Interpreting for 12 Step Programs

David Bar-Tzur

The Big Book of AA


By way of introduction, let me to quote from the official statement, "What is AA?"

Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Quoting from Prevalence of alcohol use disorders in Deaf psychiatric patients by Bruce Davidson, Colin Drummond, Helen Miller, Peta Land, Sylvia Kenneth from National Deaf Services, Springfield Hospital & St George’s University of London:

There has been some interest in alcohol use in the Deaf population. Two studies found no difference in rates of alcohol disorders between Deaf and hearing people. Isaacs, Buckley and Martin (1979) compared alcohol use in 39 white Deaf men with data from two comparable non-Deaf samples and found no significant differences between the Deaf and non-Deaf samples in patterns of alcohol consumption. Similarly, a survey of drug and alcohol use amongst New York City’s Deaf population suggested Deaf people experience similar drinking use patterns to the general population (Lipton and Goldstein, 1997).

On the other hand, The Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee | Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services says:

Deaf youth are naturally at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse because of their increased difficulties with learning, communicating, and isolation. One out of ten hearing people may become dependent on drugs and alcohol, whereas one out of seven deaf individuals may become dependent.

At any rate, you may be called upon to interpret for AA meetings, and you need to have information that will help you decide if you want to accept such assignments and how best to prepare for them.

Types of meetings

Here is AA's description of the two major kinds of meetings:

OPEN MEETINGS: As the term suggests, meetings of this type are open to alcoholics and their families and to anyone interested in solving a personal drinking problem or helping someone else to solve such a problem.

During the meeting there is usually a period for local A.A. announcements, and a treasurer passes the hat to defray costs of the meeting hall, literature, and incidental expenses. The meeting adjourns, often followed by informal visiting over coffee or other light refreshments.

Guests at A.A. open meetings are reminded that any opinions or interpretations they may hear are solely those of the speaker involved. All members are free to interpret the recovery program in their own terms, but none can speak for the local group or for A.A. as a whole.

CLOSED MEETINGS: These meetings are limited to alcoholics. They provide an opportunity for members to share with one another on problems related to drinking patterns and attempts to achieve stable sobriety. They also permit detailed discussion of various elements in the recovery program.

One way to determine if you are willing to interpret for an AA meeting (or other 12 Step Programs) is to attend an open meeting, but not a closed one. Look in the phone book to contact the Head Office or Local Chapter of AA or on-line to find out where AA meets in your area. You can also look on-line for interpreted meetings, but you should ask the interpreter for permission to observe them. You don't have to self-consciously explain to anyone at the meeting that you are not an alcoholic. You will probably be approached by someone, since AA feels outreach is important. When you speak with that person, you can say that you are interested in the possibility of interpreting for meetings, if you feel you need to say that, but otherwise, just be friendly as you would be to anyone, anyplace that approaches to welcome you.

At an AA meeting, they may break after a few minutes to allow those that are interested to go to a side room for a First Step meeting. This is a meeting for beginners, whose format may vary. Although I have interpreted for around 300 meetings, I have rarely interpreted for a First Step, so it probably won't happen often for you as an interpreter.

Another alcohol-related assignment you may be offered is a Treatment Center where the client is subjected to an intensive and often court-appointed time period to work on their alcohol problem. At this point I should mention that AA and many others feel that alcohol is a drug, so there is not a lot of different between the two addictions, except that the drugs used are usually illegal (although abusing prescription drugs happens). Some 12 Step meetings are specialized: for women only, for men, for young people, for GLBT. Not only is your comfort level important, but that of the members.

People can also be addicted to eating, shopping, gambling, sex, and the like. 12 Step programs, modeled after the 12 Steps of AA, are often used for these addictions. People in AA meetings are usually discouraged from talking too much about drugs other than alcohol, because a person who has not yet committed to following the AA program may feel that their drinking does not involve an illegal substance and rationalize their way out of listening to what is being said.

Format and setting of meetings

We will describe an AA meeting as a prototype. Meetings are often held in a church basement or side room. There is a coffee area, a front table at the opposite end and chairs set-up in rows. At the front table will sit the chairperson, a speaker, and a secretary, among others. There is a greeter at the door and an area with pamphlets and books on the program. The meeting will start with silence, then the serenity prayer, readings, and a call for visitors and first-timers. Announcements will be made about visits to treatment centers and prisons, anniversaries of members.

Chips (coins, tokens) are awarded to members who have been sober/clean for a variety of different time periods with applause and a hug. If it is a speaker's meeting, the speaker will tell the story of his or her journey to sobriety. Afterwards there is a call for a topic or someone who still wants to take a drink. Members in the audience will share their comments, and the meeting will close after an hour will the members forming a standing circle, joining hands and with the recitation of something like the Lord's Prayer or the Statement of Unity.

