Monday, 31 October 2016

How many ways are there to work the steps? Are worksheets OK?

A friend of mine was talking to someone recently who claimed that unless one is working the steps precisely as they are laid out in the Big Book, one cannot get well.

Firstly, the AA Big Book itself does not say that we have a monopoly on recovery, merely that we have something that works for us.

Secondly, I would agree with the chap in question in that nothing worked for me but what is in the Big Book, and the closer my programme has come to what is in the Big Book, the better the results have been.

What is also true, however, is that the Big Book is, contrary to what Dr Bob supposedly said, open to interpretation. To take the simplest of examples: in the fear inventory, we are asked to ask ourselves the question of why we had our fears. Clearly, this could be answered in a multitude of ways: the actions we have taken in the past that have placed us in a vulnerable position, the consequences of the feared event, which are the real reason we are frightened, more abstractly the various ways we have relied on self rather than God, or the ideas and attitudes that were instilled in us as children and that have coloured our thinking ever since. This is just one of many points in the Book where the same instruction, in the absence of further clarification, could be taken in very different ways. If you ask a dozen people who claim to work the Steps exactly as they are laid out in the Big Book, you will discover a dozen different approaches, with quite major differences in interpretation all the way through, even without the individuals in question deviating from the plain meaning of the text itself.

It’s also sometimes asserted that worksheets should never be used, because the Book is enough. This view is usually peddled, however, by people who were taken through the Book by a sponsor who showed them exactly how to follow the instructions and gave them particular interpretations or understandings of particular passages. These instructions, interpretations, and understandings they themselves usually pass on to other people.

The Big Book was written in principle to enable people to take the Steps without instruction or assistance. I’ve never met anyone who took the Steps without instruction or assistance, however, nor anyone that suggests that instruction and assistance from a sponsor are not necessary.

What does a sponsor do? Say words. What do worksheets do? Say words. Worksheets are valid only to the extent that they set out what a sponsor sponsoring someone using the Big Book would say when taking someone through the Steps. If they are a facsimile of that instruction and understanding, great! If not, then they should perhaps be avoided.

The medium does not matter: what matters is that the instructions are followed from the Book with guidance in the form of the aggregate experience of a sponsorship lineage crystallised in the instruction of a particular sponsor. Whether the words are conveyed orally or both orally and with worksheets to take away is neither here nor there. However, there is one tiny advantage with worksheets for a sponsee to take away: they do not have to take copious notes whilst talking to their sponsor, if the worksheets match what the sponsor is saying, and there is no risk of ‘Chinese whispers’ or dilution as the instructions and understanding pass down the chain from sponsor to sponsee and onwards.

When the Big Book was written, one of the reasons it was written was to ensure that the message remained intact. The enormous experience gained over the decades in AA is also preserved, through the oral tradition passed down from sponsor to sponsee, but also through tapes of speakers and the writings of AA members.

Ultimately, if something works, great! If something does not work: disregard it.


A final point: money should not be made out of AA materials. If worksheets are provided for free, knock yourself out. If you are being asked to pay, be warned.

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