Saturday, 7 June 2014

The status of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' in AA

There is one extreme, which I will deal with swiftly, that of dismissing the Big Book because it was written in 1939 and sounds funny in places. Both of those facts are true. I did a proportion of what was in the Book in my first fifteen years of recovery, and got measly results. I decided at fifteen years sober to do everything in the Book I could up to page 164. I was rewarded with all of the promises (and not just the Step Nine ones), a few falteringly but most in glorious Technicolor.

I can therefore discard the thesis that the Big Book can be disregarded.

There is another extreme, however, evident in 'Big Book World' (not a theme park in Akron, although perhaps it should be, but the parts of AA and other fellowships where the Big Book is used as the basic text).

The extreme can be summed up as this: no other AA literature is of any worth (including the 12 x 12); no other experience is of any value; no later experience of the people who wrote the Big Book is valid or relevant; no thinking is needed; no discussion is necessary or welcome: the only 'valid' response is to reiterate what is in the Big Book and state that it worked. Any discourse other than quotation is shut down as irrelevant, unnecessary, and actively unhelpful or even damaging ('you're killing newcomers!' they cry.)

When I was fifteen years sober (cf. above), the blocks were removed to spiritual growth. A chap called Bill from a place somewhere out west says that Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve are not the maintenance steps; there's nothing to maintain, as you've just razed your life to the ground; they're the growth steps.

What I was dismayed to discover was that there was still a lot to learn, and I had to take a lot of spiritual guidance from my sponsor, others in AA, and others outside AA (cf. the advice on pages 87 and 133 of the Big Book).

I've sponsored or worked with scores and scores of people over the last few years. I've discovered that my usefulness to them has growth exponentially as I have gone from forcing the Big Book on people like a straight-jacket to asking God to show me how to carry the message contained in the Book in such a way that it actually reaches people from all imaginable parts of society and with all imaginable experiences and types of damage.

The message was carried to me by a tradition in AA that comprised the Big Book plus the collective experiences of a large number of people over forty years or so in Denver who applied what was in the Book repeatedly, year after year, decade after decade.

You get to choose: the black bits of the page, or the black bits of the page plus the experience of those who have gone before you, not just the sponsor, but the Fellowship of the Spirit as a whole.

Page 164 suggests that 'God will constantly disclose more to you and to us'.

When you look at the spiritual journey of Bill W in the 32 years or so after he wrote the Big Book, you will discover that this is one of the biggest understatements in AA. His story needn't be reiterated here, but the book 'Language of the Heart' contains many excellent essays which deepen and broaden the experience started with what is set out in the Big Book.

What about Dr Bob. He was more orthodox, surely?

Well, if you want Dr Bob's spiritual reading list, check out pages 309 and 310 of 'Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers'.

But didn't they keep all of that stuff separate from AA?

Actually, no. Early AA meetings involved the use of that non-Conference approved book, the Bible, amongst others.

It is amusing that the people who wrote the Big Book would likely be dismissed as cranks, renegades, and heretics by some Big Book Thumpers of today for not sticking to the black bits of the pages of the Book itself.

AA is also self-evidently built around the spiritual journeys of its individual members, and the sharing of the experiences and insights gained on those journeys is self-evidently a major channel for God's grace.

The one caveat: my sponsor's sponsor is keen to reiterate that everything one does, reads, learns, discusses, etc. in addition to the Big Book must not replace the instructions but must complement them.

The man whose tapes led me through the Steps (in the absence of anyone qualified where I lived) said: ask yourself not 'is this IN the Book?' but 'is this CONSISTENT WITH the Book?'

These two ideas provide the perfect setting for stable growth: I remain tethered to the basics but get to use everything God has provided through all of the people in AA (and many outside) to grow in understanding and effectiveness.

Having experienced both extremes (dismissing the meat and potatoes of the AA programme and coming horribly unstuck; dismissing everything but the meat and potatoes of the AA programme and coming horribly unstuck), I can cheerfully report that the middle ground is far more enriching and healthy.

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