According to Bill W, writing in the AA Grapevine in February 1958:
Sobriety—freedom from alcohol— through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is the sole purpose of an AA group. Groups have repeatedly tried other activities, and they have always failed. … If we don't stick to these principles, we shall almost surely collapse. And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.
How the Steps are conveyed is verbally. We tell stories that illustrate the Twelve Steps in practice. We relate such biographical information as provides a context for the real substance: how we know we are alcoholics, what we have done about it, and what the results have been. The result is two-fold. Firstly, we help ourselves by being of service to others and reinforcing the spiritual framework of our lives. Secondly, people are helped by identification, so they can determine they are in the right place, and by the adequate presentation of a solution, to encourage the solution to be grasped and to provide practical detail about how the solution can be applied.
As a by-product, certain other things happen. When I share a difficulty, I gain temporary relief. Relief is necessary but does not itself constitute recovery. The pleasurable sensation of relief can be so exhilarating that one can go through the whole of sobriety believing that this relief will somehow add up to recovery. It will not. If the sharing is not backed up by concerted action, the result will be drinking or madness. The central purpose of meetings is not to give people a modicum of relief from the pain of untreated alcoholism. In fact, to do so may in fact be harming them by reinforcing the belief that relief is recovery.
The other danger is that a collection of miserable people can reinforce in each other the belief that their misery is a necessary corollary of sobriety, that their suffering is inevitable as recovery is so terribly slow one must learn to endure the hard world outside and the brokenness within. The relief that discovering one is not the only person plagued with irrational fear and unreasoning resentment is inimical to recovery if it serves to make one comfortable in one's unhappiness. Recovery is indeed possible, however: from alcoholism and from the emotional and psychological twists that accompanying the underlying spiritual problem—separation from God and others chiefly due to resentment, unfinished amends, and a failure to find our purpose in serving God.
To sum up: AA meetings are most effective when they focus not on recounting the events of the week, emotional twists and turns, and excessive biographical detail but on sharing a solution to alcoholism.
An Anthony de Mello story:
When the neurotic comes for help, he rarely wants to be healed, for healing is a painful thing. What he really wants is to be made comfortable in his neurosis. Often he is looking for a miracle—a painless cure.
The old man dearly loved his after-dinner pipe. One night his wife smelled something burning and shouted, "For heaven's sake, Pa! You've set your whiskers on fire."
"I know," answered the old man, angrily. "Can't you see I'm praying for rain?"