How As A Man Thinketh
Changed My Life
by Mel B.
From the book Three Recovery Classics
In 1951, I was completing my first year of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. At age 25, I was then looked upon as one of the "very young" whose chances of remaining continuously sober were viewed skeptically by older AA members. There was good reason for this view; numerous young people seemed to be shuttling in and out of the program, as they still do today. But one significant change has been the lowering of age levels. We are now accustomed to seeing many teenagers in AA as well as a large number of younger people who use other drugs along with alcohol.
I know today that my emotional state was very precarious, but the saving quality was a strong inner determination to find and maintain sobriety at all costs and in the face of any obstacle. My drinking history had covered only ten years -- from a first experiment with wine at about age 14 to an acceptance of the AA program at age 24. But those ten years had been a time of very destructive drinking leading to complete helplessness and dependency. In my alcoholism, I had been a prisoner of King Alcohol, and I wanted to end this imprisonment and stay free.
But true freedom comes at a price for alcoholics and other addicts. Putting the plug in the jug, as we say in AA, is the most important move alcoholics can make. But unless you're unusual, you may then find yourself facing long days of endless boredom, fierce depression, and complete frustration. There are regrets about the past and fears for the future, though AA promises that these should end. There may be difficulty in meeting responsibilities, finding the right work, and in getting along with ourselves and other personalities who are just as troublesome!
At the back of everything, however, is the way we think, feel, and act. Most of us still avoid the responsibility of looking at our own role in creating our own suffering and problems. It is always easier to blame others - to shift the burden to our parents or to an uncaring and heartless "society." It is not difficult to find justification for this, because parents have often been unable or unwilling to meet most of our primary needs and society has always seemed woefully lacking and inadequate. It is also easy to blame the more successful members of society for its general failings.
James Allen, in his remarkable little book, would have none of this. He placed the entire responsibility on the individual, apparently without exception. Using a line captured from Proverbs 23:7 ("As he thinketh in his heart, so is he") he described what is sometimes called the Law of Being, or the Great Law. We are what we think, and if we would change our lives, we must change our thoughts ....
In seven easy-to-read segments, As A Man Thinketh defines for us the Great Law under which we all live, and which Jesus actually alluded to in the Sermon on the Mount. We reap what we sow, we are what we think, we must clean the inside of the cup to have a good outer life. This is also the way of the Twelve Step program, and Allen's book will help any person who truly applies its essential ideas in his/her life.
In other words, Mel is saying, the way we think about the world will literally create the world we will end up living in. This is the Great Law. If we think anger, hate, resentment, and self-pity, we will end up having to live in a personal world filled with more and more things to make us feel anger, hate, resentment, and self-pity. But if we let James Allen teach us how to think the right kind of positive thoughts instead, we will end up living in a world filled with joy, satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment. We make our own worlds. Allen shows us in detail how we can learn to make the kind of world for ourselves which we actually want.
Drummond's Great Message on Love
by Mel B.
From the book Three Recovery Classics
According to AA's authorized biography of co-founder Dr. Bob S., he put a lot of stock in Henry Drummond's The Greatest Thing in the World, a talk given in 1887. One early member said that he advised her to get it for a woman who was going into D.T.'s. "He told me to give her the medication, and he said, 'When she comes out of it and she decides she wants to be a different woman, get her [this book]. Tell her to read it through every day for 30 days, and she'll be a different woman.'"
Dr. Bob's confidence in Drummond's classic may be why I found it on an early list of recommended books for AA members. Later on, I found copies on sale at groups in the Detroit area. This may have also reflected Dr. Bob's influence, because Detroit AA founder Archie T., during his early recovery, had spent almost a year with Dr. Bob in Akron. I'm sure the book inspired a number of our pioneer members who went on to do great work in AA at the local level and to maintain sobriety all their lives.
What was its special appeal for AA members? I believe it struck a responsive chord in early AA because it brought Love home to everyday living. Love, instead of being an unattainable something floating up in the sky, is a force that must be expressed in one's daily living if it is to have any real effect. Using St. Paul's great statement on Love from I Corinthians 13, Drummond shows how it has nine key virtues which any person can learn and practice: Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Humility, Courtesy, Unselfishness, Good Temper, Guilelessness, and Sincerity.
