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Did You Know?

The History and Use of Slogans in Alcoholics Anonymous

AA Slogans in History

Since its beginning days in the early 1940’s, members of Alcoholics Anonymous have repeated pithy sayings like “Keep Coming Back” and “Easy Does It” to each other so often that it may seem as though their lives depended upon them. Perhaps it’s true. And although the history of any particular slogan’s origins is often cloudy, it’s clear that many of the now- famous “slogans of AA” have been part and parcel of Alcoholics Anonymous since its very beginnings.

Use of the AA Slogans likely began with founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and with the early members of AA. They may simply have been quoting from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which says, “We have three little mottoes which are apropos. Here they are: First Things First, Live and Let Live, and Easy Does It.” ( Ch. 9, “The Family Afterward,” 135.) The three slogans named in the Big Book and several other classics like One Day at a Time, and But for the Grace of God have been a part of Alcoholics Anonymous since the very beginning.

How AA Slogans Work in Practice

Although rich in context and meaning, many newcomers in AA at first dismiss the slogans as useless cliches. It’s almost as if the slogans are easy targets that help deflect the unconscious fears of the newly sober. Newcomers criticize the slogans as being “not worthy” of the alcoholic’s hidden dysfunctions and psychological complexes. How could it be that simple?! No, the newcomer tells themselves, I’m smarter and more complicated than that! It’s not long, though, before most come to realize the depth and effectiveness of the AA Slogans. (Ironically, this reaction can be addressed by understanding the slogan, “Think, Think, Think,” which implicitly critiques the ‘intellectual’ approach--more about this slogan below.) Properly understood, many AA slogans function as powerful mental and emotional focusing devices. Slogans serve as ready tools that aid in recovery from the potentially fatal disease of alcoholism. They’re easy to grab hold of, and surprisingly effective.

An interesting graphic layout of the slogans is sometimes seen in local meeting halls. The slogans: Live and Let Live, Easy Does it, But for the Grace of God, Think, Think, Think and First Things First are laid out to read vertically, side-by-side, so that another less common reminder slogan appears across the top line read horizontally.

Live Easy But Think First And Does For Think Things Let It The Think First Live   Grace of God    

This clever display gets and holds our attention. In practice, of course, “Think, think, think” is usually printed upside down. Don’t do too much of that!

These and many popular slogans are available on a variety of recovery gifts and wares like mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers and posters. Wearing them and seeing them around the house are great reminders of recovery. AA Clubhouse walls often display several favorites. These days, it seems popular to post as many “AA Slogans” as possible in lists on the internet, as if there’s a contest to see how many slogans can be named. This is certainly testament to their growth and popularity. Slogans are great tools, easy to grab hold of and simple to apply.

Exploring the Depth and Application of Some Classic AA Slogans

It’s also important, however, to more deeply understand how the slogans work in practice. Their resonance and power enable the recovering alcoholic or addict to find and maintain a rich, meaningful sobriety or abstinence. Let’s explore the depth and richness of a few classics.

First Things First
It’s interesting that the Big Book places this slogan at the top of the list. As a prayer or a mantra to be quietly repeated to ourselves when the mind is leaping about hither and thither, this slogan has the noticeable effect of calming down the noise and racket. It encourages us to focus on what matters right now, in the present moment. It reminds us to look to see what’s going on, what needs doing. Perhaps in early sobriety, it softly reminds us that what matters first and foremost is to not drink, to stay clean and sober in this moment, right now. Are we sober? That’s what matters most.

And, as we stay sober longer, repeating this slogan continues to naturally calm and focus the mind, enabling us to more easily prioritize whatever items we’re thinking about. In practice, we thus come to see what action might be taken, what action should be taken, in the here and now. First Things First, my friends. Calm yourself, and look to see what’s important. Bill W. puts it first.

Live and Let Live
Does it surprise us to see a message of tolerance second on Bill W’s original list of slogans? In these chaotic days of divisive politics in the US and Europe, with climate change, social unrest, and increased famine and suffering worldwide, we may forget that these very human struggles are not new. Simply put, the important message of this classic slogan says, first, to pay closer attention to our own behavior – ‘live.” The slogan then suggests that we not judge others for the differences we find but let them be as they are– “let live.”

Its message is subtle but significant. First, it gets to the core of the alcoholic’s attitude when they find, as they often really do when they walk through the doors of AA, that nothing much here or anywhere else is to their liking. “Live,” it says, humbling us to remember that our own lives have lots of room for improvement. Be aware. Wake up and get to work! “And let live” reminds us to let go of judging others or trying to change or fix them. Let them be and accept them and all things as they are. As we repeat this slogan to ourselves over and over, it works to remind us that it’s best to stay focused on our own recovery, accepting others as we find them. (Note: “Accept” does not mean “approve of.” It simply asks us first to see and allow things to be as they are. Action may or may not follow.)

