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Title:How It Works Commentary part 1 of 2
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HOW IT WORKS COMMENTARY part 1 of 2
 


(The following is from the Big Book’s December 1938 pre-production multilith. This is the opening of the Big Book’s chapter 5 “How It Works” in the Original Manuscript that was sent out to inform the Fellowship that there had been progress made in the writing of the Book, and so that the last changes could be made a few months before the Big Book was published on April 10, 1939. “How It Works” was written and re-written over 30 times and this is how it looked before the very last changes were added. I am not suggesting that these last changes should not have been made. Actually, in most cases I think that it was really important that the changes were made, but I think it’s significant to see that the Original Manuscript version reveals more of where the authors were coming from. Differences with how it currently appears in the Big Book are underlined below. Since this is heard 100’s of times by A.A. members, it often is not really listened to anymore so I have included commentary here, in regular type, on some of the parts that are important and that many A.A.’s no longer even notice.


Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our directions (thoroughly does not mean “slowly”, it means “completely”). Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple Program (please ask yourself occasionally, “Am I currently giving myself completely to A.A.?” In other words, “Am I currently involved in all 3 parts of A.A.’s solution for alcoholism: (1) Recovery (which can be found in the Program; also known as the working of all 12 Steps), (2) Unity (which can be found in the Fellowship; also known as going to meetings, participating in a Homegroup, and interacting with other A.A.’s), and (3) Service (which can be found in unselfishly doing for others and expecting nothing in return--inside and outside of A.A.; also known as altruism.)” I have seen many people go back to drinking who got away from 1 or more of the 3 parts to A.A.’s solution (this includes old-timers), but I have never seen anyone return to drinking who remained involved in all 3, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally (which means “on their own”) incapable of grasping and developing a way of life which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest. (Please notice that the word “honest” or “honesty” is mentioned 3 times in the 1st paragraph, and even says that our way of living demands rigorous honesty. Honesty must be really important because this is A.A.’s most read piece of literature. Also, we need to ask ourselves if we are becoming more and more honest. This is an important form of dealing with reality. Also, I would like to suggest that “grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty” is the essence of the A.A. Program and way of life!)


Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you (1) have decided you want what we have (what we have is a spiritual awakening and freedom from the bondage of alcoholism, selfishness and fear as the result of working all 12 Steps. Also, please keep in mind that the “we” here is not referring to all the people in A.A. today. They’re talking about the 1st members of A.A. who contributed to the Big Book, and the experiences of the people described in and practicing the Big Book way of life. The promises in the Big Book are only the result of working the Steps as outlined in the Big Book.) and (2) are willing to go to any length to get it--then you are ready to follow directions. (So you don’t have to wait months or years before getting into working all the Steps. Back when this was originally written, the Steps were worked immediately and quickly, and resulted in a 75% recovery rate throughout the fellowship for the 1st 20 years of A.A.’s existence.)


At some of these you may balk. You may think you can find an easier, softer way. We doubt if you can. (No subtlety there!) With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. (They’re begging us!) Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. (That’s a warning and a promise. If we let go of our old ideas, especially the 1’s that don’t work anymore (like how we have been dealing with our alcoholism on our own and how we live our life), we’ll get some positive results. But if we don’t let go of these old ideas the result will be nil, which means “nothing” or “worthless”.)


Remember that you are dealing with alcohol--cunning, baffling, powerful (and let me add that alcoholism is patient, too)! Without help it is too much for you. But there is One who has all power--that One is God. You must find Him now! (I think the Big Book authors are trying to tell us something important here!)


Half measures will avail you nothing. (1/2 measures do not avail us 1/2 results. Only being honest 1/2 the time is not being honest; only being kind and considerate to others 1/2 the time does not bring about 1/2 results in spiritual matters. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to be 100% honest and loving at all times, but the more we are, the more and more freedom, happiness and serenity we’ll experience! And if 1/2 measures avail us nothing, then less than 1/2 measures avail us less than nothing!) You stand at the turning point. Throw yourself under His protection and care with complete abandon (I think the authors are again trying to tell us something important. Also, abandon means “to give up with the intent to never take back”.)