Frozen texts

The opening and closing of the meeting involve reading texts. When speech is a long quotation that is done as part of a ritual, this is called frozen register. To read more about this concept see Frozen register and the translation process from English to ASL. This presents a challenge for several reasons: (1) repetition as part of ritual has its impact from being exactly the same each time, but spontaneous interpretation can vary, (2) people read texts much faster than their natural speech rate, especially if they are familiar with it, (3) some people don't read loudly or clearly enough, (4) written English has a different pattern than spoken English and sounds "funny". It is therefore a good idea to translate these texts onto paper and practice them. Also print out a copy of the English text so that if you have difficulty hearing or parsing you can look at your copy. If a Deaf member is asked to do one of the readings and signs or reads them in a voice difficult to understand, you can do the same. Here is the usual order of the texts and links to my translation of these, which you may find helpful:

Serenity prayer

What is AA?

What is Al-Anon?

How it works (includes The Steps)

The Traditions

The Promises

The Lord's prayer (closing) Some members say "our daily strength," instead of "our daily bread."

Declaration of Unity (closing)

Just for today - Narcotics Anonymous.


Here are some commonly used words and phrases, their definitions, and how to deal with them in ASL. See Glossing system used for technical signs.

12 and 12, 12n12
Books that discuss the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions (see below) in greater detail. Sometimes this phrase is used to refer to the Steps and Traditions themselves. ASL: BOOK (<) TWELVE, (>) TWELVE.

90 and 90
It is suggested that a newly recovering alcoholic go to 90 AA meetings during the first 90 days of sobriety. ASL: NINTY MEETINGS DURING VERY-FIRST NINTY D-A-Y. Later, (<) NINTY, (>) NINTY.

"In Al-Anon and Alateen, members share their own experience, strength, and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life, to find happiness whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not." From the official website. ASL: A-L-A-N-O-N. See also my translation of The traditions of Al-Anon.

Alcoholics Anonymous
"Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an informal meeting society for recovering alcoholics whose primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety." From "What is AA?" ASL: A-A.

a progressive disease, where the body is addicted to alcohol as a way of dealing with psychological problems, develops a tolerance (more and more is required to have the same effect), and suffers damage, which can lead to death. ASL: ALCOHOL SICK.

"An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged--or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we can't do it directly. Say, for example, that I borrowed 20 dollars from you and never paid you back. If I go up to you and say, "Gee, I'm sorry I borrowed your 20 dollars and spent it on drugs," that would be an apology. Making amends is giving your money back to you." (From Hazelden -- Making amends is more than an apology. ASL: I struggle with this one. You will see Deaf people sign APOLOGIZE, but as you see from the definition, this could be misleading. At present, I sign CANCEL WRONG.

A celebration of the length of time a person has stayed sober or clean without a relapse. ASL: ANNUAL CELEBRATE.

behind the walls
In prison, for example, "We are looking for people who would be willing to visit people for AA meetings 'behind the walls'." ASL: IN PRISON.

bottom, hit bottom
What happened to convince the addict to get treatment to confront his/her disease. ASL: Fist crashes into the palm of NDH [B] PO UP, FO away.

The person who runs the meeting, hands out readings, makes announcements, and decides whose turn it is to speaker. ASL: Some Deaf people do sign CHAIR PERSON, better, BOSS PERSON.

chips, coins, tokens
Disks awarded to alcoholics who have been sober for: 4 hours to 29 days, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, and multiples of years. ASL: COINS, that is, [F], PO diagonally down, hops on palm of [B], PO up, FO away.

drug terms
Needless to say, an interpreter should have a good sign vocabulary for, and understanding of, English drug terminology. The greatest help would be: Woodward, J. (1979). Signs of drug use. T.J. Publishers.

In theory, an addict who is not using drugs other than alcohol, could be referred to as sober, but more often is called clean. ASL: CLEAN or NOT USE.

The alchoholic's personal recounting of what it was like while drinking, what happened to change all that, and what it’s like now. ASL: ALOCHOLIC HIS/HER STORY.

"Many times when family and friends try to "help" alcoholics, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease. This baffling phenomenon is called enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect -- allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions." Buddy T. Enabling
Enabling and Alcoholism in the Family.

A treatment center for addicts. ASL: T-HELP CENTER.

(get off the) pity pot
If a recovering addict tries to blame his/her situation on other causes, it may lead back to using again to console oneself. One AA slogan says, "Poor me, poor me,... pour me a drink." ASL: PITY-ON-me, DON'T.

give it up (to God, to my higher power)
Addicts often try to control things that are not in their control. When they acknowledge that things are not totally in their control, they are said to give it up to their higher power. ASL: (2h)[B], POs down, descend while twisting PO to up and lift up hands moving them towards God.

go out (relapse)
Go back to a substance one was using after a period of sobriety or being clean. ASL: DH [V] touches FT to palm of [B], PO up, FO away, then DH rises and twists PO to down and "falls" unto the palm.

halfway house
"A halfway house is a law enforcement controlled house. It does not have to be for any one thing as they are used for several reasons:
1. for ex cons that do not have a home that are on parole,
2. for witness holding,
3. for police protection,
4. relocation program awaiting placement, to name a few.

This house is run and controlled by law enforcement and funded by the government. There are strict rules you must abide by or you risk being thrown out or sent someplace else. The rules may not be the same for every house, but they are the same rules for all that are there.

You are expected to work and improve your situation or stay until law enforcement has relocated you, depending on your situation. There are no unprescribed drugs allowed and those prescribed are to be handed over to the head of the house to be given to you in doses. No alcohol and no over night guest. Sex also isn't allowed." From What is a halfway house?

