“Let us always remember that any society of men and women that cannot freely correct its own faults must surely fall into decay if not into collapse. Such is the universal penalty for the failure to go on growing. Just as each A.A. must continue to take his moral inventory and act upon it, so must our whole Society if we are to survive and if we are to serve usefully and well.”
-Bill Wilson (A.A. Comes of Age Page 231)
There is an old parable detailing the nature of organization that I have come back to again and again in my observances of the downward trajectory in Alcoholics Anonymous:
God and The Devil are strolling down the street together when God notices something shiny lying in the road. God walks on ahead and picks up the object. The Devil approaches and inquires, “What do you have there?” “This is truth,” God replies. The Devil offers, “Well, give it here. I’ll organize it for you.”
Organization, by its very nature has the tendency to drastically water down quality. A pure and simple idea peppered with logistics, politics, upkeep, relationships, societal norms and money, inevitably becomes far more difficult to keep pure and simple.
The Mrs. Fields cookies that came straight from Debbi Fields’ oven in the late ’70’s had to have tasted a hell of a lot better than the ones you get at the mall today. And yet, Debbi obviously saw that, tasty as her cookies were, she was never going to make a living by individually baking a hundred or so cookies a day. So she organized. She essentially engaged in a risk vs. reward examination. Her working hypothesis was probably that the downside of the mass-produced cookies lacking somewhat in quality would be far outweighed by the financial windfall and the opportunity to have millions of people enjoy her creations. All things considered, it’s a decision that turned out well.
Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and their fellow pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous have much in common with Debbie Fields. They had a product. A product far more powerful and important than cookies, but a product nonetheless. The product was simple and it was pure. Much like the cookies coming straight from the oven, they were aware that keeping the thing in-house was the most effective way to keep the product from becoming diminished and losing its effectiveness. And yet, there were millions and millions of people who had a desperate need for this life-saving product who would surely be deprived without some sort of expansion. So they organized. Much like Mrs. Fields, they undertook their own risk vs. reward investigation. They concluded that the inevitable watering down of the product would assuredly be outweighed by the endless number of people who could be helped. Not to mention, they had written down all the details necessary to keep the product pure in a book which was readily available to the entire organization. So how far awry could the organization possibly go? As it turns out, pretty far.
Today’s Alcoholics Anonymous is a bloody mess, retaining nothing but scraps and shards of its original message and loaded to the gills with wrong-headed, backward notions built on the thoughts of outside organizations and the opinions of drunks. We’ve never had so many people streaming into the organization and we’ve never had so few getting better. Like an emotionally vacant gigolo, we know how to draw them in but then we have no idea what to do with them. And because we don’t know what to do with them (the newcomers), and because most alcoholics are reluctant to say “I don’t know,” we pretend that we do know what to do with them. And because they have no idea what is supposed to happen in this place, they naturally assume that what we are doing is correct and that we are giving them what they need. And when this erroneous platform inevitably fails, the newcomer goes and drinks (and maybe dies) and those uninformed members who failed him walk off and find another newcomer to poison.
Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t just failing to save people. It’s actively participating in many people’s demise. It’s gone (in far too many cases) from being the solution to the problem to being the problem itself. In 1935, the true message of Alcoholics Anonymous created a solution to a seemingly hopeless problem. They figured out how to fix drunks. Today, many of those drunks come looking for that same message and are being undone by the organization meant to save them. What it is they come looking for is now like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It’s sad. It’s frightening. It seems hopeless. But, maybe it isn’t. Maybe, much like the illness of alcoholism was thought to be for so many years, it is only seemingly hopeless. The message of A.A. saved the drunks. Can’t that same message save our distressed organization.
Can A.A. save A.A.?
You might think of alcoholism the way you would a computer virus. If you were to unknowingly sit down at a computer infested with a virus, and observed the unmanageable goings on, you might well come to the conclusion that you were staring at a broken computer. But the computer is not broken. The computer came off the line with everything it needed to function in exactly the way it was meant to function. But somewhere along the way, it got a hold of some bad information which made its way into the computer’s operating system. The main problem is that the computer does not know that there is bad information in its operating system. It believes that the bad information IS its operating system. We also know that if you bring the computer to a professional, the bad information can be located and eradicated, and the computer will revert back to functioning in proper fashion. That’s the alcoholic in a nutshell. They come off God’s line wired to function properly. Somewhere in their modeling, they pick up fear and shame and resentment and secrecy and all the things we refer to as character defects. They don’t understand these things as bad information. They understand them as the building blocks of their identity. They use booze to anesthetize the pain. In A.A., we show them how to hire a professional (higher power) to locate and remove the bad information (The 12 Steps) and restore them to proper functioning (sanity).
It appears that the organization of A.A. is now suffering from the illness it was created to address. The program came off the line in Akron, Ohio perfect in its creation. Over the last seven decades, it has come across a ton of bad information. The organization, as a whole, does not seem to see that its central message is strewn with bad information. It seems to believe that the bad information IS its central message.
How do we work the program on the program?
Well, much like with the newcomer, The Big Book seems to be the clearest source of information.
Step 1 : TRUTH
How did this happen? How did we drift this far? What is the origin of this slow-growing infestation of which we have no power. Where did our seemingly hopeless condition take root and what has fostered its growth?
Bill and Bob constructed the core of the A.A. message and slowly began to find drunks who would listen and recover. In the beginning, if you happened to live anywhere other than New York or Ohio and got word that a program had developed which was getting drunks well and you wanted to receive the message, you’d send word ahead to Dr. Bob that you were driving in and wanted help. Generally, you’d arrive the night before and be put up by one the members. Early the next morning, as the sun was rising, you’d arrive at Dr. Bob’s house and you’d get straight to work. By the time the sun was setting, you’d be starting 9th Step amends and employing the maintenance and growth plan set forth by Steps 10, 11 and 12. That was the design. That is how it was intended to work. 12 steps in one day and, assuming your work was honest and thorough, you’d awake the next morning as a recovered alcoholic. The only reason this changed was that when the book was published and made available to the public, the number of inquiries soon arriving from people wanting to get well was quite a bit more than anyone expected and far too many for Dr. Bob and his crew to handle. A.A. was powerless over this development.
Up to this point, almost all the meetings in existence were generally referred to as “Guidance Meetings,” wherein the members would all gather at a table with paper and writing implements and engage in a free-hand, stream-of-consciousness exercise attempting to let God speak through them. When complete, the members would read what they had written to each other and attempt to help each other decipher which were the “God thoughts” and which were the “Self-will thoughts.” Until a guy had worked his steps, he was not welcome to attend these meetings, as the thought process of a still recovering alcoholic was not thought to be useful to these meetings. It was at this point that they created what were originally called “The Beginner’s Meetings.” These were a group of four meetings (taking place over four weeks) in which a newcomer would be given a sharing partner (the term “sponsor” would not show up until much later) to be their advocate over the course of this month, working with them as they learned about the preparation steps (1,2,& 3) in the first week, the confession steps (4 & 5) in the second week- completing a fourth and fifth step in the intervening seven days, the conviction and conversion steps (6,7,8 & 9) in the third week- making their eighth step lists and beginning their amends in the intervening seven days- and the maintenance and growth steps (10,11 & 12) in week four. At this point they would become sharing partners themselves, be granted an A.A. membership card and given entrance into the guidance meetings. And this is predominantly what was occurring throughout A.A. for the next couple of decades until the advent of the treatment centers in the mid to late 60’s. A.A. was powerless over this development.
The treatment centers were initially way-stations into A.A., in that they would detox you, dry you out and send you along to the fellowship. Eventually, someone had the bright idea that there might be some real money that could be made from these places. Shortly thereafter, the insurance companies came on board. All of a sudden a spiritually based message which could be transmitted in a day was less than an ideal fit in a 28-day program. Insurance companies like hard data which can be clearly translated through graphs and charts. The medical model of recovery and evidence based practices (EMDR, CBT, SFBT) became the norm and became intertwined into our program, lengthening the process of recovery. All of a sudden, it was a step a week. And then it was a step a month. Nameless, faceless bureaucrats began determining how quickly alcoholics were allowed to get well and the landscape changed forever. A.A. was powerless over this development.
Slowly but surely, like a deadly game of “Pass it On,” a steady stream of erroneous information (new designs, random opinions, rhyming catch phrases and the like), much of it diametrically opposed to the message detailed in the book, began to seep into our rooms and get picked up by members as useful and proper data. A.A. was powerless over this development.
