Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On the Necessity of Beating the Bushes

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous does not discourage an evangelical approach, seeking out others needing help, it mandates such work. The Big Book nowhere encourages attending meetings as a way to stay in recovery, nor does it encourage relying on any "sponsor." Instead, it urges an active stance of seeking out others needing assistance. The act of helping is seen as essential to the member trying to stay sober. Assistance to the one still suffering is done with the intent of being of help to the sufferer, but one expects only to aid one's own sobriety.

Consider some quotes from the Big Book:

The broker had gone to Akron on a business venture which had collapsed, leaving him greatly in fear that he might start drinking again. He suddenly realized that in order to save himself he must carry his message to another alcoholic.
Hence the two men set to work almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving in the ward of the Akron City Hospital.

-- Foreword to Second Edition

As part of his rehabilitation he commenced to present his conceptions to other alcoholics, impressing upon them that they must do likewise with still others.

-- The Doctor's Opinion

My musing was interrupted by the telephone. The cheery voice of an old school friend asked if he might come over. He was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed. Rumor had it that he had been committed for alcoholic insanity.

-- Bill's Story.

Note that Ebby called up Bill, who was still mired in active addiction. Ebby didn't wait for Bill to call him. Later in Bill's Story, we read of Bill taking up this evangelical approach to others, with life-saving effect:

Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die.
I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self-pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measure failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet.

In Chapter 2, There is a Solution, we read:

That the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.

Note who is doing the approaching here. It is not the alcoholic who still suffers, it is the member of the fellowship. Why has this method fallen into disfavor?

In Chapter 5, How it works, we read:

...we tried to carry this message to alcoholics...

Note that this does not read: "we made ourselves available to alcoholics who approached us."

All of Chapter 7, Working With Others, concerns this active mission. The chapter is loaded with advice such as:

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!
Perhaps you are not acquainted with any drinkers who want to recover. You can easily find some by asking a few doctors, ministers, priests or hospitals. They will be only too glad to assist you.
When you discover a prospect for Alcoholics Anonymous, find out all you can about him. If he does not want to stop drinking, don't waste time trying to persuade him.
If there is any indication that he wants to stop, have a good talk with the person most interested in him--usually his wife. Get an idea of his behavior, his problems, his background, the seriousness of his condition, and his religious leanings. You need this information to put yourself in his place, to see how you would like him to approach you if the tables were turned.

I would suggest comparing this instruction with the contemporary approach of a "sponsor" telling his "pigeon" to call every day, making no active effort to extend himself to the newcomer. Where has this passive (or even passive-aggressive) approach come from? Certainly not the Big Book.

Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him.

Research clearly confirms this impression. The work of the sponsor in the Fellowships provides no advantage to the newcomer at all, statistically. It is the sponsor who is helped by doing such work, not the sponsee:
This active approach to being of service to others isn't a small suggestion, it is the very essence of the program:

Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn't enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights' sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business.

There is much more material I could quote to make my point, but I am not fond of beating dead horses. Let me fast-forward from Working with Others to Chapter 11, A Vision For You, in which Dr. Bob and two others came to understand the necessity of being of service to bolster their own recovery:

Though they knew they must help other alcoholics if they would remain sober, that motive became secondary. It was transcended by the happiness they found in giving themselves for others.

Now, this volume of material describing the necessity of seeking actively to be of service should be compared to the material in the Big Book which recommends attending meetings in order to stay sober. The material in the Big Book which urges meeting attendance consists of:

Nothing whatsoever.

The concept is a conterfeit, a fraud, a complete fabrication. The actual purpose of meetings wasn't to permit the fellowship to function, nor for members to stay sober, the purpose was to introduce newcomers into a helpful fellowhip. The only thing the Big Book says about AA meetings is:

In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.

-- Chapter 11, A Vision for You

Similarly, the idea that one should seek out a sponsor is not founded on the Big Book -- nobody is urged to do anything of the sort. The message is to be a sponsor, not to get a sponsor.

Also bogus is the idea that one should "work" any Steps. The reader is suggested to take certain steps, and the examples presented demonstrate a process that takes perhaps some hours, certainly not weeks or months. The only "work" to be done is the work of being of service to others.

Now, many members cite the 11th Tradition to counter the idea of the necessity of seeking out others needing help. The 11th Tradition states:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

Note that the Traditions describe not how individual members conduct themselves, but how the Fellowship as an organization conducts itself. What is being proscribed here is not individual members seeking out persons needing help, but slick advertising campains and marketing gimmicks.

When the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous loses sight of its core mission to seek out others needing help, it becomes at best a worthless social club, and at worst, a cult.

The core text of the AA Big Book is not under copyright but is public domain. Only some of the stories of the third and later editions are under copyright protection. The core text can be found at:
This html format permits rapid searching of the full text for words and phrases of choice. Searches for "sponsor" or "meetings" or "work the steps" are particularly illuminating.

Best wishes,

Steve Coulter, MD
SteveMDFP -at- gmail -dot- com

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