Alcoholics Anonymous in an Era of Racial Division

Alcoholics Anonymous in an Era of Racial Division

July 23, 2020

Alcoholics Anonymous and Sponsorship Go Hand in Hand, But You CAN Switch Sponsors

We cannot work the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous alone. As recovering addicts and alcoholics, we need one another’s experience, strength, and hope to get well. Sponsorship plays a huge role in our recovery.

When we are new, we are told to pick a sponsor with traits we want. I picked my current sponsor because she was able to cry easily. I was detached from my emotions at the time and when I wanted to cry, the tears would not come. So, her connection to her emotions was appealing to me.

When you look for a sponsor or people to include in your network, look for qualities they have that you aspire to. It’s important to find a sponsor you connect to. When you pick a sponsor, call them every day for thirty days and see if you feel a connection. We all have different needs. Some of us like stern sponsors and others like a softer hand. Find a sponsor that inspires you, teaches you about the program, and guides you through the steps. But know that you can change sponsors if you don’t mesh well with them and you can change the people you network with, too.

The state of the world, politics, and racial division is top of mind for everyone right now. And you may find that someone in your network (or your sponsor), stands for ideals that you never saw before and that don’t agree with your own code of ethics. It’s important to know that Alcoholics Anonymous frees us to be the people we want to be. It allows us to choose who we want in our lives.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a Microcosm of the World
Around Us

Just as people in the world around us disagree, so do people in Alcoholics Anonymous. As a result, we may find that our truths and what we are passionate about differs from our fellows, and even our sponsors.


One of the gifts of Alcoholics Anonymous is autonomy. As people in recovery, we have the right to choose how we live our lives and who we surround ourselves with. If we were raised in abusive households, AA may offer us the first chance to say no and determine what we want our lives and our friends to look like.

Recently, this choice of who I do and do not want in my circle hit very close to home. It made me think about how other members of Alcoholics Anonymous may also face the same situation.

When I came to Alcoholics Anonymous, I had yet to learn how to say no. I don’t know that I even understood that I had a right to say no. I am a Jewish woman, and a minority. I remember being newly sober and sitting in a small group at AA as someone who had decades of sobriety made an anti-Semitic comment. I was hurt and angry but felt glued to my seat – because I didn’t yet understand that I had a voice or a choice. So, I said and did nothing – out of fear. I think that kind of fear is common among us – especially when we are new and just practicing how to express our emotions.

Those of us who are minorities share a common bond. Only we can understand the fire that builds in our belly for being disparaged based on the color of our skin our belief system. We alcoholics, who are most sensitive, must learn how to navigate discrimination in healthy ways that also allow us to stand up for ourselves.

What to Do If You Face Racism or Discrimination in Alcoholics Anonymous

First, we must remember that Alcoholics Anonymous has Twelve Traditions, the first of which states, ” The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking.” That means that we are ALL welcome. Every AA group is autonomous and leads itself. If you see or experience discrimination, find someone who goes to the monthly group meetings. They can bring the problem to the group and the group can handle it. They can add a note to every meeting that racial, political, or religious discrimination will not be tolerated. This self-governance in Alcoholics Anonymous works to protect us all.

Second, if you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, know that you can walk away. In the moment, I have found this tactic most helpful. It doesn’t mean I won’t say something later. It just means that I allow myself the time to collect myself and my emotional reaction before speaking. Everyone must handle this their own way. I know myself well enough to know that I react by speaking out of anger. I also know people hear me best, when I speak calmly. Also, I like to talk to other people in AA before I say something I may regret.

Third, always remember that all forms of discrimination offer us the opportunity to educate others who have never felt it. Ultimately, that’s our goal – to squash misperceptions and open minds to the equality we all deserve. I practice walking away before I say something. Cursing at someone or yelling at them does not teach them why discrimination is wrong or how much it hurts. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to learn how their behavior impacts others. Everyone should have the chance to make amends and change. A changed world is the ultimate goal.

I have had situations where I have approached someone for saying inappropriate things. In most instances, the person apologizes and never says another disrespectful thing about religion, sexual orientation, or race again. When that happens, we forgive them and move on. When it doesn’t, we can refine our network or change sponsors.

Letting Go of Toxic People in Alcoholics Anonymous

In some instances, reconciliation after discrimination is impossible. In one instance, someone I was very close to made an anti-Semitic remark to me. I called to talk to her about it a week later. She apologized and we moved on. But, recently, I found her in a Facebook group that is frightfully racist. This is now the second time this person has expressed a discriminatory viewpoint. The time has come to let her go.

This time, I will not be calling her to educate her about the pain her comments cause. Instead, I am doing the other most valuable thing I can do – which is to stand beside every minority who feels the sting of discrimination. Doing THAT reinforces my core belief that all minorities must stand up for one another.

If you must let someone in your network go or even need to let a sponsor go, it’s ok. It doesn’t negate the value the person once had in your life. It just may be time to move on and let someone new into your life. It may also hurt at the same time. Doing what is right isn’t always easy. I love the person I am letting go. But, understanding that love isn’t always enough is a powerful lesson and a huge opportunity for personal growth.

I have faced minimal discrimination in Alcoholics Anonymous. I have faced far more in the world outside the rooms. But, in this most delicate time in history, we should think about how we will handle it if it comes our way, how we will stand beside our fellows when words hurt them, and how our unity must always supersede everything.

We are a powerful group. We say, ” We can do together what we cannot do alone,” because it is undeniably true. So, let’s do that. If you see racism or discrimination that isn’t directed at you, stand by your friends. If you experience it, know you are not alone and that no group of Alcoholics Anonymous will support such behavior. Bring your concerns to the group. They will honor your dignity and equality. Because that is the true AA way of life.

With love…

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