience to the unenforceable” to the Traditions in 1966, when she included a chapter about them for a revision of our first book. There she wrote:

“Al‑Anon … holds together by means of a loving understanding among its members. Al‑Anon is united … by its members’ willingness to be obedient to the unenforceable. … Willingly they apply the Twelve Traditions to the affairs of the groups. Nobody compels them. They are learning to overcome self-will, false pride, resentment and self-pity by recognizing that principles are more important than personalities and by accepting a program on which they know they can depend for help.” (The Al‑Anon Family Groups—Classic Edition (B-5), pages 166-167)

In Lois Remembers (B-7), Lois described love as “a regenerating force,” and on page 196 stated, “I now realize loving is our supreme function.” I agree with her, and truly believe that love is what keeps our program alive. I feel compelled by my love of the program to follow the Traditions to the best of my abilities. Without the love that Al‑Anon has provided me, there’s no telling where or whether I would be.

By Tom C., Associate Director—Literature