Now we think you can take it! (They say this because they have just given us over 65 pages worth of information describing the desperateness of the alcoholic dilemma. Now they’re going to lay out the practical Program of Recovery which clears away what blocks us from a Power greater than human power, which will solve all our problems.) Here are the Steps we took, which are suggested as your Program of Recovery (so it’s a suggested Program not a program of suggestions. Also, it’s not enough to just read about or hear about or talk about the Steps. We need to participate and have an experience by taking all the actions that the 12 Steps require):


1. Admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable. (For a long time I translated or internalized this sentence as saying, “Admitted I was powerless over alcohol, and when I’m drinking my life is unmanageable.” But that’s not what it says. When a dash is used in a sentence like this, what it’s saying is: “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and admitted that our lives had become unmanageable.” What does our literature say about this admission of powerlessness and unmanageability? In other words, what differentiates an alcoholic physically, mentally, and spiritually, from a non-alcoholic? Physically, the alcoholic has an allergy, or an abnormal reaction, to alcohol. The alcoholic’s abnormal reaction to alcohol is a craving for more alcohol once we take a few drinks. This craving never happens to a non-alcoholic. Because of this, a non-alcoholic can always predict how much they are going to drink, but an alcoholic cannot. Besides the craving, alcohol does something for an alcoholic that it does not do for a non-alcoholic. When an alcoholic drinks, they get a feeling of ease and comfort; an “in control, get up and go into town, I like this” kind of a feeling. When a non-alcoholic drinks, they get an “out of control, beginning of a nauseating, slightly tipsy, I don’t like this so I don’t want any more” kind of a feeling. That’s why they stop after 1 or 2, and make statements like, “I don’t want another drink because I am feeling that 1st 1.” Spiritually, because of the selfish and self-centered way the alcoholic views and deals with other people, their emotions, and life; they are filled with inner turmoil, discomfort, and anxiety. Since alcohol is the only thing that the alcoholic has experienced that brings relief from this inner unmanageability, we turn to alcohol again and again, even though it has caused problems for us in the past. We don’t see what alcohol is doing to us, we only think about what it is going to do for us, which describes the alcoholic’s mental obsession. A non-alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol is a “take it or leave it” kind of relationship, but an alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol is an “I need it to deal with life” kind of relationship. Please ask yourself if you can relate to the experience of an alcoholic. Also, in the middle of the 1st paragraph on p. 44, the Big Book makes a few statements that can be used to review the information about Step 1 and the direction we need to move in. In the middle of the 1st paragraph on p. 44, it says: “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely” (which describes the mental and spiritual part of alcoholism), “or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take” (which describes the physical part of alcoholism), “you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.” If I’m powerless over whether I drink or not, than what I need is the Power with a capital “P”; and if my life is unmanageable, especially my inner life (whether I’m drinking or not) than what I need is a new Manager with a capital “M”. In the 4th Edition Big Book, this Step is described on Roman numeral ps. 25-32 (XXV-XXXII), on ps. 1-44:1 and 52:2.)


2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Please note that “Came to believe” describes a process, and is not saying that we need to believe anything prior to considering this Step. The question in the Big Book associated with Step 2 can be found in the middle of p. 47: “We needed to ask ourselves but 1 short question. ‘Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?’ As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way.” Nothing more is needed to move on with the rest of the Program. Our “coming to believe” will take place as we take the actions necessary to work the remaining Steps. Because we get results, our simple belief or our willingness to develops turns into actual faith in a Higher Power as we depend more and more on this Power as a source of guidance in our lives. I’ve heard many people say that the insanity that Step 2 is talking about is all the crazy things we did when we were drinking. Things like the D.W.I.’s, the crashed cars, the jobs and families we lost because of our drinking, etc. But we all don’t have those things in common. Besides, there are alcoholics who never got D.W.I.’s or who never lost jobs because of drinking, but that doesn’t make them any less an alcoholic. Even some non-alcoholics have gotten D.W.I.’s and lost jobs because of their drinking. The only insanity that we all have in common, which is the insanity Step 2 is talking about, is the insanity of returning to the 1st drink even though alcohol has caused us problems again and again. We are not able to see the truth about the damage alcohol has caused us because we only think about relief, ease and comfort that comes by taking a few drinks. Also, for some people, the word “sanity” is not completely clear because it sounds like it’s saying that we are crazy. Other descriptions that capture the essence of what is being said, and can be substituted for the word “sanity” in Step 2, are words like:...restore us to honesty, reality, peace of mind, truth, or balance. For the newcomer: Step 1 is where you are, Step 2 is where you want to go, and Steps 3 through 12 are how you get there! In the Big Book, this Step is described in parts of chapters 1, 2, 3, and all of chapter 4.)
Have a good day,
John T. Begin
Date Posted: 10/14/2017 14:26 PM
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