And here we stand. A fellowship of millions of people where almost anyone you meet knows what a “90 in 90” is, even though it has no actual roots in A.A. (springing from rehabs that felt obligated to give some direction to the freshly-detoxed alcoholics and addicts they were churning out like processed cheeses), and yet almost no one seems to understand that there is such a thing as a recovered alcoholic, even though it is made crystal clear on the title page of our basic text.
By the way, I am not suggesting that 90 meetings in 90 days is a fundamentally bad idea. Meetings are great. We have a disease of isolation. So go to meetings. Hell, do a 400 in 90 if you can. With that said, what of the guy living in rural Nebraska where there is one meeting a week and it’s 45 miles away? How does he do it right? What of the single mother living in Harlem with seven kids working three jobs to keep them fed? Telling her that she needs to do a 90 in 90 stands to not only undermine her recovery, it stands to endanger her children. If you have the time and willingness to go to a meeting a day for the first few months, or even thereafter, terrific. But, the idea that the success of your recovery is somehow based on how many meetings you go to is a faulty and treacherous concept.
We’ve gone adrift. We are well out to sea. Left to our own devices, we may well be dead in the water. With each passing year, if A.A. continues to edge further and further away from their core tenets, the organization could easily become nothing more than a place where dying alcoholics gather, as this seemingly hopeless state of mind and body, without God and the steps, inevitably falls back to being a hopeless state of mind and body- with people saying things like, “History tells us that there was a period in the 20th and 21st century where people like us actually got better. It seems to have been an aberration of sorts, as we have no idea how they did that.”
Is that scenario ridiculous? Ask The Washingtonians. Ask The Romans. Ask TWA. There is no shortage of nations, communities, corporations and organizations who grew so large and powerful that the idea of ceasing to exist seemed an absolute impossibility. At the height of The Roman Empire, they numbered about 65 million people. There’s no more than 2 million A.A. members. Do the math.
Now, if A.A. can see that once all this false information began to worm in, they could not control how much more of it followed (physical allergy) and each time they’ve made some cursory decision to halt it, it would carry onward just as strong (mental obsession) and that the problem is that we are counting on the individuals and groups and districts (human measures) to fix it- then, perhaps, we can see that when we try to manage the organization with human measures, we are powerless to change; and our powerlessness makes our organization unmanageable. Maybe then we can fire ourselves as managers and hire (or re-hire) a more competent manager.
Time is of the essence. And yet, if A.A. were to follow what the majority of its membership now preaches, that first step could easily take a month. According to some, it ought to take a year.
Evidence of how much Alcoholics Anonymous struggles with its own powerless can be easily found in what we regularly refer to as “First Step Meetings.” This occurs when a man or woman, brand new to our fellowship, is carted off into a private room after the opening announcements of a meeting with four or five of the “old-timers” to be given their own special introduction into A.A. via the first of the twelve steps. In theory, this is a marvelous idea. After all, the purpose of the first step is to help the potential alcoholic decipher whether or not they have this illness, which they can only do if they come to understand how the illness shows up in a human being. The problem is that the newcomer almost never comes out of that first step meeting with a clear understanding of the first step. Generally what will happen is that each of the “old-timers” will tell a modulated version of their “story,” detailing all the mess and the damage and the pain and then conclude with something along the lines of, “…and then I cam to A.A. and it saved my life.” So, this man walks out of the meeting and what does he know? Does he know what makes an alcoholic an alcoholic? Does he know if he qualifies as a real alcoholic? Does he know if the people telling the stories qualify as alcoholics? Does he have any idea what his next right action is other than “keep coming back?” Is it really asking too much that just one of the old-timers in that room might have a copy of the basic text of the organization and have the wherewithal to flip to page XXVI and read the first and last paragraphs on the page to this poor guy? If A.A. is not capable of delivering a first step to a new member, how can it possibly grasp the concept itself?
The other day, a newcomer named Matt came into my life. We met at a meeting and he told me that he had recently become homeless and was trying A.A. for “like the millionth time.” When asked if he ever worked The 12 Steps honestly and completely, he said, “Not really.” When asked if he would like to, he said, “Yes, when?” When told, “Right now. Follow me to my house. We’ll get you through at least the first five steps in a few hours.” He looked a tad bewildered, but followed nonetheless. We sat in my kitchen, and opened the book to begin. Within seconds, we had a conversation that I have literally had hundreds of times with folks who, in their inability to recover, believe they are doomed:
Me: Okay, turn to the forward to the first edition.
Matt: Actually, I’ve done the first three steps a bunch of times. I got those down. We can just go right into the fourth step.
Me: Would you be willing to do a quick cursory review of the first three steps… just to humor me.
Me: Great. So, you understand yourself to be alcoholic right?
Matt: Of course.
Me: Of course? Why of course?
Matt: Well, c’mon, I’m in A.A. aren’t I?
Me: Yes you are. Might you be under the impression that everyone who walks into A.A. is an alcoholic?
Matt: Kind of. Well, maybe not everyone who walks in, but certainly everyone who stays.
Me: That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Me: Non-alcoholics walk into A.A. every day. Many of them stay. Many of them stay for years, even decades; collecting coins, sponsoring others, speaking at meetings.
Matt: How can that be?
Me: Remember, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Non-alcoholics are totally allowed in here. The only task for a real alcoholic like me is to have the competence to spot them and not seek them out for help.
Matt: You mean real alcoholics like us.
Matt: Not maybe. Trust me, I’m an alcoholic.
Me: You haven’t yet demonstrated that you know what an alcoholic is- so how can I trust that you are one?
Matt: I’m an alcoholic because I drink every day.
Me: Plenty of non-alcoholics drink every day.
Matt: Yeah, but I drink a ton.
Me: There are plenty of non-alcoholics who drink a ton. Alcoholism has little to do with how much or how often you consume alcohol.
Matt: Why are you trying to convince me that I’m not an alcoholic?
Me: I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m simply aware that you go to church rooms nearly every day and in front of a collection of virtual strangers you raise your hand and publicly declare yourself to be something that you do not understand.
Matt: Okay, I give. What is an alcoholic?
Me: Glad you asked. Take a look at page XXVI.
Care of Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, we examined the phenomenon of craving kicked off by a single drink and the peculiar mental twist showing up on the back-end, rendering us so restless, irritable and discontent that we are without power to not return to the first drink and try again. This was new and revolutionary information to Matt and, for the first time ever, he had a full knowledge of his condition. This is a man who, by his own count, had been in and out of A.A. well over fifty times with at least twenty tries at working the steps with men who called themselves sponsors. Further, in many of the meetings he attended, he found himself shunned and castigated as a “chronic relapser” and as someone who “didn’t really want it.” If in all those attempts, in all those meetings, in all those conversations with all those sponsors, he had never come across this basic piece of information absolutely necessary for recovery, is Matt responsible for all those relapses? I think not. For the last twenty years, the organization called Alcoholics Anonymous has been undermining Matt’s genuine desire to find recovery. By God’s grace, he was able to stay alive long enough to finally stumble upon the real message. How many Matts are there who couldn’t? How many Matts are there who lasted through the first five relapses or the first ten, but in the absence of any information that could actually save them finally succumbed to the next best thing: eternal oblivion. You want to know how many? I’ll tell you how many. Too many.
If A.A. is not capable of delivering a first step to a new member, how can it possibly grasp the concept itself?
Step 2: HOPE
So we, as an organization, have accepted our powerless and smashed the delusion that, left to our own devices, there could ever be any hope for the organization. Now that we understand the problem, what’s the solution? Same as it’s always been. A Power greater than human power. A higher power. Bill began this whole sojourn with the icy intellectual mountain in which he lived and shivered many years melting in light of the notion that a power greater than he could restore him to sanity. We’ve lost God in A.A. Our own co-dependent fears about scaring away newcomers have led us to invite people to just “not worry” about “the God thing;” to take what they want and leave the rest. It’s our newfangled Chinese food menu approach to recovery. I think the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says it best: “It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of providence could remove it from us.” It seems we are clearly being told that they understand that it kind of sucks that, as a product of our own choices, we have dug a hole so deep for ourselves that, short of an act of God, we are completely screwed. They are also telling us that while it may be a drag, it is nonetheless true. Bottom line: you’ve whittled yourself down to two choices- an alcoholic death or a life of God- choose! Why have we backed off from that? Why have we become gun-shy about proclaiming the only element that actually makes this whole thing work? Without God, what are we selling these people? Little church rooms full of drunks, drinking coffee and telling war stories? Who is that going to save? Not an alcoholic.