Yahoo! Answer. [Some grammatical errors have been corrected by the Webmaster.]

higher power
"It is suggested, and NOT required, that one try to get in touch with his or her "higher power," whatever that may be, in order to help overcome the powerless feelings that most of us alcoholics experience in relation to drinking. There is no definition of that higher power. Many atheists use AA, and they often call their favorite AA meeting their higher power, in that there are many people in that meeting who simply have more knowledge and experience overcoming alcohol than the newcomer." From AA Psychologist's Defense of AA. Some member's say that "GOD" stands for a "Group Of Drunks". ASL: H-P is preferred in Rochester, NY. Other Deaf people may have a special sign phrase for that. See "power greater than myself" below.

home group
It is suggested that a recovering addict find a specific AA group and go regularly to that meeting to form a cohort. ASL: HOME GROUP.

Broadly, an inpatient is 'admitted' to a hospital and stays overnight or for an indeterminate time, usually several days or weeks. ASL: IN P-HOSPITAL, or the cross on the arm of the sign HOSPITAL is first made with an I handshape, and then a P handshape.

inventory (moral inventory)
"[A] list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest, or moral, values. We also inventory our 'good' traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life's moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self-defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults." From A Hunger for Healing, p. 61. ASL: ANALYZE-self.

let go
Stop trying to control everything in one's life. ASL: DISCONNECT.

men for men, women for women
Addicts should have sponsors of the same gender. ASL: PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE SUPPORT+ SAME GENDER, where the last sign is MAN WOMAN while mouthing "gender".

Someone who has recently joined AA. ASL: NEW MEMBER.

Someone who has been a member of AA for many years. ASL: MEMBER MANY YEAR.

Broadly, an outpatient is a patient who is not hospitalized overnight but who visits a hospital, clinic, or associated facility for diagnosis or treatment. ASL: OUT P-HOSPITAL, or the cross on the arm of the sign HOSPITAL is first made with an O handshape, and then a P handshape.

people, places, and things
A recovering addict needs to distance him/herself from the "people, places, and things" that were associated with the old drinking habit, which could act as triggers to relapse. ASL: AVOID OLD PEOPLE, PLACE, THINGS.

power greater than myself
The Second Step of AA says, "[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." This concept has become called a Higher Power. See the definition above. ASL: POWER GREATER-THAN SELF, where the second sign is (2h)[B^], touch FTs, then DH moves up in an arc towards the signer and away. For a QuickTime movie of this sign, see ASL browser - more than.

powerlessness (discussed as a positive thing)
The Serenity Prayer says, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." This acceptance that we need to depend on a Higher Power to accomplish some things is called "powerlessness". ASL: POWERLESS, that is, [C] holds thumb against the bicep of the NDH and the DH closes to a [O^], like the motion in FLAT-TIRE.

Short for rehabilitation clinic, whose job in this context is to help an addict recover. ASL: R-E-H-A-B or R-HELP.

relapse (go out)
Go back to a substance one was using after a period of sobriety or being clean. ASL: DH [V] touches FT to palm of [B], PO up, FO away, then DH rises and twists PO to down and "falls" unto the palm.

service work
Things like making coffee for a meeting, greeting people at the door, and setting up chairs for a meeting. A recovering addict should do these sort of activities to remain invested in his/her recovery. ASL: SERVE WORK.

When someone attending a meeting has something to contribute, he/she begins, "I'm (first name only or with initial to last name), and I'm an alcoholic (and/or addict)." These comments are called sharing. ASL: SHARE.

In a broader sense it can mean not drunk right now, but in 12 Step settings it means someone who has made a decision to stop using alcohol (possibly drugs). ASL: STRAIGHT, that is, [Bb], PO > NDS< FO up, moves straight forward and away from the center of the face, starting near the nose.

A state of being where a decision has been made to stop using alcohol (possibly drugs). ASL: STRAIGHT LIFE, where the first sign is [Bb], PO > NDS< FO up, moves straight forward and away from the center of the face, starting near the nose.

A person that will tell his/her story about how they became sober/clean for the majority of a meeting. ASL: PRESENTOR.

A profound personality change that results from following a 12 Step program. One slogan says, "spirituality is the ability to get our minds off ourselves." ASL: SPIRIT LIFE.

"In the earliest days of AA, the term "sponsor" was not in the AA jargon. Then a few hospitals in Akron, Ohio and New York began to accept alcoholics (under that diagnosis) as patients -- If a sober A.A. member would agree to "sponsor" the sick man or woman. The sponsor took the patient to the hospital, visited him or her regularly, was present when the patient was discharged, and took the patient home and then to the AA meeting. At the meeting, the sponsor introduced the newcomer to other happily non drinking alcoholics. All through the early months of recovery, the sponsor stood by, ready to answer questions, or to listen whenever needed." From What does a sponsor do? ASL: SUPPORT+.

