Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book)

How does a book remain relevant for nearly a century?

It has to be based on universal principles.
Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939.  The "12 steps" originated with this book.
Over 30 million copies have been sold.
There are at least thirty-four other 12 step programs based on this book.
 - 12 step programs for every addiction from Heroin to Overeating, Meth, Sex, Work, etc...
Anything you can be addicted to - there is likely a support group for it that uses the 12 step program.
To me, the 12 steps are all about accountability.  The first 3 steps make you accountable to God.  The next 4 steps add accountability to Self.  The last 5 Steps also make you accountable to Others.
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
When I read this book Three things stood out to me:
1.  This book applies to all levels of addiction, but it is aimed at the worst of the worst.  It is written for the alcoholic who loses days to weeks in drunken stupors.  It is often geared toward normally high functioning people like lawyers and doctors who are so powerless over alcohol that they have destroyed their lives, their professions, their families, everything.
2.  The Higher Power is God.
I have been told for years by my patients who attend 12 step meetings that "the higher power can be anything, the group as a whole, or someone who has been there longer than you."
Well - Not the way the original book was written.  Bill W. speaks clearly and repeatedly about God.  There is an entire chapter written to agnostics about how they need to start the 12 steps with an open mind, and eventually they will come to believe in God, because that is the only way it works.  The 12 steps are very spiritual, and very based on grace.  Once you stop trying to save yourself and let God save you, then you will have success in your efforts and will be able to help save others.  You believe in any version of God, but it is still God.
3. You HAVE to help others. 
The book speaks extensively about the need to carry the message to others.  AA depends on fellowship and unity.  When an alcoholic is struggling, the way to stay sober is to go help someone else.  It talks about men who have finally become sober and instead of going back to work and being the family man they've always wanted to be, they spend a year helping other alcoholics first. 
This book has 181 pages of instruction and direction, followed by 378 pages of stories.  In case anyone wonders if the 12 steps and AA can work for them, there are nearly multiple accounts and stories that any addict can relate to. 
There are chapters for everyone in an alcoholics life - the spouse, the kids, the doctor, the employer, the friend, etc... 
This book is meant to guide people to freedom.  To revive the life of the alcoholic and everyone around them.
The book is for alcoholics, the principles are for everyone.

Here are my favorite Quotes: (it's a rather extensive list)
 I do not hold with those who believe that alcoholism is entirely a problem of mental control.
I earnestly advise every alcoholic to read this book through, and though perhaps he came to scoff, he may remain to pray.
My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?’’
That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.
It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning
Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. 
Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! 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. 
One poor chap committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not, see our way of life.
Alcoholism brings misun­derstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents—anyone can increase the list.
If hundreds of ex­periences have shown him that one drink means an­ other debacle with all its attendant suffering and humiliation, why is it he takes that one drink?
...We cannot answer the riddle.
In their hearts they really do not know why they do it. Once this malady has a real hold, they are a baffled lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday, they will beat the game. But they often suspect they are down for the count.
The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.
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.
All of us, whatever our race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are willing and honest enough to try. 
 We have seen the truth demonstrated again and again: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’’ Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever. 
Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.
On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay- walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?
The moment I made up my mind to go through with the process, I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.
“Quite as important was the discovery that spiritual principles would solve all my problems.
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. 
God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.
Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn’t it?
We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion.
When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us!
We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not.
We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
Any life run on self-will can hardly be a success
“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!’’ 
When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. 
If we have been thorough about our personal in­ventory, we have written down a lot.
We have no right to save our own skin at another person’s ex­pense. Such parts of our story we tell to someone who will understand, yet be unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others
It is seldom wise to approach an individual, who still smarts from our injustice to him, and announce that we have gone religious.
The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality—safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
If he does not want to stop drinking, don’t waste time trying to persuade him. You may spoil a later opportunity.
In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure.
Experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets.
Ask God in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit some­ thing you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.
Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!

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