Why are there so many in the organization who have months sober and find themselves stuck on step two. “Why?” we ask, “You are not willing to believe in God?” They answer, “Oh, sure, I’ve always believed in God.” “So what’s keeping you from moving to step three?” It’s not a “what” keeping them from moving forward… it’s a “who.” It’s their sponsor. Their sponsor who has decided that rather than being the conduit to get them to God, they’d cut out the middle man and just play God themselves. The notion that it is the sponsors job to set the rate at which people travel through the steps is one of the most abusive notions coursing through our organization.
At the end of Step 1 we are told that if you can smash the delusion (Pg. 30) that you can ever do this on your own (powerless), we start looking (Pg. 45) for the power (Step 2.)
At the end of Step 2 we are told that once a man can say that he is willing to believe, that he is on his way… to Step 3 (Pg. 63).
At the end of Step 3 we are told that as soon as we say the prayer, we launch into Step 4 (Pg. 63).
At the end of Step 4 we are told that what we’ve written down is about to be cast out (Step 5, Pg. 72).
At the end of Step 5 we are told that if we’ve satisfactorily completed Step 5, we then look at Step 6 (Pg. 76).
At the end of Step 6 we are told that as soon as we are ready to go ahead and say the 7th step prayer (Pg. 76).
At the end of Step 7 we are told “now we need more action,” and to make our harms list (Step 8, Pg. 76).
At the end of Step 8 we are told “now we go out” and begin our amends (Step 9, Pg. 76).
At the end of Step 9 we are told that we engage the maintenance steps (starting with Step 10) while we work on our amends (Pg. 84).
At the end of Step 10 we are told “But we must go further and that means more action” (Step 11, Pg. 85).
At the end of Step 11 we are told “But that is not all. There is action and more action,” and that we move to the next chapter, which is entirely devoted to Step 12 (Pg. 87).
Clear and concise instructions along with simple time parameters and yet we are constipated with thousands and thousands of A.A. members feigning expertise and cloaking behavior control as sponsorship, demanding that the sufferer adhere to the arbitrary time parameters they deem appropriate.
We sure have come to like arbitrary time parameters in A.A. Especially “a year.” We love a year. No sex or relationships for a year. No major decisions for a year. You can’t lead a meeting for a year. You can’t sponsor anyone for a year. Of course, nobody ever gives you any idea what the utility of this time parameter is. The message is essentially, “You can’t have this until I decide that you are ready.” That’s behavior control. You want to know why outsiders often accuse us of being a cult? This is why. Any good cult uses behavior control and human idolatry as tools for brainwashing. If you have found yourself in Alcoholics Anonymous with some sponsor making all your decisions for you… I got news for you… you ARE in a cult.
As an adult, do you really think it’s appropriate for another adult to tell you that you that you are not allowed to have sex until they say so? Over the course of one full page (most of Page 68 to the top of Page 69), we are told, “We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct,” and “In meditation, we ask God what we should do about each specific matter,” and “God alone can judge our sex situation,” and “We let God be the final judge.” And yet, it somehow makes perfect sense to so many of us to tell adults what they can or cannot do with their genitalia. Our basic text addresses a particular topic four separate times on a single page, making it entirely clear that the issue is God’s to handle, and yet the membership won’t get their hands off it.
No major decisions for a year? Was getting sober and systematically changing the way in which you experience yourself, God and the world around you not major? Is this message that you are capable of intense, at times harrowing, self-searching; leveling your pride; and confessing your shortcomings but you are not capable of buying a house or switching jobs?
The 12-month parameters are essentially built on the idea that The Steps are meant to be done over the course of a year. But The Steps are not meant to be done over the course of a year.
The end result is a faulty construct built on a faulty construct.
We often hear our members say that the reason that you shouldn’t do the steps immediately is because people are so physically and mentally twisted when they walk in that they need the time to get their body and head straight before they begin step work. Page 64 reads, “When the spiritual malady is overcome [through the steps], we straighten out mentally and physically ” So, until you recover, your physical and mental state are precarious, at best. Therefore to tell someone to get it together mentally and physically before they work the steps is not a little bit off; it is fundamentally backward.
The 2nd Step is “One short question (Page 47).” If you are willing to believe that there is even a possibility that there could be some energy or force in the universe more powerful than you and your brain, you are done with Step 2.
Can Alcoholics Anonymous come to believe that the higher power who created them is still available to run the show and right the ship?
Step 3: FAITH
It is unreal how many people in A.A. are under the impression that the 3rd Step requires the alcoholic to have some idea about how to turn their will and life over to God. Wayward souls depressed that movement beyond Step 3 is beyond their purview because they have no idea how to achieve this task. One after another bemoaning, “I don’t think I’m doing this right. I’m having so much trouble turning my will over. How do you do that? How would I know if I’m doing it right?” Why need it be so arduous for them to find a competent sponsor to tell them, “The book is not asking you to do any such thing. You don’t know how to turn your will and life over to God because you are wholly incapable of doing so. You are blocked from accomplishing this. It isn’t until the next step that we are even going to examine what is blocking you and you are four steps removed from the process of any of those blockages being removed. All you are being asked to do is make a decision. Making a decision to do something and actually doing that something are separate activities. If you were to decide right this second to make a decision get your PhD, would you all of a sudden have a degree in your hands? Of course not.
On page 62, just before reaching the 3rd Step prayer on the following page, we are clued into the “root of the problem.” We, by this point, of course, know that the problem is “lack of power” (Page 45) and now we find that the roots growing out from that problem are built on selfishness. Selfishness. Root of the problem. One A.A. member after another sitting in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous proudly proclaim… out loud… in a meeting… with newcomers… that Alcoholics Anonymous is a selfish program. Is it any wonder that we can’t save anybody? A new guy walks in and hears people tell him that the program is selfish, then begins to get into the book and finds that his root problem is that he is selfish. He further reads that this selfishness of his- if not resolved- will kill him (Page 62), and he’s left to wonder how a selfish program could possibly rid him of his deadly selfishness.
Page 20, paragraph 1: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”
Page 97, paragraph 2: “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be.
Page 14-15: “For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.”
Page 62, paragraph 2: “Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles”
Page 62, paragraph 3: “So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it
How have we come to draw from those statements that this is a selfish program? It’s as we’ve unknowingly engaged in a very disturbing game of “Telephone.” You know this game, yes? Little Bobby whispers his secret (“frogs rock”) to little Audrey and she whispers it to little James and so on, and by the time it reaches little Andrew at the end of the circle, he is asked to stand and reveal the secret, to which he proclaims, “frogs suck!”
And so, Alcoholics Anonymous, we make our choice. It’s the same choice that our members having been faced with for decades. Do we want Step 1 or Step 2? Insanity or God? Hopelessness or salvation? Pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization or sunlight of the spirit?
God- we give our organization to you. To do with us and build with us as thou wilt. Relieve us from the bondage of erroneous and deadly messages that we might better do your will. Remove our toxins that victory over them will allow us to bear witness to those who need the purity of this message that we may guide them to live in your love, your power and your way of life.
Step 4: COURAGE
Of all the ways in which we have radically complicated this incredibly simple program, what’s happened to Steps 4 and 5 is probably the most egregious. We have managed to take a process which was designed to be done in a single sitting, in as little as an hour, and turned it into the equivalent of a doctorate-level thesis. Endless pages replete with multiple columns and enough data to keep a forensic scientist percolating for days on end. How does it make rational sense to send a fragile, confused alcoholic back to his isolationist domicile to sit alone, for months, marinating in the shame of the wreckage of his past? Think about this logically. It’s YOUR story. Things that happened to YOU. There’s no research necessary. You don’t need to hunt down quotes. There’s no citations or bibliography. Who are you pissed at, what are you scared of and who did you hurt? That’s the task? If you meet the average alcoholic in a bar at one in the morning, they could roll those lists out for you in completion inside of seventeen minutes. And you’d probably hear them whether you wanted to or not.