The work a sponsor (see above) does. ASL: SUPPORT+ WORK.

take (someone's) inventory
See definition below for "take your own inventory". ASL: ANALYZE++.

take your own inventory
"[A] list of traits and behaviors that have transgressed our highest, or moral, values. We also inventory our 'good' traits and the behaviors that represent them. In our life's moral inventory the defects or dysfunctional behaviors might include some that once worked; some dysfunctional behaviors may have saved our lives as children, but they are now out-of-date, self-defeating, and cause us a great deal of trouble when we use them as adults." From A Hunger for Healing, p. 61. ASL: ANALYZE++-self.

The Big Book
"The Book Alcoholics Anonymous, affectionately known by members as 'The Big Book,' is the textbook for our Society. The first portion contains our 12-Step recovery program, the second portion contains forty two stories of men and women who have recovered from alcoholism. Written by Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and many of the first 100 members of A.A. It is clearly stated in the fourth edition of the Big Book on Roman Numeral Page xiii in the Foreword to the First Edition:To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book. For them we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary. We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic." From What is the Big Book? ASL: BIG BOOK or BOOK A-A.

The Program
"The Twelve Steps are the program. The purpose of the Twelve Steps are to help us develop a relationship with a Power greater than ourselves, to improve our relationships with others, and to help us find serenity in ourselves. It is recommended you attend as many meetings as you can and do not use between meetings. We suggest that you get phone numbers of other members and call them between meetings, especially if you have a desire to use. We also suggest that you get a sponsor as soon as possible." From Marijuana Anonymous. ASL: PROGRAM.

The Promises
A list of things that will result from following The 12 Steps, the program of recovery from the Big Book.

the rooms
AA meetings, as in when a person says, "Everything I know, I've learned in the rooms." ASL: A-A MEETINGS.

The (12) Steps
The program of recovery from the Big Book. ASL: (TWELVE) S-T-E-P-S or (TWELVE) PROCESS.

The (12) Traditions
"During its first decade, A.A. as a fellowship accumulated substantial experience which indicated that certain group attitudes and principles were particularly valuable in assuring survival of the informal structure of the Fellowship. In 1946, in the Fellowship’s international journal, the A.A. Grapevine, these principles were reduced to writing by the founders and early members as the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. They were accepted and endorsed by the membership as a whole at the International Convention of A.A., at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950." From Alcoholics Anonymous: A.A. Traditions. ASL: (TWELVE) TRADITION.

treatment (center)
A program to help an addict recover. ASL: T-HELP.

To use a drug to satisfy an addiction. ASL: USE.

work the steps
Follow the program of AA as outlined in the Steps. ASL: WORK S-T-E-P-S or WORK PROGRAM or WORK PROCESS.

Frequently heard AA slogans

Here are some slogans, with an explanation in English and a suggested way to convey them in ASL. If would not hurt to use ASL to explain the meaning of the phrase as I have explained it in English if you know that one of the Deaf people is a newcomer. You could start with more of a transliteration and then contextualize to the extent that you have time and processing ability.

An attitude of gratitude
When an addict stops using but does no follow the program or have a profound personality change, she/he is called a dry drunk, because the crutch has been removed, but the person has, so to speak, not yet learned to walk. If a person has an "attitude of gratitude", he/she will become humble and willing to learn. ASL: YOUR ATTITUDE SHOULD TEND THANK++. Later, ATTITUDE THANK++.

Bring the body and the mind will follow
When an addict first attends a 12 Step program, his/her mind is still cloudy. He/she may not understand what it said at meetings. The advice given is to just keep coming to meetings and eventually understanding will come. ASL: BRING BODY TO MEETING, LATER MIND WILL COME ALSO, MEAN AT-FIRST MEETING OVER-your-HEAD BUT LATER UNDERSTAND WILL.

But for the grace of God [go I]

Don't compare - identify

Don't quit 5 minutes before the miracle happens
It may take time before you get results from a 12 Step meeting. ASL: DON'T GIVE-UP BEFORE MIRACLE HAPPEN. MIRACLE = GREAT WORK+.

Easy does it
Don't rush yourself. ASL: DON'T HURRY YOUR PROGRAM.

H.A.L.T = don't get too hungry, or too angry, or too lonely, or too tired
H-A-L-T MEAN "H" HUNGRY, "A" ANGRY. "L" LONELY, "T" TIRED LEAD-TO RELAPSE. RELAPSE = DH [V] touches FT to palm of [B], PO up, FO away, then DH rises and twists PO to down and "falls" unto the palm.

How = honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness

It works if you work it
ASL: PROGRAM SUCCEED ONLY IF YOU WORK GO-TOWARDS-GOAL. GO-TOWARDS-GOAL = like the sign GOAL but the DH moves in a vertical circle while going towards the goal to show a constant process.

It's the first drink that gets you drunk
Alcoholics cannot stop after the first drink, no matter how long they have previously been sober. ASL: VERY-FIRST DRINK, THAT'S-IT, DRUNK WILL. THAT'S-IT = FINISH moves upwards while twisting at the wrists.

Just for today
Addicts are overwhelmed by the prospect of never using again. For this reason, it is psychologically helpful to only concentrate on not drinking today. ASL: FOCUS TODAY ONLY.

