Thursday, 2 October 2014
Are the first 164 pages sufficient unto themselves?
Sometimes it is asserted that the Big Book, and the first 164 pages in particular, are all that is necessary for recovery. I largely agree. The stories are of occasional interest and usefulness, but with the preponderance of meetings today, their original purpose, to speak personally to those who otherwise would have no contact with the fledgling organisation, is largely met (and perhaps overly met) by the endless exposure to stories in meetings. The trailer for AA (the stories) has in many places become the show itself, and the show—the Steps—are seen widely as an honours programme for adepts rather than the bread and butter of recovery.
But this aside, back to the main topic: are the first 164 pages sufficient as well as necessary?
This is not an academic question. There is much heated debate, and material outside those first 164 pages is sometimes dismissed, with the ominous accusation that to advocate an idea or practice not clearly delineated in the Book is to 'water down the programme', to 'rewrite the Book', or even to 'kill newcomers'.
It is also asserted that the Book's contents are so plain that explanation, interpretation, and guidance are not required, that one should concentrate on the 'black bits of the page'. Attempts to explain, interpret, and guide can be similarly dismissed, on the same grounds, and with the same accusations.
These views are quite understandable, and anyone is at liberty to hold them. In fact, a recovery based on such ideas can be extremely effective and fruitful. But the authority with which such views are propagated often rests not just on personal experience but also on the presumption that the authors of the Book themselves held these views.
To test any presumption, one adduces evidence. Good evidence can be found in the 1940 pamphlet called 'A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous', which was written and published by AA Group No. 1, Akron, Ohio, in other words a group containing many of the first one hundred or so members. Note the date: just one year after the Big Book was published.
The authors clearly saw a need for supplementation, or they would not have written it. (There is also a pamphlet dating from the same period concerning how to work the Twelve Steps, which supplemented the Big Book. It is sometimes asserted today that worksheets, for instance, are not in the spirit with which the Big Book was written. The truth is this: those who wrote the Big Book produced worksheets. One may argue convincingly that worksheets etc. are not necessary, but one cannot cite the authority of AA's founders or the authors of the Big Book to do so. But back to the matter at hand …)
Here are some quotations from the pamphlet.
'The booklet should be read in conjunction with the large book, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible, the daily lesson, any other pamphlets that are published by the group, and other constructive literature. A list of suggestions will be found in the back pages of this pamphlet.'
Thus, a range of materials are suggested—the idea that the first 164 pages were sufficient unto themselves was not a view held or propagated by the authors themselves.
'The editors, too, were pretty bewildered by the program at first. They realize that very likely you are groping for answers and offer this pamphlet in order that it may make a little straighter and less confusing the highway you are about to travel. … The editors do not pretend any explanation of the spiritual or religious aspects of A.A. It is assumed that this phase of the work will be explained by sponsors.'
Thus, it is conceded that personal explanation and guidance is certainly necessary, that the programme (in a larger sense) is perhaps not so plain and clear-cut as sometimes asserted, now.
There are other fascinating elements that run counter to current views concerning the original, orthodox approach. The slogan 'one day at a time', and the implied use of willpower in staying sober is sometimes dismissed and attributed to the pernicious influence of treatment centres.
The authors of the Big Book wrote this, in 1940:
'You know that it is possible to stay sober for 24 hours. You have done it many times. All right. Stay sober for one day at a time. When you get up in the morning make up your mind that you will not take a drink for the entire day. Ask the Greater Power for a little help in this. If anyone asks you to have a drink, take a rain check. Say you will have it tomorrow. Then when you go to bed at night, finding yourself sober, say a little word of thanks to the Greater Power for having helped you.'
Thus, the view that staying sober is 100% down to a relationship with God, with no willpower or cooperation required whatsoever, is not a return to the AA of the Big Book but a novel invention of the last couple of decades. Note the phrase: 'make up your mind'.
We are also sometimes told not to think, because it is bad for us and does not work.
The following quotation, also from this pamphlet by the authors of the Big Book, contains this gem:
'Medical Men will tell you that alcoholics are all alike in at least one respect: they are emotionally immature. In other words, alcoholics have not learned to think like adults. The child, lying in bed at night, becomes frightened by a shadow on the wall, and hides his head under the covers. The adult, seeing the same shadow, knows there is a logical reason for it. He sees the streetlight, then the bedpost, and he knows what causes the shadow. He has simply done what the child is incapable of doing—THOUGHT. And through thinking he has avoided fear. Learn to think things out. Take a thought and follow it through to its conclusion. If you are tempted to take a drink, reason out for yourself what will happen. Because if you will give serious consideration to the consequences you will have the battle won.'
There is also a wonderful dose of tolerance contained in the pamphlet, which is a welcome antidote to the assertion that there is only one path:
'DON'T criticize the methods of others. Strangely enough, you may change your own ideas as you become older in sobriety. Remember there are a dozen roads from New York to Chicago, but they all land in Chicago.'
Now, there are many other gems in this text, but I'll let you find those for yourselves.
Labels: Early AA