What’s really amazing is that one of the few parts of The Big Book that nearly everyone utilizes consistently is the one section that is not consistent with the original design. Almost anyone doing a 4th Step these days is probably, in some way, utilizing the column inventory example of Page 65. In the first five years before the book was written, there were two predominant methods for doing a 4th Step: “The Bill Way” and “The Bob Way.” The Bill Way is what you’ll find on Page 65. The Bob Way is called an Assets and Liabilities checklist. This is essentially a grid resembling a football betting pool with the names listed across the top, and what had happened with that person (or place or thing) along the left side. And along the right side would be the corresponding assets we need to strive for. The filling out of the list was nothing more than a series of check marks denoting the things that needed to be spoken through in Step 5. It’s quick. It’s simple. Rather than three or four separate lists, the resentments, the fear and the harms get attended to simultaneously in a single grid.
As the program began to grow, Bill essentially took on the role of the P.T. Barnum of the thing, pushing the growth and the potential influx of dollars. It was Dr. Bob and his crew carrying the message to new alcoholics and, consequently, everyone was using the Assets and Liabilities checklist to do the work. Even still, it was Bill who took up the role of lead author for the book and Bill like the column inventory and so Bill put it in. As it happens, in all of the A.A. archives (of which there are many, detailing exactly was going on meetings throughout the country) there is not a single scrap of evidence of anyone using a column inventory previous to the advent of the treatment centers. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using a column inventory, for someone just entering the A.A. it is a complicated way to accomplish a simple task. And it has led to expanded versions making the job so absurdly complex, it is all but sure to have an alcoholic running for cover. You wanna see unmanageable? Check out this madness: http://www.royy.com/step4.pdf. Why are we doing this to people?
The 4th Step is a cheat sheet for the 5th Step. That’s all. It is a cliffs notes version of the things you need to talk about in your 5th Step. You do NOT need to determine exactly how these things made you feel nor do you need to determine your part in Step 4. That happens in 5 so you aren’t doing it alone. We are told on Pages 65-66 that, “The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong was as far as most of us ever got.” If seeing the wrongs of others was as far as we had gotten, how in the name of all that is holy are we going to be able to figure out what our part in our resentments are?! The root of our problem is selfishness. The selfishness is driven by self-delusion, therefore we are not only selfish- we are selfish and we can not see that we are selfish. To individually understand my part in my resentments demands a release of selfishness. That release does not begin to happen until Step 7. It is not even identified and uncovered until Steps 4 and 5. Now, considering that 4 are 5 are the very steps that the person is working on, how can you ask him to attend to a fundamentally unselfishness task when he is still loaded to the gills with unseen selfishness? And how long do you think this poor soul is going to spin in confusion and frustration before he has a bottle in his hand?
Bottom line. It is a simple program. If you are working on a part of the program and you are aware that it is not simple… then it is not A.A.
And so, Alcoholics Anonymous, let us take a look at our Assets and Liabilities checklist:
|Liabilities Watch for-||
in AA who don’t do
Topic mtgs with no message
to talk about
Step 5: INTEGRITY
The treatment centers have become the enemy of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not specifically the fault of the treatment centers anymore than it is the fault of A.A. It is the fault of zero attendance on the part of all parties concerned to see, and turn over, the gaping chasm that has grown between the two models. We are miles and miles apart and the gap is only spreading. The central problem is not that we are unable to make nice with each other and be pals. The central problem is that alcoholics and addicts attempting to recover from this illness in A.A. whilst simultaneously attending inpatient or outpatient treatment at a facility are getting wildly disparate information from each place. No matter which way you slice it, no matter who is right and who is wrong, this is a major issue. It is not uncommon for people who have been taken through the steps quickly and effectively get reamed out by their counselor demanding that there is no way that they should do more than the first three steps over his first 90 days. This counselor has a person who sits before them fresh-skinned and glowing, their whole deportment screaming that they have undergone a fundamental change; and rather than holding space for the possibility that something remarkable has happened, they are so committed to these distorted ideas, based on nothing but word of mouth, that they are unable to entertain the fact that what you are looking at is empirical evidence of something real. I am reminded of Bill’s words in telling his own story on Pg. 12 of the book: “Despite the living example of my friend there remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice.” Now the vestiges of his prejudice blocking his ability to see the truth are fairly understandable. He was a hopeless drunk who was drinking even as he sat there having the conversation which he is recounting on Pg. 12. But is it not too much to ask a professional counselor who has attended years of school, earning multiple degrees and choosing to work the life-saving business to be able to see past the vestiges of their prejudice?
And this issue, by the way, is not just coming from that direction. We in A.A. are doing the same thing. Some new alcoholic starts working the program and one day shares in the meeting that he is struggling with his bi-polar medication. Then, after the meeting some old curmudgeon approaches and says, “You know, if you are popping pills you aren’t sober.” Same problem. This guy has decided that along with his recovery came a A.A. gratis medical license and that it is his job to dispense medical advice to newcomers. In both these situations, we have people overstepping their bounds at the expense of the new person who has no tools to distinguish between what is real and what is false.
We resent the treatment centers. They probably resent us too, but that is for their fifth step should they ever do one. We resent that, little by little, they have managed to inundate us with contorted notions mucking up our waters no end. We are scared, as our newcomers are falling by the thousands attempting to find recovery using the blueprint of avoiding people, places and things. Staying away from temptation is an “outside-in” solution. That is to say that if you mitigate your exterior circumstances your inner life will get better. For alcoholics, this is not only faulty thinking, it is deadly thinking. Page 101 tells us, “In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure.” If the alcoholic tries to shield himself he may succeed for a time, but he usually winds up with a bigger explosion than ever. We have tried these methods. These attempts to do the impossible have always failed.” The 12-step paradigm is an “inside-out” solution. Do the work to heal your insides and your outer circumstances will matter not. The message of A.A. is not, and has never been, that if you are not spiritually fit than stay away from temptation and go to lots of meetings and make a billion phone calls. The message of A.A. is, and always has been, if you are not spiritually fit than get spiritually fit. There is no B plan. Two choices. Obsession for destructive drinking or act of providence. Die for alcohol or live for God. There is no C plan of avoiding temptation. And, quite frankly, avoiding temptation won’t be of much use in the B plan. If you are spiritually fit, temptation is no issue. If you are not spiritually fit, you are screwed anyway. But the treatment centers have instituted a C plan. And a D plan. And an E-Z plan. A steady stream of other information. It’s been said that within our organization we have no two programs: A.A. and S.S. S.S. stands for Something Similar. It resembles A.A. It’s alongside A.A. It’s being offered in A.A. But it’s not A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous will save your life. Something Similar won’t. It won’t save your life. And it might very well end your life. We resent that. And we’re scared of it. And we’re powerless over it.
Then we have the non-alcoholics. In large part “the normies” (as I will heretofore refer to them) are, to some extent, more dangerous than the treatment centers, because they lurk among us unidentified. The normies are one of A.A.’s dirty little secrets. We all know that “the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking,” but we somehow manage to miss (or ignore) that someone with nothing but a desire to stop drinking is a non-alcoholic… a normie. How interesting that we all know the aforementioned membership requirement and yet regularly say things like “no one walks into A.A. by accident.” Not true. Normies walk into A.A. “by accident” every day. And then they stay. And, based on our membership requirements, they are welcome to stay. But they are dangerous.
People regularly walk into their first meeting only to be embraced by a member of the fellowship proclaiming, “You’re in the right place!” How do they know that? How could they know that? This may very well be a person who has never cracked the spine of a Big Book in their lives, never read a word of The Doctor’s Opinion, never been explained the physical allergy or mental obsession and therefore never had the opportunity to diagnose themselves, and you’ve just told them that they have an illness that they very well may not have. In the medical community, this is referred to as “malpractice,” and people lose their licenses and often go to jail as a result. In A.A., we liberally allow our members to commit such malfeasance without any fear of recrimination. We are daily requesting, nay demanding, that alcoholic imposters crowd up our rooms and confuse those who need the message.
Because while the normies are allowed to be here, they don’t need our message. Oh, our message will help them. Hell, spiritual principles would help anybody. But they don’t need it to survive. And, consequently, most of them will not employ it. And why should they? If the affection and warmth of the membership and the interesting stories and the hot coffee will give you what you need, why would you undertake the often painful process of investigating and releasing your baser character defects and making amends to others and daily surrendering your will? And this is where the danger lies.
