Recently I had an interesting interaction on the value of Alcoholics Anonymous in dealing with alcohol – whether considered as an addiction, problem drinking, disease or whatever. Over the years I have had this conversation on numerous occasions, but this interaction got me to thinking a bit more. I can come across as a strong proponent of AA or as I have posted before, I might come across as an AA heretic. I have not been to an AA meeting in a while and have not had a sponsor in quite a few years. But, I am a firm advocate of the 12-Step program as a means to address my alcoholism. After over 30 years of sobriety, I consider the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous more integral to my life today than ever before.
After the conversation, I sat down and read the entirety of Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, commonly referred to as The Big Book. My 1984 detox copy is underlined, dog-eared, and well used, but I don’t recall just sitting down and reading the book cover to cover before.
What I got out of the read is that I can quibble with the nuance of the content. For example, even the book title, I do not consider myself “recovered” but recovering. As the title of this blog makes clear, I consider recovery a process and not an event.
But the read, as always with AA literature, brought me new insights into why the program works for me. In a nutshell here is why the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous serve as the basis for my recovery:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
I could nuance even the 12 Steps to death – is it “were powerless” or “are powerless” – a debater’s point in which I have no interest. I know when I put the first drink in my body I am powerless to not take the second drink. I tried for years. In terms of manageability, from the perspectives of never being able to predict how much I would drink, my behavior when drinking, or where I would end up – yes my life had become unmanageable.
I don’t care whether alcoholism is called a disease or not. In the scientific method there will always be attempts to further refine the understanding of alcoholism. Were I offered a drug that guaranteed me I could drink alcohol normally, I would not take up the offer. From the start, I drank alcohol to escape – to not live life on life’s terms. Today I embrace my reality. To drink alcohol is the antithesis of my life today.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Although I had proclaimed myself an atheist in elementary school, I had no problem with Step 2. Again, I am not interested in nuancing the term “sanity” but acknowledge that the best efforts in my drinking career lacked logic for even a marginally meaningful existence. I had no problem in recognizing that my best efforts landed me in a detox unit where I sought wisdom or resources beyond myself.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
I grappled with Step 3 for years in recovery. I used the group as my higher power, good orderly direction, and all the other possibilities. A conflict was to reconcile the AA Higher Power concept with what I learned as a young Roman Catholic in the Baltimore Catechism. Some 7 or 8 years ago I was in an AA meeting and when the third step was read, it was like I heard the words as we understood him for the first time. That is, I was going to have to take some action to understand this God and not pigeon-hole the concept into some variation of Abrahamic or other traditions. That understanding is incredibly liberating as I have posted before (for example here and here) and continue to explore.
For me, the first three steps of AA set the stage for freedom from the bondage of alcohol, pure and simple. Consider as a model the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I can liken the AA Steps and their application over the past 75 plus years as Scripture and Tradition. Experience is what I bring to the table. Combining the previous three, Reason, it is clear that alcohol is not going to work in my life and I need help beyond my resources.
For me, Steps 4-12 allowed me to take the basic understanding of Steps 1-3 and walk down a recovery road for the past three decades. I will return to this in a future post.