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Law and Alcoholics Anonymous
Tom P., Jr.
Three of Four
Aiming for mere sobriety would have been the commonsense
approach, the way of worldly wisdom, the reasonable-level-of-aspiration
the founders of AA were men moved by uncommon sense, by
inspiration, by spiritual guidance. They knew that the commonsense
approach had already been tried in the world for 150 years,
and it was failing everywhere, utterly, in their time. They
knew that when a drunk’s level of aspiration was set at
mere abstinence - “Why don’t you be a good fellow, use your
will power, and give the stuff up” - it simply did not work.
The poor candidate for recovery was back drinking in short
great discovery that launched AA in the first place was
this: the alcoholic must somehow be rocketed into a state
way beyond abstinence - he must achieve an utterly new relationship
with God - then permanent abstinence will automatically
occur as a blessed and life-saving-by-product. That was
how it happened with Bill. That was how it happened with
Dr. Bob. That was how it happened with the first hundred
members. That was how the authors of the Big Book saw it
would have to happen with everyone.
the Twelfth Step read: “Having had a spiritual experience
as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message
to alcoholics, and practice these principles in all our
affairs.” Two key phrases were “spiritual experience” and
“as a result of these Steps”. The assumption was: no spiritual
experience - no recovery. It was also assumed that there
were not a number of different results from working the
Steps; there was one result - the result - and that was
spiritual experience. To the first members, spiritual experience
meant that God had touched your life - directly, tangibly
- and turned it around.
between 1939, when the Plain Dealer articles were published,
and 1941, when the Alexander piece ran in the Post, a major
shift in philosophy occurred. No one in AA was much aware
that it was taking place at the time, and to this day the
process that went on remains almost totally unacknowledged
throughout the Fellowship. What changed was the importance
of the roles assigned respectively to the recovery principles
and the recovery Fellowship in AA.
until 1939, AA was a small, unknown organization whose success
record, though excellent, applied only over a tiny group
of cases, and had not yet stood the test of time. Recovering
alcoholics in the young Movement relied upon each other
and worked closely with one another. But the principles
were the primary life transformers. The Movement as such
was not large enough or well enough established that it
could be depended upon primarily instead of faithful work
with the Steps.
after AA became a big operation, after it gained national
recognition as a success, a new relationship became possible
with it, one which had not previously been an option, and
which the founders could not have foreseen. It now became
possible for an alcoholic to come to meetings and get sober
without undergoing a real spiritual conversion, simply by
the process of monkey-see-monkey-does, by mimesis, by imitation
- by the mere practice of the principle of when-in-Rome-do-as-the-Romans
is how recovery-by-mimesis worked: In joining AA the newcomer
joined himself to a big, successful organization, like the
Elks or the Kiwanis. One of the customs of this particular
club was that you did not drink; so if the newcomer liked
the people he had met in AA and wanted to stay associated
with them, he gave up drinking. He came to the AA meetings.
AA people and AA events became the focus of his social life
and his leisure-time- activities, and he stayed sober, largely
off the power of the pack.
true nature of this quite other, and quite non-spiritual,
recovery option was never fully recognized throughout the
Movement. The founders of the Fellowship, however, were
sensitive to it, and, in response, they made an attempt
to broaden the meaning of the term “spiritual” to include
the two kinds of recovered alcoholics. One, the sober-by-conversion
alcoholics - those who, as the result of working the Steps,
had had a spiritual experience and become transformed human
beings, seriously involved with regenerative life and ideas,
as contrasted with the two, sober-by-imitation alcoholics
- those who had remained essentially the same type of people
they had been before coming into AA, except that they had
joined a new organization, made a new set of friends, and
given up drinking in conformity to their new social setup.
Part 1: Gresham's Law
and Alcoholics Anonymous - front page.
Part 2: America was
boozy and was spawning a great many alcoholics.
Part 3: What they were shooting for, and what they aimed
their program at, was not mere sobriety...
Part 4: There is only
one term in the Twelve Steps that has been changed since
the Big Book was first published in 1939.