If the normies wore name tags and introduced themselves as what they are, we would have no issue here. But they don’t. They refer to themselves as alcoholics and because most meeting don’t actually carry the message anymore, they probably think that they are alcoholics. and, therefore, so do the newcomers. And they listen to them. And that is an enormous problem.
Consider this example: Chris is a man who drinks. By almost any measure, he drinks a lot. Chris drinks a fifth of Maker’s Mark every single day without fail. Never more. Never less. Each and every day, around 5 o’clock, Chris cracks the seal and imbibes until the bottle is dry and he passes out in front of the television. By all accounts, Chris does not have a physical allergy. He is controlling his intake. He never finds himself knocking out a fifth and a half in spite of his intentions. It’s always a fifth. That amount of booze will almost definitely negatively affect his health. It will probably have an unfortunate impact on his family life as well. It might even kill him long before his time. But it is not evidentiary of alcoholism. But, to those around him, it most certainly looks like it is. Now let’s say that Chris visits a doctor who tells him that his liver is enlarged and that if he doesn’t stop drinking, he is putting his life in danger. Since the doctor (like most doctors) has little more than a cursory knowledge of the illness, he says, “Chris, you are an alcoholic. You need to go to A.A.” His wife echoes this sentiment and threatens that she will take the kids and leave if he doesn’t get help. This is enough to get Chris to stop. Therefore, we know that in addition to not suffering from a physical allergy, Chris does not have the mental obsession. But Chris does not know this and there is a good chance that no one is going to tell him. So Chris goes to a noon meeting at the local Alano clubhouse the next day.
The people are nice. The coffee is hot. The stories are interesting. So Chris stays. Chris does not hear much about the steps but that’s no problem as Chris does not need the steps. Chris secures someone to be his sponsor. He checks in each day and goes to lots of meetings. Chris’s physical detox and according cravings pass fairly quickly and he begins to thrive in A.A. Chris is good-looking, charismatic and well-spoken and easily draws many to him with his frothy emotional appeal. Many who he draws are alcoholics dying from untreated alcoholism desperate for our message of recovery. When one of these guys asks Chris to sponsor them, he gladly agrees and tells the guy to call him every day and go to lots of meetings. When the alcoholic asks, “Well, what about the steps?” Chris replies, “They are not really that important. I worked a few of them and they helped some and we can chat about them at some point, but, for now, just do what I tell you and everything will be all right.” Chris is now a walking executioner. We gave him the job and we don’t know that we gave him the job. And neither does he. And neither does the newcomer. We are scared of Chris and we are powerless to control him.
We are powerless over the real alcoholics who recovered using our message but allowed their egos to take over and decided they would rather play God than carry God’s message. We are powerless over the members who need the message but refuse to do the work and sit in our meetings bitching and moaning and vomiting their unmanageability into the meeting and leave everyone else to clean it up. We are powerless over the topic and speaker meetings spouting self-help and free therapy where no one carries a big book and everyone rambles on about anything and everything but the message. We are powerless over the members and groups asking if we really need to push the God thing as many of us wonder, “The God Thing? What other thing do we have?”
We are powerless over the fact that our needs are not getting met. And the powerlessness is rooted in the fact that we have only been locating how those needs are not getting met by others. We are powerless over others, therefore if we can only see how they contribute to our unmet needs than we have no choice but to wait and hope that they change. Many decades have shown us that this is simply not going to happen. But hopefully at this point in our work, we can see how we have contributed to these unmet needs. Hopefully we have identified our part. That is where our power lies. This is the heart of The Serenity Prayer. We pray for the serenity to accept these pollutants that we cannot change, we pray for the serenity to make the changes that are within our power and we pray for the wisdom to know the difference. We can them come to see that the problem exists because as we waste all our energy fretting about the pollution we can’t find the energy to enact genuine change and that is why we have become an unmanageable organization.
As the 11th Step tells us on page 88, when we live the serenity prayer and let God’s will be done, “We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient.” We love to say that God will do for us what we could not do for ourselves. But this is an incomplete statement. The other half is that God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves. We cannot sit back and just expect God to fix our broken program. There are things we can do. We can change the membership requirements to welcome only real alcoholics. We can strike up a transparent dialogue with the treatment centers. We can preach to all our districts that time parameters means almost nothing, that doing the work is all that matters. We can demand that the only people equipped to take a person through the steps are people who have had their own spiritual awakening and have an intimate understanding of the sponsorship directives on Page 94. We can work to extinguish S.S. and take our program back. Should we do all these things? Should we do any of them? Once we become willing to turn it over and do the work, God will clearly show us the way.
Step 6: WILLINGNESS
Do we object to these deficiencies in our organization? Are we willing to continue to stand idly by and let Alcoholics Anonymous continue the slide toward being nothing but a feckless figurehead built on shifting sands or can we courageously state that we object to the consequences of our choices and allow God to restore us to sanity? Further, if we stand firm in that objection, are we willing to believe that the same higher power who showed up in Bill Wilson’s kitchen speaking with shining clarity through the glowing visage of Ebby Thacher can speak just as powerfully through the might of our fellowship? If we still cling to any elements of our present unmanageable structure we can ask God to help us to be willing.
Step 7: HUMILITY
Our Creator, we are now willing that you should have Alcoholics Anonymous, the good and the bad. We pray that you now remove from us every single piece of hazardous information which stands in the way our usefulness to you and our fellows. Grant us strength, as we go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.
Step 8: LOVING KINDNESS
In this regard, our list is a simple one. While we know that we are powerless over whether people stay drunk or get sober, we also have a statement of responsibility which reads: I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible. We are responsible for that. That is our pledge. That is the responsibility we willingly hold to the alcoholics and addicts of the world at large. And we have failed them. We have not fulfilled that responsibility. Yes, for some we have. For many we have. But the many we have failed outnumber the many we have helped by a percentage that is damned near incalculable. Granted many of them were given the true program and willingly walked away. And for them we hold no responsibility whatsoever. For them, we fully fulfilled our responsibility, in that we gave them their rightful choice between Step One and Step Two and they chose alcoholic insanity over a life of God. We pray for them and release them. But we also know, we know, of the multitudes who were found hanging in closets or keeled over in easy chairs or floating in rivers or sprawled out in burned out buildings or lying face down in a puddle of their own fluids surrounded by tortured wives and weeping children who came to us looking for salvation and instead got human measures and behavior control and mountainous piles of unattended ego. We killed them. That’s on us. And it is indefensible. But it is not irreparable. We can be accountable. We can grieve the loss. We can seek forgiveness. And we can honor their memory by turning this program back to its rightful owner and once again carry the message of hope which birthed us seventy-seven years ago.
Alcoholics Anonymous 8th Step List:
|I OWE AMEND(S) TO:||WHY|
|Former A.A. Members||Failing to carry the message|
|Loved ones of former A.A. members||Failing/killing their loved ones|
|Present A.A. members||Failing to carry the message|
|Loved ones of present A.A. members||Failing their loved ones|
|Treatment Centers||Supporting them in staying ignorant|
|The fellowship at large||Sapping the power of their program|
|Normies in A.A.||Granting them the power to kill|
|Our co-founders and pioneers||Polluting what they worked so hard to create|
Step 9: JUSTICE
Perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous can make their initial 9th Step amend by writing and publishing a letter in The Grapevine reading something like this:
We are writing to you with an awakened spirit and a heavy heart. After much soul-searching and an honest and thorough pass through our own 12 Steps, we have come to see a most painful truth. The truth is that we have failed you. We have failed you and, as a result of those failings, we have allowed so many of our brothers and sisters to fall under the lash of this most insidious of illnesses. While there is no excuse for such harms, we acknowledge that we are all alcoholics, and therefore not immune to this insidious. We are, by design, spiritually imperfect, with the constant need to attend to the balance between ego and humility. And now, excruciating as it may be to view and acknowledge, ego has won out. Self-will is running riot. The tail is wagging the dog and we have, as an organization, fallen prey to King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm. We have lost sight of the fact that we are not the higher power and, as a result, we have unconsciously given others permission to others to do the same. We can see that the potential perils of expansion have slowly given way to an organizational instability well beyond anything that we cold possibly have imagined. We have finally been blessed with the awareness. We have been further blessed with the acceptance. Now, it is time for action.
