Alcoholism: Understanding Alcoholics Anonymous
So much has been written about Alcoholics Anonymous over the years that it feels a bit silly of me to attempt to write anything about it that might be new or unique. However, that really is not my purpose. I have found over the twenty-odd years that I have been attending AA meetings that there seems to be a general misunderstanding about the organization, especially among those who are not alcoholic.
Is it a cult? Do they brainwash you at meetings? Isn’t it just a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo for people who don’t have the willpower necessary to quit drinking on their own? What the hell goes on at those meetings? Is it really possible to quit alcohol through attendance at AA and by practicing its principles?
I don’t blame people for being confused; in truth there are attending members who are confused so why would I expect the “normies” to understand? I guess my hope is that by writing this article there will simply be a better understanding of the organization. I am not a Big Book thumper; I am not trying to convert anyone. I am simply trying to eliminate some of the mystery that surrounds it. In addition I am not trying to convince anyone that AA is the only way to find sobriety, and I certainly have no desire to debate the matter with anyone. This is nothing more than my insights about AA passed on to you the reader.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by its founding members Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, two seemingly hopeless alcoholics who founded the organization upon certain steps, traditions and principles. It was, and still is, a means of changing one’s life, for it was understood very early on that drinking is but a symptom of the real problem and the real problem is the alcoholic himself. It is often said that you can take the alcohol away from a drunk horse thief and what you have remaining is a sober horse thief. In other words, unless the person changes the problems will still exist.
THE TWELVE STEPS OF AA
I have no desire to school you on the twelve steps, but for the sake of clarity I will list them so that we have some basis for understanding and some reference point for the rest of this article.
1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5) Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12) Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROGRAM
So far so good but still, confusion reigns supreme for most when they first encounter the Twelve Steps just listed. What might help is to take a look at the principles upon which the Twelve Steps are built, for I believe it is the principles that are universally understood as a means to a better life. The Twelve Principles of AA are:
THE LIGHT BULB GOES ON OVERHEAD
Now perhaps we begin to see what AA is all about. Nowhere in the principles is the word alcohol mentioned; instead the principles are about changing our lives for the better by becoming better human beings, because the simple truth is that we alcoholics did not like who we were and who we had become, and until we faced that truth there would be no freedom from alcohol and by extension there would be no lasting happiness.
Take a look at the principles for a moment and then consider this: Chances are that any self-help book you choose to read will have these principles in it. We all know how popular self-help books have become in our society as people search for a happier life and/or more confidence or better self-esteem or courage or whatever it is they feel they lack. Over the years I have read quite a few of the most popular of that genre and I can say with complete confidence that the aforementioned principles are in all of those books….including the Mother of all Self-Help Books….The Bible.
Looking back over my drinking career I can easily see how these principles were missing from my life. I was morally bankrupt by the time I found AA. I lied constantly, took advantage of people, believed in nothing other than the god of alcohol and would use anyone for my benefit. I was terrified of life in general and I would do anything to continue drinking and thus blot out the knowledge that I was a shell of a human being.
Name one of the Seven Deadly Sins and I had done it and with each action of perversion I hated myself more and despised my weaknesses. Even before Alcoholics Anonymous I knew I was a sorry excuse for a human being and all hope was lost as the endless spiral of self-destruction continued.
THERE IS A SOLUTION
A friend of mine in the Program, Little Joe by name, was fond of saying, and I paraphrase, that the miracle was not that he doesn’t drink any longer; the miracle was that he had no desire to. Gone were the cravings that had previously always be there. Gone was the anti-social behavior that continually fueled self-loathing. In their place was a life free of cravings and a sense of wellness and peace.
That is how my life is today. For me it is a story of redemption, of acceptance and of love, and none of it would have been possible without a strict adherence to the Twelve Principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.
A cult? Brainwashing? I submit to you that I was in desperate need of something and this Program provided what I needed. I needed to return to the person I had been so many decades ago, a person who embodied those principles on a daily basis. Somewhere I lost my way; somehow I had forgotten how to be a good person. Today I am back and once again functioning as a contributing member of society.
Today this former drunk horse thief is neither drunk nor a horse thief. To borrow from sportscaster Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles?” The plain truth is that I am a walking, talking miracle who absolutely loves life. Isn’t that cool?
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)