Every secret society has its tokens of membership—and AA and its 12-step brethren are no different. From chips to seashells, here's what you'll find jangling in the pockets and bags of sober people worldwide.
The standard bronze-colored coin, with Roman-numeral years of sobriety in the middle, is the most common 12-step token you'll see. And some people modify theirs. Regarding this chopped-up coin, New York City AA member Krystal tells The Fix, "I had a few slips the first year I was going to meetings, so when I finally put together six months, my sponsor sawed her one-year chip in half and gave me one piece. That coin had been passed on for a while and belonged to people who were really important to me, so I made sure to stick around to get the other half."
Specialty 12-step stores, such as Choices in New York City and My 12 Step Store in Los Angeles, ship coins and other mementos to meetings across the globe. Pictured here is a shipment of AA medallions—stacked in rolls like quarters, along with custom multi-colored coins—ready to be sent out by Choices owner Jay.
Not long after he bought the business 10 years ago, Choices owner Jay copped a resentment against a coin supplier he'd been dealing with. "So then I made my own line," he said, including these 24-hour and 90-day coins. Jay had noticed that while most meetings talk about "90 meetings in 90 days," all of the coins only said "three months." RJ Holguin, director of outreach and marketing for LA's My 12 Step Store, tells The Fix that non-Roman numeral coins are particularly popular with "the younger, edgier set." He explained, "We don't live in a society that goes by Roman numerals."
Some AA meetings in car-crazy Los Angeles give out keychains on sober "birthdays" (aka "anniversaries"). According to Holguin, the camel signifies 24 hours of sobriety, "because the story goes that the camel goes all day, and stays dry all day." It's also a reference to the rhyming, so-called "Camel Prayer," which appears in a biography of Dr. Bob, one of AA's cofounders, called Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers.
Blinged-out chips—such as these medallions encrusted with pink, blue and gold Swarovski crystals, which retail for around $20 apiece—are a relatively recent, and popular, addition to the sobriety-memento pantheon. Holguin, who sells these under the name "Girlie-Girl," says they are one of My 12 Step Store's top three sellers.
Groups around the country sometimes make their own tokens, such as this "Pink Cloud" chip that Brooklyn resident Jess received at an AA meeting in New Orleans, while on a cross-country road trip. According to Jess, the meeting gave out Pink Cloud chips—meant to remind its owner of the period of elation that many feel immediately after getting sober—to anyone who was passing through the Crescent City.
It's often said that alcoholism and addiction are "equal-opportunity" diseases, affecting young and old, rich and poor alike—and, as a result, medallions are available for many different groups of people, including African-Americans, Spanish-speakers and this pair of "Native American in Recovery" coins—which has a prayer to the "Great Spirit," rather than God or a Higher Power, on its flip side.
Sober mementos aren't just a North American thing. When The Fix was visiting Choices in NYC, an Acupulco resident named Juan, sober 27 years, was in the store buying coins in bulk for his meeting back home. And when Brooklynite Patrick was in Costa Rica on vacation last year, he was given this handpainted seashell at a local AA meeting, with "AA CR Tamarindo 2011" inscribed on the shell's pearly underside.
Do you have a favorite 12-step coin, medallion or other memento? If so, we want to hear about it! Email email@example.com with a photo (horizontal, please) and a few words about what's unique about your token of sobriety.
This SoCal rehab fosters a regimented but respectful recovery environment, where teens learn how to live sober through plenty of 12-step meetings and life-skills classes—not to mention "equine-assisted psychotherapy" and mixed martial arts.