The commencement of this action begins with our amends to you. You, who have come and gone from our fair organization, and we fear from this world, never having been given our message of recovery; you, who loved and cared for those people and trusted that, in us, they would find what they so desperately needed; you, who presently roam our recovery rooms lost and confused by the mess you’ve been handed; you, who’ve recovered and carry with you far more responsibility than could possibly be expected as a result of our compromised organization failing to provide you the arsenal you need; you, the living descendants of Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, Bill Dotson, Henry “Fitz” Mayo, Earl Treat, Florence Rankin, Clarence Snyder and the rest of our pioneers who have been forced to watch what your forebears painstakingly created crumble before your eyes; and you, God- while we trust that as our loving creator you need no apology and love us unconditionally- not just in spite of, but because of, our imperfections- we also believe that your wish is for your message of love to be spread to as many lost souls as possible- and our allowance of so many flawed human measures to block and muddle the path to you has contributed to so many of your children falling away. We have failed you, one and all. We cannot pretend to know how these failings have made any of you feel or precisely what difficulty has been wrought- but we do know that we’ve caused harm. And we deeply, deeply regret the harm we’ve caused.
We know that this clear understanding of the harm we’ve caused is but a beginning in the reparation process. We know that the most powerful amend starts now. And that amend is to be a living amend. That amend will be in the rectification and rebuilding of this wondrous miracle of a program back to the clear and linear path to God that it is meant to be. We wish you to know that this process, while the exact nature of which is still under construction, is underway even as you read these words. We are acutely and unreservedly committed to restoring our program to the clear and true path to God it was designed and vow to be tireless in this quest and not rest until we’ve been restored to sanity.
Do not trust us. We have already demonstrated our fallibility. Trust God. Trust that the higher power will assuredly lead you and us to the exact place we need to be.
Thank you for hearing these words.
God bless us all,
Step 10: PERSEVERANCE
And now Alcoholics Anonymous has recovered. They are no longer recovering. They are recovered.
And what a glorious example of how far from shore we have drifted that one of our biggest ongoing debates in Alcoholics Anonymous is around a question whose answer is available on the title page of our basic text. We are debating a fact. A fact which is made patently clear again and again and again in the book whose whole reason for existing is to explain to us what A.A. is and what A.A. isn’t. People will ask, “So which side of the recovered/recovering debate are you on?” That’s like asking someone which side of the “sun sets in the east/sun sets in the west” debate they are on.
- Title Page: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS- The story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism.”
- Page xiii: “We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body”
- Page xiii: “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.”
- Page xxiii: This man and over one hundred others appear to have recovered.”
- Page 17: “We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, know thousands of men and women who were once just as hopeless as Bill. Nearly all have recovered.”
- Page 20: “We have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.”
- Page 29: “Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered. “
- Page 44-45: “If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago.”
- Page 90: “If he says yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered.”
- Page 96: “He often says that if he had continued to work on them, he might have deprived many others, who have since recovered, of their chance. “
- Page 113: “He knows that thousands of men, much like himself, have recovered.”
- Page 132: “We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.”
- Page 133: “We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health. “
- Page 146: “An alcoholic who has recovered, but holds a relatively unimportant job, can talk to a man with a better position. “
Who reads the above and takes away that we always be recovering? How does anyone suggest that the choice between recovering and recovered is just this ambiguous, benign piece of semantics for which we have no definitive answer? It would be as if there was an ongoing skirmish between different pockets of American citizens based on the fact that some were holding that our inalienable rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while others demanded those rights to be life, liberty and the pursuit of curly fries. And the curly fry people continually suggest that it’s simply a matter of preference and that there is no definitive way to answer the question anyway. And we try to tell them, “Listen, if you want a copy of The Declaration of Independence, we could get you one. But you get to think and do what you want. If you want to pursue curly fries, go ahead and do that. I hope you find some yummy ones. But, please, don’t teach your children that they ought to shun happiness in favor of fried potatoes. You can practice all the wrongheaded information you want, but don’t screw up others.”
If you would like to always be recovering, fine, don’t work the steps. Then you will always be recovering. And if you do recover and you still want to refer to yourself as a recovering alcoholic, knock yourself out. That’s your business. But that does not change the reality that as you move from Step 9 into Steps 10,11 & 12, that you are recovered. And if you look at the Page 90 quote in the above list, you will plainly see that when we meet a person who wants what we have (which, if you are sitting in an A.A. meeting is, presumably, everyone), it is our responsibility to introduce ourselves as recovered alcoholics (or, as Dr. Bob preferred, “ex-problem drinkers”). If you don’t want to meet those responsibilities, then don’t. But don’t sit in a room and hear a member introduce themselves as a “recovered alcoholic,” and then share out loud that “we are never recovered.” You are confusing, and possibly harming, the newcomer.
For a newcomer in A.A., “Alcoholic” tells them very little. If you are an “alcoholic,” maybe you are still drinking; maybe you’ve stopped; maybe you’re working steps; maybe not; maybe you are remanded here and just waiting to go out and use; maybe you’re a deluded normie or maybe you have actually worked the steps and recovered. “Recovering Alcoholic” doesn’t tell you much more. In fact, a recovering alcoholic could very easily fit any of the possibilities listed for “alcoholic.” But when a person introduces themselves as a “Recovered Alcoholic,” there is very little ambiguity. It tells the newcomer that this person has worked the steps out of the book with another alcoholic, had a spiritual awakening, and therefore, has the competence needed to afford you the opportunity to do the same.
Some folks will say, “Well, fine, okay, so the book does say that we do become recovered. You still shouldn’t say it, because you’re going to give people the impression that you are saying that you are cured.” So the point is that we need to make the distinction between “recovered” and “cured.” On Page 85, the point at which we have officially recovered, it says, “The problem has been removed. It does not exist for us.” Six sentences later, it says, “We are not cured of alcoholism.” These distinctions are all made available is you simply read your Big Book.
And why do the people who do read and study the book get reviled? How did we become an organization where the members who understand the basic text of the organization have special epithets created just to describe them? Big Book Thumper! Have you ever seen Muslims standing outside their own Mosques waiting for the guys to come out who are carrying Korans under their arms so that they can scream, “Koran Thumper!” Have you ever seen students in a trigonometry class stand around after their class ends pointing at the guys who brought their textbooks to class so they can yell “Trig Book Thumper!” I am referred to as an A.A. renegade. If you look the word up, it means someone who strays from the norm; who breaks the rules. Only in Alcoholics Anonymous are the people who adhere closest to the rules the renegades.
Further, in attendance to the 10th step promises, in addition to being told that “The problem has been removed,” we are also told that “We have ceased fighting” (so if you know what’s it’s like to live every day on defense with your metaphorical dukes up, this is the point at which they can lower), “Sanity will have returned” (so the insanity you located in Step One and came to believe could be restored in Step Two is now gone) and that we’ve been placed in a “position of neutrality- safe and protected” (so if you know what it is to live in this world never truly feeling safe- here’s where that starts to change). So, let us be mindful, that to tell a newcomer that it will take a year to get through the steps is to tell that newcomer, “Hi. Welcome to A.A. Just so you know, it will be a year before you stop fighting. It will be a year before you are sane. It will be a year before you are safe. It will be year before this problem is removed. Until then , coffee is free. Enjoy.” That’s not a program. That’s a death sentence.
Alcoholics Anonymous, at this point in the work, is a recovered program.
A regular 10th Step will involve a consistent and fearless attention to the selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fears in our system with an unswerving commitment to stand strong against anything or anyone who serves to dampen our message.
Step 11: SPIRITUALITY
Here we arrive at the key to the kingdom. This is the exact spot where we went awry in the first place. Steps 1,2,& 3 are where we prepare to let God in. Steps 4,5,6,7,8 & 9 are where we remove the blockages preventing us from accomplishing that goal. Step 10 is where we keep our self-will from running riot and re-creating those blockages. And Step 12, as we will see momentarily, is where we carry God’s message to others in an effort to keep our own spiritual connection and sense of self in tact. But it’s Step 11 where we do the work to make sure that we keep allowing God to be God. This is where we have fallen short. Alcoholics Anonymous, in their reluctance to mount an offense to prohibit the fellowship from swallowing up the program, have allowed the human elements in this organization to take up the job of higher power. And the human elements, just like any human elements attempting to solve a spiritual matter, were doomed to failure. And failed we have.