Easy Does It
This most practical AA slogan is a simple reminder to relax and take it easy. Why stress about things that are going to happen later? Why continue to go over things that have happened in the past? Take it easy NOW and just relax. “Easy Does It,” we repeat to ourselves over and over, calming the breath and slowing down. Many newcomers feel overwhelmed with emotions, or fraught with difficulties caused by previous binges, and unable to do much to fix things. That’s ok, this slogan says. Easy does it. Just relax and take it easy. Take a deep breath and slow down. In this fast-paced world, it’s not as easy as it sounds. We’re trend-setting when we’re the ones to say, ok, hold on a minute. Before we rush into the next project, or hop onto that commuter train, let’s slow down enough to stop and look around.

One Day at a Time
This slogan is the historic AA “solution” to the first-level problem of the alcoholic or addict’s problem of being unable to stop drinking or using. It calms and reassures the mind. It reminds us to have perspective. There’s only today, after all. And if we can stay sober just for THIS DAY, this moment, we have a chance. When a momentary urge to drink or use arises, we have a choice. We just choose not to drink, just for today. We do not allow the mind to think about the many possible future days, the times when we certainly will want or need a drink or drug. We only need to stay sober for this present day, this present moment. We simply keep our attention focused on now, and right now we choose not to drink. Tomorrow will be faced when it comes around. Just for today, we stay clean and sober. We do it not for a lifetime, nor for a month, nor even for a week, but for just one day at a time. (Yes, sometimes, it must be one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time, if need be. We just stay PRESENT and do not choose to drink.)

But for the Grace of God
In this present moment, this now, it is crucial that we also have a slogan that reminds us that more than our own will power is involved in the choices we are making today. For religious minded folk, the meaning may be quite literal. They accept it on faith. For many, however, including the religious minded, this slogan helps us come to understand that we cannot comprehend the spiritual life intellectually. This grace, and this god, are unknown, mystical phenomena. The “grace of God” is a phrase that represents all that exists outside of the self, the human persona, all that we surrender to. It does not require, and indeed exists entirely outside of the domain of any religious belief system.

This slogan serves up a metaphor for ‘all that is good, existing externally and beyond the self,’ like the moon as it waxes and wanes, or the baby’s cooing. This is a teaching slogan. It requires that, in repeating it again and again to ourselves, we step into the mystery beyond what is knowable, beyond the logic of the intellect. It offers a footing in the grace of ‘not knowing’ how it all works, and not needing to know. To some more literal- minded AAs, God serves as an acronym for “Good Orderly Direction.” To others, it can stand for depending on a “Group of Drunks.” “The grace of God” is a way of opening a door to whatever it is that the self does NOT control, everything outside of the subjective self. Whatever grace is given, this slogan softens us to be open to what is unknown, to be reminded that something, some grace that exists beyond the ego with its will is what has keeping us sober.

Think Think Think
This popular slogan serves to remind sober alcoholics that any attempt at merely “thinking things through” is subject to serious rationalization and error. The so-called ‘intellectual’ life of analysis does not quite apply to the AA program, if by thinking repeatedly (three times over), we mean over-thinking things ad nauseum but doing nothing about them. Sometimes, the “Think, Think, Think” slogan is printed upside down, emphasizing the kind of useless, frustrating cogitation it represents. This slogan offers us a bite of humble pie. However high the IQ, most attempts to ‘reason’ or figure things out by just thinking about them over and over again is useless in the extreme. Properly understood, this AA slogan functions to powerfully re-focus and sidestep the ‘planning’ mind. Over-thinking leads to “analysis paralysis.” AAs prosper when they dwell in the domain of the spirit.

Live Easy But Think First
This is one of the less familiar slogans, but it hastens to add that not all “thinking” is useless. It’s important to use our heads. We alcoholics can be impulsive people. “Think first” emphasizes the importance of thinking through the consequences of our actions before we decide to act. While “think, think, think” admonishes us to stop mentally re-hashing things again and again, Live Easy But Think First puts things in the right order. First, it tells us to relax and then, it says, to carefully consider, to “think first” before acting. AAs sometimes laugh about their lack of restraint, but that’s because it’s painful to acknowledge the damage done by impulsive thoughts, words and deeds. Yes, this slogan says, we need to go easy, but/and we also need to more thoughtfully consider consequences. This is hard for human beings in general, of course, but for impulse-driven AAs, it is a slogan to remember and put into practice.

Works Cited

“AA Slogans-Club 12.” Alcoholics Anonymous Club 12, San Antonio, TX. www.Club12.org. Web. Accessed November 8, 2021.

“AA Sayings and Slogans.” Jim C. www.aacummingga.com Web. Accessed November 8, 2021.

“The AA Slogans.” Roundabout. July 2020. Glasgow 6264. www.aa-roundabout.org.uk Web. Accessed October 21, 2021.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th edition. 2001. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. Book.

“History of Slogans in AA. Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland. www.aacle.org/history-of-aa Web. Accessed November 8, 2021.

“Recovery Slogans.” 12Step.org. www.12step.org/references/community/ Web. Accessed November 8, 2021.

“think Think think.” AA Friends Zone. www.aafriends.webs.com/app/blog/ Web. Accessed November 9, 2021.

“252 AA Slogans.” Alcoholics Anonymous. www.SelfDefinition.org. Web. Accessed November 8, 2021.

“What Are the Five AA Slogans?” Classroom. Oct. 4 2017. www.classroom.synonyms.com Web. Accessed October 21, 2021.

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