What, Exactly, Are Al‑Anon’s Spiritual Principles?

Early in my recovery, I’d hear members mention “the principles” in meetings. I would see references to “spiritual principles” in our Conference Approved Literature (CAL). I noticed that the Twelfth Step guides us to “practice these principles.” While members in my groups shared freely, I couldn’t seem to understand that there might be an underlying theme to each Legacy that could be considered a “principle.” What were these principles and where could I find them?

When I started to participate in service, my exposure to more members from farther away increased, and with it, my exposure to new ideas. Some would share how they assigned a principle to each Legacy, creating lists that were distributed in Area newsletters and workshops. This helped me understand what some principles of the program might be. I even started to disagree with some of those lists and substituted different principles here and there.

Over time, my understanding grew enough that I could look at the Twelve Steps of Al‑Anon and call out spiritual principles with ease. Most of the Steps had key words right in them—powerlessness, humility, willingness. Identifying spiritual principles gave me a snapshot of each Legacy and illuminated ways to apply them to my recovery.

With my growing understanding of principles, the Twelve Traditions really came alive. It was as though once my eyes became open to seeing spiritual principles, I couldn’t not see them! Several principles jumped out just from reading Tradition One—common welfare, personal progress, greatest number, and unity. As I applied the Traditions to different settings in my service or my personal life, my understanding broadened, while the application narrowed.

At an Area Assembly workshop themed “One Day at a Time,” one of Tradition One’s principles was described as “Common Welfare—having an awareness of myself in relation to the group.” A principle in Tradition Six became “Cooperation—I am more alike than different.” Tradition Nine revealed, “No one is in charge; we are all responsible,” while Tradition Twelve challenged me to examine, “On what foundation am I building my relationships?” I was able to draw out principles that supported the workshop theme for each Tradition and even apply them to different situations.

One of my favorite ways to serve fellow members is to be a Service Sponsor. An exercise I like to use to start our relationship is to read about the Twelve Concepts of Service from an agreed-upon selection of CAL and discuss the principles that we find. I always feel enlightened when yet another principle is revealed, offering new opportunities for growth and understanding and the chance to apply them to my life in a variety of ways.

Some of the principles identified in the Concepts of Service include: no sole member acts alone; representatives are empowered to speak and act; those in service positions are trusted; without participation, there’s nothing to share and no message to carry; everyone has a voice; there are checks and balances at every turn; personal leadership is a necessity; service roles must be defined; etc.

Sometimes the principles can be found in what the Concepts don’t say, too. Safeguards against perilous wealth and power are found in the General Warranties, as part of Concept Twelve: maintain sufficient operating funds but avoid hoarding; all opinions are allowed but none claim unqualified authority; decisions are arrived at by discussion; avoiding public controversy sometimes means letting go of others’ opinions and our own need to defend; trusted servants guard against their own dominance while upholding the pillars that support the future of Al‑Anon Family Groups.

I recognize that anytime I make a list, something gets left out or needs to be revised or removed. As my interpretation expands, my list evolves. While it’s helpful to have a basic list, I allow myself the flexibility to grow in my understanding, and the possibilities become endless as I practice “these principles” in all my affairs.

A number of years ago, Al-Anon’s Member Blog began with members sharing their favorite spiritual principles. You can continue that conversation at al-anon.org/spiritual-principles by writing about the spiritual principles you practice.

By Christa A., Senior Group Services Specialist

The Forum, December 2023

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.