So, now that Alcoholics Anonymous has recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of minds and bodies, what does it look like to work daily in an effort to keep God in the position of manager? Well, if we know that our failings have stemmed from the imperfect humanity of the fellowship overtaking the perfect spirituality of the program, it would seem that the answer lies in finding a way to bring the God of the program back into the fellowship of our meetings. And, the answer, like so many answers we find ourselves seeking, is actually staring us right in the face. The answer can be found in the Guidance meetings of the 1930’s mentioned earlier in this piece. The beauty of these meetings is that they gave the participants no task other than the central task of the entire program- living in God’s will. Below is an exact re-creation of the original pamphlet which circulated through The Oxford Groups and the early days of A.A. detailing the method through which we accomplish this simple, and most critical, action.
HOW TO LISTEN TO GOD
- These are a few simple suggestions for people who are willing to make an experiment. You can discover for yourself the most important and practical thing any human being can ever learn how to be in touch with God.
- All that is needed is the willingness to try it honestly. Every person who has done this consistently and sincerely has found that it really works.
- Before you begin, look over these fundamental points. They are true and are based on the experience of thousands of people.
1. God is alive. He always has been and He always will be.
2. God knows everything.
3. God can do anything.
4. God can be everywhere – all at the same time. (These are the
important differences between God and us human beings).
5. God is invisible – we can’t see Him or touch Him – but, God is here.
He is with you now. He is beside you. He surrounds you. He fills
the room or the whole place where you are right now. He is in you
now. He is in your heart.
6. God cares very much for you. He is interested in you. He has a
plan for your life. He has an answer for every need and problem
7. God will tell you all that you need to know. He will not always tell
you all that you want to know.
8. God will help you do anything that He asks you to do.
9. Anyone can be in touch with God, anywhere and at any time, if the
conditions are obeyed.
These are the conditions:
- To be quiet and still
- To listen
- To be honest about every thought that comes
- To test the thoughts to be sure that they come from God
- To obey
So, with these basic elements as a background, here are specific suggestions on How to Listen to God:
1. Take Time
Find some place and time where you can be alone quiet and undisturbed. Most people have found
that the early morning is the best time. Have with you some paper and pen or pencil.
Sit in a comfortable position. Consciously relax all your muscles. Be loose. There is no hurry. There
needs to be no strain during these minutes. God cannot get through to us if we are tense and
anxious about later responsibilities.
3. Tune In
Open your heart to God. Either silently or aloud, just say to God in a natural way that you would like to
find His plan for your life – you want His answer to the problem or situation that you are facing just
now. Be definite and specific in your request.
Just be still, quiet, relaxed and open. Let your mind go “loose.” Let God do the talking. Thoughts,
ideas, and impressions will begin to come into your mind and heart. Be alert and aware and open to
Here is the important key to the whole process. Write down everything that comes into your mind.
Everything. Writing is simply a means of recording so that you can remember later. Don’t sort out
or edit your thoughts at this point.
Don’t say to yourself:
- This thought isn’t important; This is just an ordinary thought;
- This can’t be guidance; This isn’t nice; This can’t be from God;
- This is just me thinking…, etc.
Write down everything that passes through your mind:
- Names of people;
- Things to do;
- Things to say;
- Things that are wrong and need to be made right.
Write down everything:
- Good thoughts – bad thoughts;
- Comfortable thoughts – uncomfortable thoughts;
- “Holy” thoughts – “unholy” thoughts;
- Sensible thoughts – “crazy” thoughts.
- Be honest! Write down everything! A thought comes quickly, and it escapes even more quickly unless it is captured and put down.
When the flow of thoughts slows down, stop. Take a good look at what you have written. Not every
thought we have comes from God. So we need to test our thoughts. Here is where the written
record helps us to be able to look at them.
a. Are these thoughts completely honest, pure, unselfish and loving?
b. Are these thoughts in line with our duties to our family – to our community?
c. Are these thoughts in line with our understanding of the teachings found in our spiritual
When in doubt and when it is important, what does another person who is living two-way prayer think
about this thought or action? More light comes in through two windows than one. Someone else
who also wants God’s plan for our lives may help us to see more clearly.
Talk over together what you have written. Many people do this. They tell each other what guidance
has come. This is the secret of unity. There are always three sides to every question – your side, my
side, and the right side. Guidance shows us which is the right side – not who is right, but what is
Carry out the thoughts that have come. You will only be sure of guidance as you go through with it.
A rudder will not guide a boat until the boat is moving. As you obey, very often the results will
convince you that you are on the right track.
What if I don’t seem to get any definite thoughts? God’s guidance is as freely available as the air we
breathe. If I am not receiving thoughts when I listen, the fault is not God’s.
Usually it is because there is something I will not do:
- something wrong in my life that I will not face and make right;
- a habit or indulgence I will not give up;
- a person I will not forgive;
- a wrong relationship in my life I will not give up;
- a restitution I will not make;
- something God has already told me to do that I will not obey.
Check these points and be honest. Then try listening again.
Suppose I make a mistake and do something in the name of God that isn’t right? Of course we make
mistakes. We are humans with many faults. However, God will always honor our sincerity.
He will work around and through every honest mistake we make. He will help us make it right. But
remember this! Sometimes when we do obey God, someone else may not like it or agree with it.
So when there is opposition, it doesn’t always mean you have made a mistake. It can mean that the
other person doesn’t want to know or to do what is right.
Suppose I fail to do something that I have been told and the opportunity to do it passes? There is
only one thing to do. Put it right with God. Tell Him you’re sorry. Ask Him to forgive you, then accept
His forgiveness and begin again. God is our Father – He is not an impersonal calculator. He understands
us far better than we do.
We never know what swimming is like until we get down into the water and try. We will never know
what this is like until we sincerely try it.
- Every person who has tried this honestly finds that a wisdom, not their own, comes into their minds and that a Power greater than human power begins to operate in their lives. It is an endless adventure.
- There is a way of life, for everyone, everywhere. Anyone can be in touch with the living God, anywhere, anytime, if we fulfill His conditions:
When man listens, God speaks.
When man obeys, God acts.
This is the law of prayer.
God’s plan for this world goes forward through the lives of ordinary people who are willing to be
governed by Him.
Written in the late 1930’s by John E. Batterson
(A personal friend of Dr. Bob’s — co-founder of A.A.)
Distributed by Wally P., Archivist/ Historian/ Author
P.O. Box 01648, Tucson, AZ 85752-1648
Tel: (520) 297-9348
The number for Wally P. is well worth calling. Wally is the chief archivist for Alcoholics Anonymous. When Dr. Bob passed, his daughter found all the archives, detailing almost everything that was happening in the different cities where A.A. was cropping up including minute by minute notes of many meetings, success rates in different cities, the development of many different paradigms and ideologies, etc.- and gave them to Wally to house as Wally had taken up the lead role in terms of bringing A.A. back to what it was originally meant to be.
In the early nineties, having become frustrated with lack of message he was finding in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, Wally sought out and found a man named James Houk. James was the oldest living member of The Oxford Group with over 70 years of sobriety when Wally found him. James taught Wally the truth about our original design granting Wally the unique opportunity to bring Dr. Bob’s Beginner’s Meetings back to our organization renaming the structure Back to Basics. These meetings now exist throughout the country and are slowly bringing us back to the recovery rates being found nationwide in our first couple of decades. Wally P. is the greatest gift this organization has been granted in the last two decades. For more information about, James, Wally and The Back to Basics model check out http://www.aabacktobasics.org/
Alcoholics Anonymous can now maintenance and grow their recovery by cradling the work done in Steps 1,2 & 3 with the use of Step 11 and the work done in Steps 4,5,6 &7 with Step 10. Now we come to both the manner in which we maintenance and grow the work done in Steps 8 & 9 and, more importantly, the number one way to see to it that we never again fall into the grips of this deadly disease.