Keep coming back
Two aspects come to my mind: (1) It may take time before the addict can get and apply the message, so in the meantime he/she needs to keep going to meetings; (2) no matter how long an addict has been sober/clean, he/she must continue to go to meetings - people who have been sober for 20 or 30 years have relapsed simply because they stopped attending meetings. ASL: DON'T STOP COMING.

Let go and let God
Addictive personalities can be control freaks. It is beneficial to let go of this obsessive control and allow one's Higher Power to guide him/her. ASL: DISCONNECT, LET GOD CONTROL.

Live and let live

Live in the NOW
As mentioned under "Just for today", addicts need to avoid worrying about the future, and in a parallel way not worry about what has happened in the past, except in learning a lesson. LIVE NOW, NOT WORRY PAST, FUTURE.

Living in the here and now
As mentioned under "Just for today", addicts need to avoid worrying about the future, and in a parallel way not worry about what has happened in the past, except in learning a lesson. LIVE HERE NOW, NOT WORRY PAST, FUTURE.

Nothing is so bad, a drink won't make it worse
Addicts use any excuse to have a drink: If things are bad, it's used to "drown one's sorrows" and if things are good, as a way to celebrate. ASL: MAYBE LIFE BAD, BUT DRINKING MAKE WORSE.

One day at time
Addicts are overwhelmed by the prospect of never using again. For this reason, it is psychologically helpful to only concentrate on not drinking today. ASL: ONE DAY EACH TIME, STEP-BY-STEP. STEP-BY-STEP = (2h)[B^], POs ><, FOs away, DH is held ahead of NDH, then NDH leapfrogs over DH, and DH over NDH, with a slight pause after each step. For a QuickTime movie of this sign, see ASL browser - procedure. Note that the pauses are not shown in the movie.

One drink is too many and a thousand not enough
Alcoholics cannot stop after the first drink, no matter how long they have previously been sober. ASL: ONE DRINK TOO-MUCH, AND ONE-THOUSAND NEVER ENOUGH.

Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink
Self pity leads to relapse. POOR-me, POOR-me, POUR ME ONE-MORE DRINK.

Principles before personalities
The point of listening to people stories of experience, strength and hope is to learn "principles" not look down on or criticize their "personalities". ASL: PRINCIPLE, IMPORTANT. PERSONALITY, SET-ASIDE.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired
This is a description of the alcoholic who has hit bottom and is ready to follow The Steps. ASL: SAME-OLD-THING BORED-TO-DEATH. First sign is (2h)[Y], POs down, FOs away, circle vertically and symmetrically in a plane parallel to the chest. Second sign is [5:] is held under chin and moves > DS while closing.

Stick with the winners
Recovering addicts should learn from and spend time with addicts that have many years of sobriety/being clean. ASL: Explain, if necessary, then, SOCIALIZE PEOPLE SUCCEED SOBER.

Take what you can use and leave the rest
An addict may disagree with what he/she hears during a meeting, but should simply keep whatever ideas may be helpful. ASL: DON'T-LIKE IDEA, SET-ASIDE. LEARN WHAT HELP.

To keep it, you have to give it away (We give it away to keep it)
Addicts find it beneficial to teach others how to stay sober. So much so that they often say they are being selfish when they help others. ASL: TEACH OTHERS, MEAN HELP SELF LEARN.

Turn it over
Addictive personalities can be control freaks. It is beneficial to let go of this obsessive control and allow one's Higher Power to guide him/her. If you find something a burden, let God take care of it. ASL: SOMETHING BOTHER YOU, OFFER-UP-TO H-P.

We all have another drunk left in us but we don't know if we have another recovery in us
#ALL-OF-US CAN DRUNK AGAIN, BUT MAYBE DIE BEFORE RECOVER AGAIN. #ALL-OF-US = [A], PO > NDS, FO up touches DS shoulder then [L^], PO > signer touches NDS shoulder.

What you hear and see here, stays here
An admonition for confidentiality. ASL: WHAT YOU alt.HEAR alt.SEE HERE, KEEP-CONFIDENTIAL.

Benefits and drawbacks of interpreting for AA


Interpreting a meeting can be irritating because of cross-talk, but this is not allowed at an AA meeting. There is a sense of spirituality, that is a focus on trying to overcome physical limitation and follow an inner voice that says change is necessary. Members tell stories that may have a similar structure, but are often fascinating in the stubbornness of denial and the victory of acceptance. It is possible to learn many lessons that are beneficial even for the non-addict. The sense of comradery is infectious. The format of the meeting is highly predictable, although there are sometimes interesting surprises. The language used by participants ranges from higher registers to sometimes incoherent, but often offer interesting challenges as people talk about topics and use expressions that we don't often encounter in other settings. This can be seen as a benefit and a drawback.


Frozen texts are densely packed with concepts that the interpreter may not be familiar with. Texts are often read quickly, sometimes haltingly and too softly. During the recounting of a member's experience, his/her voice may be damaged by alcohol or altered by strong emotions. His/her logic may be distorted by alcohol, making it more difficult to parse and process. The message may hit close to home if an interpreter is an addict or related to one. A wide range of emotions, occasional bad language, and a high context culture make it a challenge to find equivalence in the target language, or may cause internal noise. Suggestions for how to deal with these drawbacks as well as other challenges are made below. In some instances the interpreter is paid from money that is collected during the meeting and is usually less that you would expect for your usual hour's work. The satisfaction you get from doing work that may be saving someone's life will have to make up the difference.

