Thursday, 16 January 2014

AA BS-busting #2: AA works just fine; do not fix what ain't broke

Last time I looked, not everyone who comes to AA gets and stays sober. Groups fold. Service is relatively weak in places. AA's relationship with various classes of professional and with the community as a whole is defective or entirely lacking in many cases.

We are a long way from the vision of what AA could be.

A balance is necessary here. I believe the Big Book and the programme laid out in it do work just fine, in fact better than anything else I have tried, by quite a long chalk. The Traditions and Concepts I have no argument with.

AA is not perfect, however. I have taken hundreds of people through the Big Book in various ways, and few would have coped in understanding it or following its directions without a lot of guidance. The language is opaque and the line of argument, tortuous at times. Many people miss entirely the points that the Book is trying to make and understand them only when they are pointed out explicitly.

I am not exactly stupid, myself, and needed to listen to bunches of tapes at ten and fifteen years sober before lots of the ideas contained within it really sunk in.

I use and will continue to use the Big Book myself and in sponsoring. In fact, it has been in use with several people this week, already, and it is only Thursday. The suggestion, however, that it is perfect is wrongheaded. The book is deeply flawed and requires a lot of sponsorial assistance in parts.

I do not personally believe it should be rewritten, and I cannot imagine how any consensus could be achieved across AA today were the decision to be made to write a fresh set of instructions on how to work the Steps. After all, AA has barely recovered from the publication of Bill's essays about the same, which were designed as ruminations but are taken, wrongly, as sets of instructions. Trying to use those is like trying to use a restaurant review to cook a quiche Lorraine. No, the oral tradition seems actually to be much more effective in carrying the message within AA, and the flexibility of this tradition makes it preferable to trying to write a canonical work that will then become set in stone.

How we carry the message, how we reach younger people, or types of alcoholics whose drinking does not match that of the continuous or binge drinkers largely described in the first few chapters of the Big Book, how we run meetings, how we sponsor, how we communicate with the outside world: all of these are far from perfect and will always need ongoing work.

The Big Book is great. The Steps, Traditions, and Concepts are perfect. How we use them is not. Let us not be self-satisfied and complacent and dismiss those of us who come along with new ideas. The gate has not closed on learning.

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