Saturday, 20 September 2014

Cross purposes

A conversation that sometimes happens:

Recovered alcoholic (RA): There is some really interesting material in The Language of the Heart about experiences Bill W. had in his later years of recovery, about emotional maturity and the mastery of fear.

Big Book Thumper (BBT): I don't hear of anyone getting sober through The Language of the Heart. Just saying.

RA: What do you mean?

BBT: I don't add anything to the programme. I do what's in the first 164 pages. I tried my programme for years, and I got drunk.

RA: I'm not talking about substituting other AA books for the Big Book or about disregarding the Big Book and doing whatever you want; I'm talking about growing and expanding my spiritual understanding and learning from the experience of other AAs.

BBT: People want to rewrite the Big Book. It says 'our path'. Singular. Not plural. There is only one path. I do what the first 100 did.

RA: You do know that the actions described in the first 164 pages are an amalgam of what the first 100 or so did, that they argued amongst themselves about this, and that Dr Bob's approach was actually substantially different than Bill W's?

BBT: I don't try and make up the programme, or add my opinions to it. Opinions are like a**holes. Everyone has one.

* * * * *

As you can see, these two fellows are talking at cross purposes.

There are, broadly, three approaches to recovery (although I concede many variations):

(1) There are many ways to remain sober; all are equally valid; no one way is superior; choose your own path.

(2) Follow the instructions in the Big Book, but supplement that with other spiritual material (from within and without AA), as you see fit.

(3) Follow the instructions in the Big Book. Do not read other books (except, perhaps, the Bible). Do not read other AA books. If you do read other books, don't mention them.

Perhaps needless to say, I follow (2). What I've learned is that there is a lot of room for dialogue between (1) and (2), but there is no room for dialogue between (2) and (3).

Approach (3) sometimes comes with other strange premises, namely that more has not been revealed (cf. page 164, 'God will constantly disclose more to you and to us'), that the words 'suggested' (page 59) and 'suggestive' (164) are misplaced, that the Big Book is the last word on everything (cf. page 164, 'We realize we know only a little'), that anything beyond page 164 is irrelevant, that we are not supposed to think or synthesise ideas (cf. page 86, 'God gave us brains to use', and page 53 'Logic is great stuff. We liked it. We still like it. It is not by chance we were given the power to reason, to examine the evidence of our senses, and to draw conclusions'), amongst others.

The idea seems to be this: we are automata, parroting our own sponsors and the Book, and prohibited from thinking or letting God reveal more through others, through writings, through experience, through analytical thought, through synthetic thought, and through inspiration, intuitive thought, and decision (cf. page 86 of the Big Book).

Sometimes the idea gets extended: anyone who engages in these activities or is claiming that God works through them to expand and extend the process started in 1939 when the Big Book was written ('intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation') is adding to the Book, watering down the programme, inventing things, or—and people actually say this—'killing alcoholics'.

This would be a curious and largely innocuous phenomenon, were it not so widespread. The term Big Book Thumper (and its near-universal use to denote anyone who works out of the Big Book) attests to the parallels with Bible-thumping, parallels not conducive to our work, experienced in many parts of AA, with an unbridgeable gap between the Big Book-thumping groups and groups where the Big Book is largely ignored or even actively overlooked.

From my experience and observation, the approach outlined under (2) above is the most successful in terms of personal recovery, and in terms of reaching the largest number of people. I would not presume to stop anyone from holding the beliefs they wish to hold about the Big Book. What I would hope is that people who are investigating the possibility of using the Big Book in their recovery not be dissuaded by the narrower approach described and try out the instructions set out in the Big Book in the context of a broader spiritual awareness.

That, I believe, is the 'Broad Highway' described on page 55 of the Big Book.

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