How to handle challenges

Any challenge can be see as an opportunity for growth, and since we hopefully strive for lifelong learning, we should monitor our progress in dealing with these challenges. Sort out which make for the biggest obstacles to conveying the message and work on them, bit by bit. If the challenges are insurmountable, the interpreter may choose to opt out of 12 Step interpreting.

The first challenge that will strike the interpreters, chronologically is dealing with the texts that are read out loud by the members. They are dense and sometimes read quickly, haltingly or softly. Also a Deaf member may be asked to sign one of them. I think it is helpful for you to write out your own translation of these and practice them a few times before you do it live. Your translation will change over time as you come to understand The Program better and try your translation on for size. I have included links to my translations above, as you have seen. Keep a copy of the English with you as well, so that when a Deaf person signs it you can read the original.

The density of the read texts and of the slogans you will hear is from the fact that you may be unfamiliar with 12 Step concepts. I have offered suggestions for how to convey them. I think this should be a good start. It is good to understand alcoholism, its symptoms, and consequences, so reading 12 Step literature will help. Prep will aid you in closure on missed words when voices are soft, damaged by drugs, filled with emotion, or too soft. A member's logic may be distorted by alcohol, making it more difficult to parse and process.

Any setting, as well as our state of being, can cause Internal noise. In addition, the message may hit close to home about ourselves or our loved ones. There is occasional bad language, a wide range of emotions, and the Deaf member may find it hard to look at you early in his/her sobriety. It may be hard to keep our composure when members laugh at serious stories, because they've been there. You may be asked if you are in the program. Some people question if a non-alcoholic interpreter should be in a closed meeting. The impact from all of this can be lessened if we ourselves "let go and let God." You are human; do your best. This is a challenging environment. Congratulate yourself as you grow. If it is beyond you, discretion may force you to leave. "Don't regret the past or shut the door on it."

Deaf members also have a number of challenges. It is hard to find interpreters to do this work, and like K-12 settings and religious settings, all three of which I feel should have the top interpreters in that area, it is rarely so. It may be difficult for the Deaf person to look at you the interpreter because of shame or denial. This is hard on the Deaf person, too! When you see that the consumer wants to have a turn, use your own voice to handle it the way others do in the meeting. If people just chime in when there is an appropriate pause, do the same. Deaf people may avoid specific meetings or going to any meeting at all because of grapevine fear: They fear that they will be outed by other Deaf people that are there. Be sensitive to all of this.

Parting advice

This is not the place for a "9 to 5" attitude. Come early and stay late. Ask the Deaf members if they want to talk to any of the hearing members. Be a resource person to the Deaf consumer about what material and websites are available to them as listed below. Know the terminology. Stand in the circle for the closing. If no Deaf person shows up at first, stay for the ENTIRE meeting. I have had Deaf people show up 30 to 45 minutes late for whatever reason. I am serious when I say you may save that person's life, for at least one more day.

Some excellent ideas from my dear friend and colleague Monica Coppola:

Consumer education is appropriate but hearing people who are being treated in patient facilities that also treat deaf patients are usually given an Orientation to Deafness and the Interpreting Process. Newly recovering addicts tend to be VERY excited to witness the Interpreting process; our aim is to not distract from anyone's program. Questions from hearing patients regarding Interpreting and Sign Language should be directed back to the counsellors or the deaf person. Personal conversations with any patient should be extremely limited least you become: The sole holder of information which may have legal ramifications. Interpreters need to be mindful not to become the focus of attention which can result in a hindering the patients'progress and recovery. Interpreters should also be sensitive not to undermine budding relationships between the deaf and hearing patients. Deaf patients often harbour resentments towards hearing people; heightened sensitivity to our own behaviour should be used in these assignments. As a reminder, all Mental Health Interpreting requires extremely savvy interpersonal skills.

Resources for addiction and recovery

Stained glass bulletAA meeting schedule for Upstate NY.

Stained glass Deaf Health - Drug and Substance Abuse - Deaf People.

Stained glass bulletAddiction Help! - e-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Stained glass bulletAddiction Recovery Guide chat room.

Stained glass bulletAdult Child and Co-Dependency Center.

Stained glass bulletAl-Anon, Al-Ateen.

Stained glass bulletAlcoholic Movie Reviews. A painless way to learn more about alcohlism.

Stained glass bulletAlcoholics Anonymous. The official website.

