Yesterday's post -- actually, the wonderful, intelligent and thoughtful comments on yesterday's post -- have been working on me all night. And I've come up with something important to me that I'd like to share here -- but first I need to give some context:
One of the things I've always loved about AA and the AA literature is how even-handed and open minded it is. A favorite quote of mine in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book), which exemplifies this tone, is found on the first page (pg. 44) of Chapter 4, "We Agnostics":
"If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic."
No absolutes. No finger shaking. Plenty of room for consideration before agreeing with what is proposed. That spirit of offering information without sounding a dogmatic bell is all over the Big Book. There is certainly the occasional strongly worded suggestion, or -- given that we are talking a life-and-death struggle -- a sometimes grave and important warning, but the overall spirit of the Big Book is one of offering suggestions based on experience, without brow beating anyone while doing so.
How the Big Book became so balanced is fairly common knowledge. Many people feel the writing is Divinely Inspired -- given how prophetic it has turned out to be, and how useful to so many people, I think you can make a lovely case for that -- but the fact is, the book was constructed as much as written, through the input of the first one hundred (roughly) sober alcoholics who started what we think of today as Alcoholics Anonymous. Well aware that if they depended solely on word-of-mouth to pass along what they had discovered the message would likely become distorted, they set out to put their Steps and experience on paper. And almost all the AA histories agree, that original group was divided 50/50 between the faithful (predominantly Christian) and agnostics. Bill Wilson, one of AA's co-founders, was the man at the typewriter, but everyone reviewed and commented on the manuscript as it developed. And this (mostly) friendly friction between the devout and the doubtful resulted in the balanced, open-minded wording throughout AA's primary text as we have it today.
13 years later, Bill Wilson himself set down to write the book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions." If I have my history right, this was done in part to help AA as a whole embrace the Traditions, which came into being some time after AA got started. But it was also a wonderful opportunity to flesh out some of the ideas in the Big Book. I have often observed that, to me, the Big Book is like a road map, giving you clear cut directions on how to get from a broken, drunken life to a clean and sober one, while the 12&12 is like the travelog, warning you against bumps in the road, dangerous curves, and pointing out sights of interest along the way.
But it was written by one man, Bill himself.
I love the 12&12. I've written extensively here about how, for example, in the Big Book the words "dry" and "sober" are used pretty much interchangeably, switched around more in an effort to improve the quality of the writing than with any real distinction that they might mean somewhat different things. This concept came a bit later, and is discussed in much helpful detail by Bill in the 12&12.
And yet we have this, the subject of the post from yesterday:
"It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed,
no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with
us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the
In my zeal to understand for myself what this means, and to offer some helpful insight to someone asking, I took a swing at making sense of it. And what I wrote yesterday still works for me pretty well for me today.
If I am to be completely honest, when I look at my thinking I can see how I was subjugating some of my common sense to find a way to embrace that statement -- I was laboring to make it work.
And nowhere in the Big Book, or in any meeting I've attended -- even though there is much talk of being completely willing, of surrender, etc.... does AA ask me to abandon my common sense.
(And to those who are not fans of AA, eager to pounce with an "Oh yeah?" and then site some terrible experience they had in the East Bumpluck group of Alcoholics Anonymous, I can only say that I am sorry you had a bad experience, that has not been what I have found in AA, and that AA never asks me to do anything I am not willing to do -- and the whole point of what I've written above about the Big Book is that while it may make strongly worded suggestions, it is not didactic in the least. It does not require I give up my common sense, it only asks me to consider things differently.)
Thus, after reading the comments from yesterday, I have decided, for me, that while I love the 12&12, I think Bill made a poor choice of words when he chose such strong language, so full of absolutes, in expressing this particular idea.
The way the idea is presented (which is not the same as the idea itself, of course) is a bit of a sour note against the harmony of how open-minded and even handed so much of the rest of AA's literature is.
I don't need AA, or Bill Wilson, or me or you to be perfect. My faith in the 12 Steps, and how effective they are as a way to stay sober, is completely unshaken by this new opinion -- this idea I've come to (again, for me) that in this little bit of writing Bill perhaps chose his words poorly. God knows, after writing this blog five days a week for more than two years (seven days a week for the first few months, but that nearly broke me) I have an intimate understanding of how one can be making a point, feel strongly about it, but then the words on the page, cut free from verbal tone or facial expression, strike a tone more sharply than one may intend.
I don't know that about Bill's opinion of the 12&12 -- for all I know this was his very favorite few lines. It's possible Lois got sick to death of him going on and on about how much he loved his little couplet of the spiritual axiom and how we are in the wrong, also -- though to harp upon it would have been a deadly error in the game of marriage dynamics chess, I wager, once Lois got Al-Anon up and running and learned how to detach with love, draw better boundaries and not take any more crap. I fantasize sometimes about a little scene in their living room, after Lois got some recovery of her own:
Bill: Lois, I'd like some coffee.
Lois: You would?
Lois: Alright dear. The coffee's in the kitchen, if you make a pot bring me a cup too, would you?
Bill sits, jaw agape, for several moments, before closing it and heading into the kitchen.
AA works. The Big Book -- and the 12&12 -- are full of wonderful, life-saving information which continues to speak to me more than 20 years after I started reading it.
But for me, those couple of sentences in the 12&12 in Step 10 are not Bill's best work.