Step 12: SERVICE
An alcoholic requests sponsorship. We tell them that it would be an honor and then say something like this: “First and foremost, the primary relationship here is not between you and me. It is between you and God through me. You are too jammed up with the wreckage of your past to get a clear connection, so while we do this work, I will act as your conduit to God’s love. Once we’ve gotten you through the steps, which we will do rapidly- as the book suggests- your connection to God will no longer require me. At that point you will know everything that I know about being sober and you will then be virtually unsponsorable, as your sponsor will then be God. We are going to open up this book and use the first step to figure out if you have this illness called alcoholism. If you do, we will then learn, through the second step, what the solution to that problem is and, in the third step, make an affirmative declaration that you are ready to do what you must to bring the solution to light. We will make a list of what is blocking your from God in step four and talk it through, identifying the patterns of your failures in step five. In step six you will prepare to have these things removed from you and in step seven you will ask God to do exactly that. Then in step eight you will make a list of the all the harm you’ve done and in step nine you will begin the process of making proper amends. At that point you will spiritually awaken, the mental obsession will be arrested, freeing you from the grips of alcoholism, and, as a recovered alcoholic you will then carry this message to others. I want to be clear that I have done this work and recovered as a result of it. I also want you to know that I am getting more out of this than you are. I need you to solidify my own recovery. You do not now, nor will you ever, owe me a thing and if, at any point, for any reason, you wish to end the relationship, that is totally fine.”
We do not do this out of preference. We do not do this because it is our style. We do it this way because Page 94 of our basic text tells us to do it this way.
They reiterate this point on the very next page (95) where it says, “simply lay out the kit of spiritual tools for his inspection.”
If you show up at a car dealership looking to purchase an automobile, how does the salesman work to secure your purchase? You’re standing there staring at the mid-sized sedan, reading the sticker price and kicking the tires as he approaches. Does he say, “You should go and ahead and buy this. It’s a good car. Lot’s of other people have enjoyed driving it. Let’s go write you up. What do you say?” If he had even a modicum of competence, this would clearly not be his approach. He would show you the specially heated front seats and the projector beam fog lamps. He would tell you about the OnStar directional system and the Bluetooth Wireless Technology He would escort you on a test drive demonstrating the Four-wheel antilock braking system and the six-speed automatic transmission. He would let you know everything you could possibly want to know about why this car is your ticket to freedom. This would greatly increase the chances that you’d buy the car. But even if you didn’t buy the car, you’d walk away knowing exactly what it is you were passing up.
When a new person has wandered into our meetings, they are doing the same thing as the car customer. They are examining the merchandise. They are trying to figure out what it is that we’re selling and what the cost is. No, we are not used car salesmen and no, it is not our job to sell anyone on A.A. With that said, if we follow the car salesman approach and demonstrate exactly what it is that makes this message of recovery so amazing (laying out the kit of spiritual tools for their inspection), we certainly stand a much better chance of saving alcoholics than if we offer nothing but, “Hey. It’s great here. You’ll totally dig it. We all used to be really miserable but now we’re happy.” And if they hear what is truly available and walk away, at least they will know exactly what is here for them should they ever decide they need it.
The message here is not that everyone should do the steps in a day or in a week or in a month; nor is it the job of any A.A. member to push them to do so. The point is that it is our responsibility to lay these tools at their feet for their inspection. And we are, too often, failing to do that. Imagine a famous Oncology center which, upon diagnosing a person with a kind of cancer which can be battled with surgery or radiation or chemotherapy- told the individual, “So, we have caught it in time that we can save you. But the actual life-saving measures can wait. For now, just call in every day and let us know how your cancer is going. Once a week, on Tuesdays, we have a little cancer meeting here where everyone enjoys a hot beverage and talks about their cancer. Let’s try that for a year, and then, if you’re not dead, we’ll talk about these life-saving measures.” It would be clear to anyone and everyone that they are failing those in need. It is not all that different from what most of our newcomers are hearing. We have a deadly illness. The illness has a treatment. For those not interested in it, we welcome them to partake of our loving fellowship until they either become ready to employ the solution or wander back out to get a full knowledge of their condition. But all of them must know of the life-saving message available to them the moment that they become available to receive it.
The 12th Step is not about carrying a message. The 12th Step is about carrying THIS message. If you are not going to carry this message, we beg of you, please carry no message.
And if we could even make that happen, we could mitigate a ton of the damage right there. If the members roaming our rooms who don’t know what the hell they are doing, when approached by a newcomer looking for a sponsor were willing to say, “I’m sorry, but I do not have the competence to perform that task,” then the newcomer could move on with no damage worse than a bit of inconvenience and a potentially bruised ego. But people don’t say that. They say, “Sure, I’ll sponsor you,” and then they proceed to not only fail in giving them our message, they go ahead and give them an entirely different message. So, instead of the simple collection of data laid out clear as can be on Page 94, this newcomer hears something like, “Here’s my number. Call me every day. Do 90 meetings in 90 days because meeting makers make it. Don’t drink, no matter what. But if you feel like you want to drink, think that drink all the way through and call me before you do anything. Make sure to avoid people, places and things. No sex or relationships for the first year. No major decisions for the first year. Remember that it is a selfish program, so take what you want and leave the rest. As for the steps, we’ll take them nice and slow. By the end of the year, you’ll be through all 12 and then we can see about you sponsoring someone else.”
Not one sentence in the above paragraph is accurate. Not one sentence in that paragraph is Alcoholics Anonymous. Every sentence in that paragraph is completely antithetical to multiple statements in our basic text.
If we wish to maintain our new-found recovery, this has to stop. It has to. No matter what it takes. If G.S.O. needs to develop sponsorship licenses which need to be applied for and require one to pass a quiz on the contents of The Big Book to handle this, so be it. But no more bad sponsorship! It can no longer be tolerated on any level at any level. Love and tolerance of others is our code, yes. But that statement does not mean that we, as individuals, as an organization, stand idly by and do nothing while our brothers and sisters are dropping like flies at the hands of calamitous falsehoods.
When The Nazis invaded Poland, the citizens who stood silent and watched their Jewish neighbors being carted away to their deaths weren’t exhibiting tolerance toward the SS soldiers- they were exhibiting fear. When a person walking past an alley sees a woman being raped and continues to walk as if they hadn’t noticed, they are not exhibiting tolerance toward the rapist- they are exhibiting fear. When a person goes out to lunch with a new friend and the friend’s hamburger accidentally arrives as a cheeseburger and the friend says of the Latino waitress, “Lazy, useless Spics- am I right?!” and the person sits, horrified, not saying a thing, they are not exhibiting tolerance toward their companion- they are exhibiting fear.
Co-dependency is not tolerance. Enabling is not tolerance. For us to muzzle ourselves and sit flaccidly by while our people don’t get what they do need at the same time that they do get what they don’t need isn’t tolerance. It is an atrocity. This is not Live and Let Live. This is Apathy. And if we are willing to chalk it up to tolerance and let it happen, shame on us.
If we don’t preserve what we have, no one will- and two hundred years from now people will be speaking about us the way we now speak about The Temperance Movement. Don’t know what that is? Exactly.
For those of you who wish to be able to find a quick and efficient way to let a newcomer see how simple this process really is, here are twenty questions to ask someone who has just entered Alcoholics Anonymous:
1. Do you want what we have?
2. Will you go to any lengths to get it?
3. Have you ever lost control of your drinking?
4. Have you ever vowed to stop only to go back to it?
5. Can you smash the idea that, left to your own devices, you could ever solve this problem?
6. Are you willing to believe in a power grater than yourself?
7. Can you make a decision to turn your will and life over to that power?
8. Can you make an honest list of your resentments?
9. Can you make an honest list of your fears?
10. Can you share those lists with another person?
11. Can you become willing to let go of these things?
12. Can you ask your higher power to take them from you?
13. Can you make a list of all the harm you have caused?
14. Can you become willing to make amends for that harm?
15. Can you begin making those amends?
16. Can you pray and call someone when you find yourself being selfish, dishonest, resentful or fearful?
17. Can you ask and answer ten simple questions each night?
18. Can you start each day with prayer and meditation?
19. Can you say “Thy will be done” as you go through he day?
20. Can you carry THIS message to others and practice these principle in all your affairs?
If the person can say that those are all things that they are capable of doing, then feel free to let them know that they are ready to do this work and that you are ready and willing to help them to do it just as soon as they wish.
The above hopefully functions as evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous can work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and, once again, be the Alcoholics Anonymous that our co-founders constructed when they named a fledgling organization after a book called Alcoholics Anonymous.
We live in a world which often holds that these sorts of foundational, root and branch transformations are beyond the realm of possibility.
We know different.
We know different because we know the following:
“There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.
The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”
For those moved by the above words, who long for this fantasized step work by our organization to become reality, let us join in solidarity and vigilantly march toward solution. Let us carry this message of healing, ungarbled, to all who seek it. And let us find each other and share our power as we trudge the road of happy destiny.
May God bless us and keep us- until then.