What are the 61 Rules of AA?


Life is full of rules, and so too is the road to sobriety. But the story of the 61 rules of aa (and the origin of rule 62), is a great reminder that sometimes departing from a bunch of rules and the simple approach is best. Here’s the story of how Alcoholics Anonymous came close to having over five dozen rules, and what we can learn from the fact that it didn’t come to pass. 

The 61 Rules of AA

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 and 12, also known as the book of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, tells a story about the early history of the AA organization (in the chapter about the Fourth Tradition).  A local group had gotten permission to create an elaborate treatment center and community. They determined that there needed to be rules about how this entity would function and operate and devised 61 of them. Unable to come to an agreement amongst themselves, the group sent their list of 61 rules to the New York office of Alcoholics Anonymous for the final say. 

The office, which was run by volunteers of current and past AA members, had no experience or idea of how to run such an entity. After discussing the 61 rules that were sent to them, they came up with the profoundly wise saying: ‘Don’t take yourself too damn seriously”. There you have rule 62 of AA’s origin.

What Does Rule 62 Mean?

It’s easy to get caught up in our lives and our current goals. Even one as important and necessary as getting sober, however, can cause us to get wrapped up in ourselves and what we’re pursuing. Rule 62 is meant to remind us to stay humble and help us keep perspective. Neither is it about belittling the effort it takes to overcome alcoholism.

The reminder to not take ourselves too seriously makes it easier to view our setbacks and mistakes in a kinder light. Having a more lighthearted view of the recovery journey gives us more room to err and also encourages us to be kinder to ourselves in light of ourselves. We’re going to make mistakes (and that’s okay!) and to expect anything else means we’re holding ourselves to an unrealistic standard.  

Another meaning of the rule is to recognize that life can still be enjoyable and pleasurable without alcohol. The weight of addiction hanging over your head can make things seem ‘doom and gloom’ and it can be hard to picture your life in the after stage of addiction. Not taking yourself too seriously also means giving yourself permission to look for joy and fun, to laugh at yourself, and to appreciate the little things, even while in pursuit of something as important as sobriety.  

How to Not Take Yourself Too Seriously

Here are five ways to lighten up during your alcohol addiction recovery journey:

  1. Make new friends. Finding people that you have things in common with and whose presence you enjoy can be a great reminder that you are not an island and that you can still relate to others (and have a good time doing it!). 
  2. Attend fun events. Sure, going to AA meetings is a great thing, but you shouldn’t forget about events that cater to other interests or that would allow you to meet people that aren’t in recovery. These events will help to remind you that you are more than just “in recovery” and can reignite your passion for the future.
  3. Laugh at yourself. The ultimate sign of humility is the ability to laugh at yourself. Being able to find the humor in past, possibly unpleasant, circumstances means that you’ve grown and moved on enough that you can view it with a light heart.

What are the Rules of AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t really have rules, nor is there an AA rule book. AA recognizes that there’s no one way to go about sobriety. Instead, AA has the 12 Steps, the 12 Traditions, the 12 Prayers, and over a hundred AA slogans which are used to guide members through their alcohol addiction and into recovery. Members are encouraged to use all of these resources as best serves them, which could include mixing and matching. 

However, that’s not to say that there’s no structure at all. It’s highly recommended that participants work through the 12 Steps in order, even if they feel stuck on it. The Big Book and other AA literature provide plenty of guidance on the best way to think about alcoholism and recovery and to make progress. And remember that AA doesn’t have a strict ‘my way or the highway’ approach with rules that members must abide by.

Want to learn more about AA? Find an Alcoholics Anonymous group near you today. 

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