Stained glass bulletAlexander, T.

golden marble bullet(2006, January 14). Substance Abuse Screening for the Deaf: Development of a Culturally Sensitive Scale. This presentation reviews the author's creation and validity and reliability testing of a substance use screening video for the Deaf, the Drug and Alcohol Assessment of the Deaf (DAAD). Numerous obstacles had to be overcome in order to conduct the research, including, but not limited to: difficulties with translation from English to American Sign Language (ASL), a lack of tools to assess psychometric properties of the video, assessing a non-homogenous population, and cultural diagnostic dilemmas.

golden marble bulletDiNitto, D., & Tidblom, I. (2005, April). Screening for Alcohol and Other Drug Use Problems Among the Deaf Among the Deaf. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Volume 23, Number 1, 6 April 2005 , pp. 63-78 (16). Haworth Press. Abstract: No alcohol and other drug screening or diagnostic instruments have been validated for Deaf populations, although screening tools exist in other languages, such as Spanish. Deaf individuals traditionally have had difficulty understanding tests created for hearing populations because they contain wording or phrases that are unfamiliar in Deaf culture. The purpose of this study was to lay the groundwork for developing a culturally relevant alcohol and other drug screening instrument for Deaf individuals. Deaf individuals were asked about their understanding of items from two widely-used screening instruments, the CAGE and the AUDIT, which were developed for hearing individuals. Deaf participants reported difficulty with both instruments, with some words problematic for 88 of participants. Providers using these instruments should be aware of their limitations when used with Deaf individuals.

Stained glass bulletAnixter Center, Addiction Center of the Deaf.

Stained glass bulletargot .com : dictionary of street drug (cannabis, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, et al.) slang.

Stained glass bulletBetty G. Miller | Biographies. Betty G. Miller is both a professional visual artist, and a professional counselor working in the field of alcohol and drug abuse with deaf and hard of hearing people. She holds an Ed.D. in art education from Penn State University; and is a certified alcohol and drug counselor (C.A.D.C., a certification formerly known as C.A.C., clinical alcohol counselor).

Stained glass bulletBig Book concordance. Electronic version. An index to every significant word in the Big Book, "Alcoholics Anonymous" (3d edition): 9,902 Words; 66,576 References; 447 references to alcoholism; 169 references to sobriety; 63 references to acceptance; 19 references to sponsorship; 17 references to serenity and much, much more . . .

Stained glass bulletBig Book website. A copy of the The Big Book, the central text of AA, on line.

Stained glass bulletChat room about alcoholism.

Stained glass bulletCheever, S. Bill Wilson. From the rubble of a wasted life, he overcame alcoholism and founded the 12-step program that has helped millions of others do the same.

Stained glass bulletCommunication Service for the Deaf. (2004, March 31). Learn How Alcohol Affects Your Health On National Alcohol Screening Day.

Stained glass bulletCrawford, A. (1997). Alcohol, auditory functioning and deafness. Addiction Biology 2 (2), 125–150. Abstract This paper reviews studies of alcohol and auditory impairment and the treatment of deaf people with alcohol problems and concludes that: (a) alcohol affects auditory functioning, (b) prenatal exposure to alcohol is a risk factor for hearing impairment in FAS children, (c) there may be genetic factors involved in the transmission of auditory abnormalities to the children of problem drinkers and (d) there is very little research in the drinking patterns of or counselling services for deaf people in the UK.

Stained glass bulletDeaf and Hard of Hearing AA 12 step recovery resources. ASL Videotapes, Closed Captioned Videotapes, Easy-To-Read Literature, Miscellaneous, AA Guidelines, Service Material, Literature Catalogs, Ordering Information, AA Meetings In Print.

Stained glass bulletDeaf Info - alcohol and drug use.

Stained glass bulletDeaf Literature Abuse and Substance Abuse.

Stained glass bulletDeaf Vlog/Blog: Alternative Solutions Center (ASC). (2006, December 6). The Cool Factor: Parents of Deaf Teens and Alcohol.

Stained glass bulletDrug and alcohol abuse, treatment, prevention at SAMHSA's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

Stained glass bulletDrug Data Update: Friday Focus: Drug Education for Young Deaf People.

Stained glass bullete-AA group of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Stained glass bulletFaces and Voices of Recovery "Steps Beyond Stems" rack support group. Every Monday evening 7:00 - 8:00pm at 289 Monroe Ave, Rochester, NY.

Stained glass bulletGCATTC Announcements. Drug and Alcohol Assessment for the Deaf. This is the first ASL video to screen the Deaf for drugs and alcohol abuse. Created with input from Deafness experts and the Deaf community, this screening has been shown to have good reliability and validity. Contents include: Start-up information, FAQ about the DAAD, Answer Sheet, and Psychometrics of the DAAD.

Stained glass bulletIndependence First. Wisconsin Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Project. The AODA Project Coordinator provides FREE outreach and education to AODA treatment providers/peer support recovery groups about the needs of the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing population in Wisconsin and how to better serve them. The Project Coordinator also conducts outreach and education to this targeted population to encourage their participation in AODA treatment. Depending on the circumstances, the Project Coordinator can also assist in obtaining sign language interpreters, use of assistive listening devices or printed materials produced in large print for individuals with low vision.

stained glass bulletimajesusgeek. (2006, October 28). D.E.A.F.signing hands A deaf man's struggle with his deafness, alcoholism and faith.

Stained glass bulletInformation on Alcoholics Anonymous. Short and informative.

