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Meeting Rhetoric VS the Big Book

This article takes a look at what is HEARD in recovery meetings, compared to the ORIGINAL PROGRAM, of Alcoholics Anonymous.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A PDF version of the COMPLETE ARTICLE can be found here: Meeting Rhetoric VS the Big Book

Since the suggestion made by the "AA Grapevine" in the late 60’s that *discussion* meetings might be a good idea, there has been a change in the content of the meetings from ones that used to focus on the *program* of Alcoholics Anonymous to a type of *group therapy* session, where anyone and everyone is encouraged to speak freely and openly. The result of this has been a severe decline in the success rate of alcoholics finding lasting recovery.

While there is a tendency to believe that “we know so much more today,” which we do in almost every area of our society, that appears not to be true where recovery from alcoholism is concerned. The truth is that “alcoholism” has not changed since the beginning of recorded history. God certainly has not changed since 1939. And, nobody has demonstrated a more successful program of recovery than the action of the Twelve Steps Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is so clearly outlined in the book, “ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS”. So, what’s new?

Before taking a look at what is so often heard in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, let’s examine some of the statements made by the Authors of this Basic Text. For example:
“We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” AA, pg. xiii
NOTE: "Precisely" is defined as...  “Exactly or sharply defined or stated. Minutely exact; not varying in the slightest degree from truth.” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary – circa 1936.)

So, let’s examine the TRUTH!
“If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may be asking – ‘What do I have to do?’ It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.” AA, pg. 20
“Lack of power was our dilemma.  We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously.  But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that is exactly what this book is about.  Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself that will solve your problem.”  AA, pg. 45
“Further on, clear-cut directions are given showing how we recovered.”  AA, pg. 29
There is a Spiritual Axiom that applies to recovery from alcoholism:

"Noah, an amateur, with God’s guidance, built the Ark.
Professionals, with all their smarts, built the Titanic."

Now, let’s review what is so often “Heard” in the meetings.

Heard - “Don’t drink and go to meetings.”

“Don’t drink” are words you would expect to hear from a non-alcoholic.  If a person knew how to “Don’t drink,” they would have no reason to go to meetings.

Heard - “Don’t drink, no matter what.”

            Real alcoholics drink, no matter what.

Heard - “Don’t drink even if your ass falls off.”  (How ridiculous!)

Don’t you think an untreated alcoholic would reach for a drink if their “ass started falling off?”

BB – “Many of us felt we had plenty of character. There was a tremendous urge to cease forever.  Yet we found it impossible.  This is the baffling feature of alcoholism as we know it—this utter inability to leave it alone, no matter how great the necessity or the wish.”  AA, pg. 34

Heard – “I have a choice of whether or not I take a drink today.”

            Then why did they come to Alcoholics Anonymous?

“Think before you drink.”
“Just think the drink through.”

BB – “The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink.”  AA, pg. 24

“We are without defense against the first drink.” AA, pg. 24

“Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective defense against the first drink.”  AA, pg. 43

Heard – “Don’t rush into taking the steps.  Take your time.”

BB – “On your first visit tell him (your prospect) about the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  If he shows interest, lend him your copy of this book.”  AA, pg. 94

“Suppose now you are making your second visit to a man.  He has read this volume and says he is prepared to go through with the Twelve Steps of the program of recovery.” AA, pg. 96   

“We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men.”  AA, pg. 28

 If the newcomer doesn’t rush into taking the steps, they will most likely rush into a bar or liquor store.

Heard – “The *gift* of sobriety.”

            A *gift* is a present that is given, not paid for.

BB – “Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid.”  AA, pg. 14

Heard – “This is a selfish program.”

BB – “Selfishness – self-centeredness!  That we think is the root of our troubles.”  AA, pg. 62

“Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I receive.  But that would be in great measure.”  AA, pg.13

“While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had so freely been given me.  Perhaps, I could help some of them.  They in turn might work with others.”  AA, pg. 14

“It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery.  Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him.”  AA, pg. 94

NOTE: A paradox of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We come to Alcoholics Anonymous to save our lives and learn we must pass our message of hope on to others if we are to live.  So, the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous is both selfish and it is selfless.

Heard – “We learn to live life on life’s terms.”

BB – “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”  AA, pg. 77

It would appear from this that we are to learn to live our life on God’s terms!

Heard – “I haven’t had a drink today, so I am a complete success.”

BB – “The elimination of drinking is but a beginning.  A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs.”  AA, pg. 19

Heard – “Don’t make any major decisions for the first year.”

BB – “Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a)    That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.

(b)    That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.