It's not difficult to understand why these would be important virtues for alcoholics to consider. In my own life as a compulsive drinker, I was deficient in all of them. It's also likely that some of these great virtues appeared to me as weaknesses. There may have been times when I was able to take advantage of people who were unusually patient and kind, and I was completely unacquainted with the importance of such qualities as unselfishness, good temper and guilelessness ....
Drummond's list of the nine ingredients are made to order for recovering people. AA co-founder Bill W. repeatedly targeted the mad pursuit of money, power and prestige as among the demons that had almost destroyed him and continued as threats to the individual alcoholic and AA as a society. As he saw it, getting free of alcohol was only the start of one's quest for happiness and real stability. "At the beginning, we sacrificed alcohol," he wrote in 1955. "We had to, or it would have killed us. But we couldn't get rid of alcohol unless we made other sacrifices. Big-shotism and phony thinking had to go. We had to toss self-justification, self-pity, and anger right out the window. We had to quit the crazy contest for personal prestige and big bank balances. We had to take personal responsibility for our sorry state and quit blaming others for it."
It hardly needs stating that anyone caught up in big-shotism and phony thinking would be woefully deficient in most of the nine ingredients of Love cited in Drummond's masterpiece. And while active alcoholism caused most of us to fail in our pursuit of money, power and prestige, the real block to true spiritual growth was that these goals continued to dominate our thinking, even in recovery. In fact, with drunkenness no longer blocking the way, the temptation is strong to seek expression and fulfillment in worldly pursuits.
This is when Drummond's little book can become a virtual lifesaver for the recovering person. All along, the big mistake confronting the world has been making gods of lesser things rather than becoming devoted to God as Love. These lesser things may be suitable for certain purposes, but we have deeper needs that they can never touch. As a crude example, I can cite the thrilling experience of getting a new car after being sober for about a year. This was a giant leap forward for a person who had previously been either destitute or dependent. So for a short time, the car seemed to give me prestige and self-importance, along with some of the big-shotism that can be any alcoholic's downfall. I quickly got over this phase, but I haven't given up owning automobiles as convenient vehicles for personal transportation. Such material possessions can be properly viewed as gifts from God, but they should never replace God or be a substitute for the Grace we really need in our lives.
How do we know when we're finding and expressing real Love and not the many counterfeits that seem to be circulating? Using Drummond's talk as a guide, we only have to check ourselves on any of the nine ingredients of Love. We can work to feel and express more patience, more kindness, more unselfishness, and more of all the other things that constitute Love. And as we do so, we are moving closer to God in thought and feeling ....
While The Greatest Thing in the World may sound impractical and idealistic, I have found it highly useful in addressing the everyday problems of life. I once spent an evening with a young salesman who was failing in his work and also in getting along with others in the organization. He was actually suffering from several problems which are bound to be fatal to a sales career. He had great pride in his high intelligence, he was probably suspicious of others and hostile towards competitors, and he was extremely ambitious. These problems were actually expressing as pride, anger and greed, three of the seven deadly sins. By admitting these problems and dealing with them, he actually became a competent, successful salesman and found his true place in business. I was never able to determine if our talk and Drummond's book had been key factors in his changed life, but it certainly helped give him new insights.
I'm sure this is the value that Dr. Bob S. found in Drummond's writing. In his personal story, he conceded that selfishness may have had an important part in bringing on his alcoholism. He also suffered from false pride which he finally had to deal with in accepting the program and making amends to people he had harmed. The Greatest Thing in the World is the perfect prescription for people suffering from pride and selfishness -- a population that includes a fair number of recovering persons. If we seek first the Supreme Gift of Love, all of the other things we thought we needed may be added to us. And we will move towards freedom from the self-imposed tyranny of worldly pursuits.
Drummond teaches us, Mel says, how to escape from the chains and slavery of our own hatred, bitterness, and selfishness. "God is Love," we are told, but how can we actually learn how to love in the right kind of way? How can we silence the thoughts that fill our minds with continual anger, resentment, and despair? Drummond gives us practical and totally workable techniques for remolding our minds so we can actually enter that world of freedom and joy we have always longed for in our hearts.