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The Program in a Nutshell – ACE

There are two sides to the AA coin. On the one is the elegant simplicity of abstinence from alcohol. Then, on the other is the utter complexity that each of our lives brings to our unique walk with sobriety.

I believe this is what makes the AA program so endlessly fascinating. In AA, there is much to talk about.

If you abstain from drink (and other mind-altering chemicals) or have a desire to, then almost anything is a fair game concerning discussion with a sponsor, fellow AA, or in an AA meeting. The broad latitude of topics within relationships, work, emotions, and beliefs regularly come up under this AA umbrella. And, they should, because getting these millions of details right and in synch with oneself are critical elements for living a satisfying and happy life.

Plus, I love when I hear practical advice gleaned through experience that I can adapt to the life situation that helps me stay sober and helps me feel more effective and satisfied. Don’t you?

The Challenge

With my ” keep it simple ” mindset, it is hard to catalog such a varied and diverse menu of both problems and solutions. Culturally, too, we’ve been predisposed to break everything down to “top 3 things” about an issue that, upon some scrutiny, often miss the mark and, while sounding good, don’t say anything.

An example will be if you want to be successful in AA they say:

  1. Get a Sponsor.
  2. Read the Book.
  3. Go to Meetings.

Sounds great. And, it is true – for most. These oversimplifications raise more questions than they suggest answers.

How do I choose a sponsor? When is the right time to choose one, and how do I engage with them? Finally, how do I know I’ve chosen the right one?

We can do the same for each of these questions.

I’ve discussed this paradox before: we crave simplicity, yet nothing is straightforward when looking at it with focus and depth.

Yet, after decades of attending AA, I still find myself thinking about how to simplify the AA message. And now that I am older with a less sharp memory, I can use them as simple reminders that have more value than ever.

My Program Acronym

So, I have come up with an acronym that reminds me of the significant overriding concepts that drive what I would call irrefutable elements of a good AA program. The word is ACE.

What ACE stands for is:

  • A – Abstinence
  • C – Conscientiousness
  • E – Empathy

These words represent clear but significant concepts that are 100% in line with what Alcoholics Anonymous stands for. These concepts can be applied in many ways, in different situations, but still point to something accountable and concrete. You’re either abstinent, or you’re not. You’re either being conscientious, or you’re not. You’re either practicing empathy or you’re not.

Plus, being only three words contained in a simple and memorable acronym, I have found this is far more useful than, for instance, the overly complicated “Twelve Principals behind the Steps” or the oft-quoted “trust God, clean house” oversimplification. Popular as both are, they are not helpful to me. This is why I prefer ACE.

Know What the Words Mean

Way back when I got sober, I was always hearing old-timers admonishing new members to “use a dictionary because it’s important to know what the words that can save your life mean!”

So, with that in mind, here are a few definitions:

Abstinence – the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something, typically alcohol. Some common synonyms for abstinence are self-control, self-denial, self-restraint, sobriety, and temperance.

Conscientiousness – the quality of wishing to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly. Some common synonyms of conscientiousness are honest, honorable, just, ethical, and upright. While all these words mean “having or showing a strict regard for what is morally right,” conscientious and scrupulous imply an active moral sense governing all one’s actions and painstaking efforts to follow one’s conscience.

Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them. Positive emotions like empathy or gratitude are linked to a more positive continual state. These people are far more likely to help others than those not experiencing a positive emotional state.

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