(c)    That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and life over to God as we understood Him.  AA, pg. 60

Heard - “I’m feeling pretty crappy.  I need a meeting.”

BB - “I was not too well at the time and was plagued with waves of self-pity and resentment.  This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, working with another alcoholic would save the day.  Many times, I have gone to my old hospital in despair.   On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet.  It is a design for living that works in rough going.”  AA, pg.15

Heard – “My sponsor told me that, if in making an amend I would be harmed, I could consider myself as one of the ‘others’ in Step Nine.”

BB – “Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences might be.”  AA, pg. 79

Heard – “Be good to yourself.”

BB – “The rule is we must be hard on our self, but always considerate of others.” AA, pg. 74

Heard – “Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-help program.”

BB – “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  AA, pg. 84

It would appear from this that it is a God-help program.

Heard – “We don’t work the steps; we just take them.”

BB – “Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But they will always materialize if we work for them.”  AA, pg. 84

“If he did not work, he would surely drink again.”  AA, pg. 15

“On each of these occasions we worked with him, reviewing carefully what had happened.”  AA, pg.35

“Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well.”  AA, pg. 63

“It works, if we have the proper attitude and work at it.”  AA, pg. 86

“Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity form drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.”  AA, pg. 89

“Now we try to put spiritual principles to work in every department of our lives.”  AA, pg. 116

(And there are more for serious students to find!)

Heard – “Your Higher Power can be whatever you want It to be; a doorknob, a Dr. Pepper can, a light bulb, just any old thing.

BB – “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  AA, pg. 59 (A doorknob?)

“Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a Power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.”  AA, pg. 45 (A Dr. Pepper can?)

“The great fact is 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 that is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us that we could never do by ourselves.”  AA, pg. 25 (A light bulb?)

Heard – “This is a ‘suggested’ program.  You can work it any way you want to.  Just take what you like and leave the rest.”

BB – “To show others precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.”  (The Big Book, that is.)  AA, pg. xiii

NOTE: Dr. Bob is quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as individual interpretation of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Heard – “There are no ‘musts’ in Alcoholics Anonymous”

BB – “As a part of his rehabilitation he commenced to present his conceptions to other alcoholics, impressing upon them that they must do likewise with still others.” AA, pg. xiii

“My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs.  Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me.”  AA, pg. 14

“Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness.  We must or it kills us.”  AA, pg. 62

“Every day is a day when we must carry a vision of God’s will into all of our activities.  ‘How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done.’  These are thoughts which must go with us constantly.” AA, pg. 85

NOTE:  According to one authority, the word “must” appears no less than 67 times in the Basic Text.  Get out your Big Book and count them and see if they are right. If, to those, you add “had to” and “have to”, it gets to be a bunch.  While you are at it, look for the results or the “Promises.”

Heard – “Steps Ten, Eleven & Twelve are maintenance Steps.”

BB – “We have entered the world of the Spirit.  Our next function is to’ grow’ in understanding and effectiveness.”  AA, pg. 84

“It is easy to let up on our spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels.  We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism.  What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the ‘maintenance’ of our spiritual condition.”  AA, pg. 85

So, it would appear that Steps Ten, Eleven & Twelve are both “growth” Steps and “maintenance” Steps.  Through working them moment by moment, day by day, we “grow” spiritually and thereby “maintain” our physical sobriety.

And what about the “understanding and effectiveness”?

BB – “Well, that is exactly what this book is about.  Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself that will solve your problem.”  AA, pg. 45

We grow spiritually and come to understand that we do, in fact, have a Power greater than ourselves that will solve our problems and effectiveness in learning how to apply these Steps to what we consider to be a problem.

Heard – “This is a journey without a destination.”

BB – “We have entered the world of the Spirit.”  AA, pg. 84

The chronic alcoholic had better enter the world of the Spirit or they will return to the world of “spirits.”

NOTE: "SPIRITS" = “ALCOHOL”  Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary – circa 1936.)

Heard – “You work your program and I’ll work my program.”

BB – “We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join brotherly and harmonious action.  That is the great news this book carries to those who suffer from alcoholism.”  AA, pg. 17

Heard – “Fake it until you make it.”

BB – “Half measures availed us nothing.  We stood at the turning point.  We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.  Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery.”  AA, pg. 59

Discussion meetings are a lot of talk.
Recovery is a very short walk.

(The life giving Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, that is.)

If confession (Step Ten) and prayer and meditation (Step Eleven) were sufficient, we wouldn’t have so many priests in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Be a fisher of men. You catch 'em. He’ll clean 'em!


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