"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." (25:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
The 'we' of this passage is the membership of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. For those members, the solution to the age-old riddle of alcoholism was God. The path consisted in the Twelve Steps ('recovery'). The vessel was the fellowship of the common peril and the common solution ('unity'). And the ongoing means of maintenance and growth of that connection with God was service—the third of these Three Legacies.
At many meetings I have attended, not many attendees—if any—talk about God and the Twelve Steps. Some people tell the group how their day was, how their week was, the difficulties they have been having, and the difficult emotions plaguing them. The slogans I hear most commonly are 'keep coming back' and 'do not pick up the first drink'. Less common are references to the ideas contained within these key passages from the recovery portion of the Big Book:
"Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs." (20:0)
"If we have carefully followed directions, we have begun to sense the flow of His Spirit into us. To some extent we have become God-conscious. We have begun to develop this vital sixth sense." (85:2)
"... God has wrought miracles among us ..." (133:2)
In brief, there is a dissonance.
Today, I am alive, sober, happy, and useful. And there is one reason and one reason only: God.
I tried staying sober without God. I kept getting drunk. Some people in AA became irritated with me and told me I was not trying hard enough or did not want recovery badly enough. I was baffled. I was going to two meetings a day, sharing how I felt at every meeting, and hanging out in every spare minute with AA people—and they were staying sober and I was not.
It was only when I cried out in absolute desperation to God that I was granted a grace that separated me from alcohol. That was in 1993, and I have not drunk alcohol since then.
At around eleven to twelve years of sobriety, I knew more about alcoholism, sobriety, recovery, myself, and my problems than I had ever known. But I did not maintain the practices that keep me connected in conscious contact with God, and first my conscious contact and then my belief gradually dwindled to nothing.
I tried to remain sane on the basis of information, willpower, and fear of drinking or insanity. I gradually became cranky, apathetic, and depressed, as the dry drunk on page 127 is described. And unhealthy behaviour began to manifest.
Eventually, I sought God, once more, with all the desperation of a drowning man (28:2). I have followed and continue to follow the clear-cut directions in the Big Book, word by word, page by page. And, area by area, my life has been utterly transformed. Externally, many things look the same. Internally, however, I am inwardly reorganised, and my roots have grasped a new soil (like Ebby is described on 11:6).
Waking up to the reality that God is the only ultimate source of all knowledge and power in my life has been wonderful.
What I have also woken up to is the fact that the solution to alcoholism—conscious contact with God—is a solution that a minority in Alcoholics Anonymous talks about. In contrast to the Big Book, much of the more recent AA literature makes little or no reference to God. I have heard it shared regularly that even mentioning God in AA will drive newcomer alcoholics out of AA to their deaths. Some atheists and agnostics will grandstand their scorn and disdain for what they see as the absurdity of a belief in God. Sometimes the solution to alcoholism is presented merely as avoiding the first drink (impossible if you are powerless over alcohol) and going to meetings.
"We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action." (17:3)
At my home group, which holds Big Book study meetings, this is absolutely the case. More widely, the agreement on what the way out is appears something less than absolute.
Where does hope lie?
Argument with the pervasive agnosticism and atheism in AA I do not believe will work to effect change. When I was atheist and, later, agnostic, argument in favour of God would make me 'bristle with antagonism' (cf. 48:0).
Instead, I would follow the advice on page 99:1: "After they have seen tangible results, the family will perhaps want to go along."
One person finding God and 'concentrating on his spiritual demonstration' (cf. 98:3) can change the world. In a room full of darkness, the power of a single light cannot be denied. The very point of having access to a source of unlimited power is that God is not limited by the limitation of the channel: devoting one's life to carrying this message, one-to-one and at group level and beyond, will achieve results way beyond one what person ought to be able to achieve.
It was only when I saw and heard the change in AA members who had found the great reality of God deep within them that I developed the faith to take the actions necessary for me to have the same experience. If I want to see change in AA, I have to be that change and let God work miracles through me, just as a miracle was wrought in my life though those who, themselves, had been shown the power of God, in a never-ending chain back to Doctor Bob and Bill Wilson.