Stained glass bulletJoin Together. (2005, July 15). Widely Used Alcohol Screening Instruments Confusing to Deaf Persons. Deaf persons have difficulty understanding questions on traditional alcohol screening instruments, according to a recent Texas study. Deaf persons recruited from San Antonio and Austin were asked to read the CAGE and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), two instruments widely used to screen for alcohol problems. Deaf individuals reported difficulty understanding not only individual words and phrases in both instruments, but also entire questions -- even after being shown corresponding American Sign Language (ASL) signs for words or phrases within the question.

Stained glass bulletKirkpatrick. K. E. J. (10 December 1999). Interpreting AA (and other 12-step) meetings. Research was done through observations, interviews with members, both hearing and Deaf, interviews with interpreters who work in this setting, and through collecting and reading related literature. I interviewed both male and female interpreters who are also members. Both of them seemed to expect direct, focused questions, and they did not go into more detail or offer any more information than what was requested in the question.

Stained glass bulletMarijuana Anonymous Online.

Stained glass bulletMiller, B. G. (1998, November). Deaf and Sober: Journeys through Recovery. National Association of the Deaf. ISBN-13: 9780913072868.

Stained glass bulletMinnesota Chemical Dependency Program for the Deaf. See especially "Program Articles" and "Program Materials".

Stained glass bulletMoore, D. (1987, April). Handicapped Adolescent Alcohol and Drug Use/Abuse: Some Causes for Concern. Abstract: The paper examines the literature concerning drug and alcohol abuse among handicapped adolescents. An introductory section noting the relative lack of research on this problem is followed by a review of adolescent drug research identifying longitudinal studies involving more than 70,000 subjects, studies of associated personality variables, and studies of drug abuse among young adults. Studies on handicapped youth and drug use are then reviewed with emphasis on alcohol abuse among the deaf, alcohol abuse among mentally retarded adults, and hyperactive teenagers and alcohol consumption. Special considerations that make drugs particularly hazardous for the disabled include: health risks, drug potentiation, predisposition to mental health problems, relative immaturity and unsophisticated use, peer pressure, thrill seeking behavior, and fantasizing. The nature of special education settings themselves, in their acceptance of deviance and socially retarded behaviors, may contribute in an indirect way to drug use. Finally discussed are the possibly higher prevalence of casual alcohol or drug use among the handicapped than nonhandicapped populations and the possible predisposition to abuse of the disabled. (DB)

Stained glass bulletNA Meetings Online.

Stained glass bulletNarconon International.

Stained glass bulletNebraska Commisson for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Alcohol Anonymous (AA) Meetings Interpreted for the Deaf.

Stained glass bulletNorCal Center on Deafness, Inc - Thursday, January 3, 2008. True Biz “Serious Talk”. An Alcohol and Drug Prevention Education targeting Deaf & Hard of Hearing Youth and Adults and their families. Alcohol and Drug Prevention Program Middle and High School Workshop Series for deaf and hard of hearing students on topics such as: Decision-making, Assertive Communication, Goal Setting, Positive Relationships, Managing Emotions. Elementary School presentation and activities for deaf and hard of hearing students (K-6).

Stained glass bulletOnline Al-Anon meetings.

Stained glass bulletOregon's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services ODHHS Technical Assistance and Information Center: Alcohol and Drug Addiction. Links.

Stained glass bulletSecular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS).

Stained glass bulletServing Alcoholics With Special Needs. While there are no special A.A. members, many members have special needs. For the purpose of those Guidelines, we define A.A.s with special needs as persons who are blind or visually impaired; deaf or hard of hearing; chronically ill or homebound, and those who are developmentally disabled.

Stained glass bulletSmart Recovery Online.

Stained glass bulletSounds of Sobriety Online AA Group.

Stained glass bulletSubstance and Alcohol Intervention Services for the Deaf.

Stained glass bulletThe Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee | Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing program services are designed to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs among deaf and hard of hearing individuals, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Deaf program works with students onsite, whether in the schools or with their families in the home to teach them sign language. Improved communication through signing opens up new realms of understanding for the child and the parent.

Stained glass bulletThe Big Book Online (the book itself).

Stained glass bulletThe Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals is an inpatient chemical dependency program located within the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, at the Riverside campus in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Specialized in treatment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons, The Program has been providing services nationally since 1989.

Stained glass bulletThe national directory of alcohol and other drugs prevention and treatment programs accessible to the deaf.

Stained glass bulletThe primary purpose website.

Stained glass bulletThe Recovery Group.

Stained glass bulletThe SoberRecovery Community.

Stained glass bulletUniversity of California Center on Deafness. Deaf Drug and Alcohol Recovery Services (DDARS).

Stained glass bulletWhitehouse, A., Sherman, R. E., and Kozlowski, K. (1991, March). The needs of deaf substance abusers in Illinois. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Only recently have hearing-impaired substance abusers been acknowledged as needing attention. Recent literature searchers of several databases (including U.S. government documents) yielded only four dozen articles in this topic area, approximately 50% of which were misclassified, i.e., these articles dealt with hearing impairment which was due to substance abuse. It was not until the late 1970s that articles began to appear regarding substance abuse within the deaf population.

Stained glass bulletWoodward, J. (1979). Signs of drug use. T.J. Publishers. 82 pages, soft cover. Text has over 160 signs related to drug and alcohol use clearly illustrated, along with notes on the derivation of each sign. Has companion videotape.