Using the Big Book (literature as a tool)

IMG_0152I’ve thought about this and hesitated and tried to think of what to write.  This blog is of my experience, and I’m sure my experience has value, at least to me, myself.  If the value doesn’t go beyond that, at least I’ve been a sober, self-supporting and somewhat good citizen member of AA for the past 29 years.  This is a much, much better thing than I was before.

So, the Big Book.  I looked up the meaning of the word “text.”  After looking it up, I’m not sure what it means in regard to the Big Book.  It is a book of instructions, to be sure, but it is so much more than that.

I think it started because the demand for contact with sober members of AA was more than the pioneers could handle.  By the time I first touched a Big Book, in 1978, it had become something entirely different, at least in the place where I first went to meetings.  I was handed a Big Book and told to read it.  I read it.  I’m a bright enough person, and good reader for sure, but my mind was so polluted by alcohol that I couldn’t understand much of it.

I remember taking it babysitting with me, almost like I would take a novel.

In my early sobriety and my early non-sobriety, I relied much more on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  I went to step meetings but I honestly don’t remember any particular Big Book meetings.  That’s not to say there weren’t any, just that there weren’t tons, and they weren’t prominent in my experience.

Where I live now there are many Big Book meetings, and one of my favorite meetings is a Big Book meeting.

It’s hard for me to know if things change or if I just pay different attention to things at different times.  I want to say that it seems to me that lately people where I am are quoting the Big Book and mentioning page numbers a lot more than they used to, but that could be my perception.

I don’t have any page numbers memorized except for 449, which shows my age, it is 417 in the “new” edition and even as I know that page number and know what the page says, I also always feel compelled to point out that these words about acceptance are from a personal story, not from the proper “text” of the Big Book.

I’ve heard the language of the Big Book criticized and I know there are “translations” into modern English.  I want to check those out but I haven’t yet.  The language can be a bit of a barrier, but mostly I’m grateful that the writer was such a good writer, and the book has stood the test of this short time very well.  I believe that I’ve seen people become much more literate by reading from the Big Book and other AA literature over time.

So I really haven’t said much about the Big Book or how I use it now.  I don’t really use it now, except when I go to a Big Book meeting, or when I’m trying to help someone with a concept that’s mentioned there.  I have the “original” Big Book that came out a few years ago and I’ve enjoyed looking at the revisions and changes, though I haven’t made it through the whole thing.  I have an extra Big Book waiting for someone to need it from me.  Eventually, someone will.  It’s still the first thing I hand a struggling newcomer or someone else who I want to introduce to the program.  It’s still something I read and I know that I will continue to read it as I go on.

I just have to say that I hope the ideas in the Big Book don’t get frozen in time. Maybe the most important phrase in the Big Book is

more will be revealed

And no, I don’t know what page that’s on, I don’t even know if that’s a direct quote.  But I know that it’s true.

Can You Ask a Person to Leave the Group?

Disclaimer:  I am a sober member of AA, and that’s all I am.  I do not speak for AA or represent AA in any way, and all the contents of this blog are my opinions only.


In a comment on the post The Thirteenth Step, Laura asks:


What is it called when a person a sober Narcissist in fact appears to be working in the program and really just using it as a dating service? This person is very predatory and has cause a lot of dissonance. Can you ask a person to leave the group?


It’s my understanding that AA groups are autonomous, and so they can do whatever the group decides to do.  A question like this is never asked for a good reason, and I’m sorry to say again that AA is not a safe place.  I have almost always been safe there, but it’s not by any means a given.

There have also been very few times in my experience when someone who is attending meetings makes other people so uncomfortable that they want to ask the person to leave.  Right now I can only think of two times.  One was when a rather verbally aggressive man was frightening people.  Another was when a registered sex offender started attending meetings.  Both of these men acted in other ways that made people uncomfortable and sometimes afraid.  The aggressive guy faded away.  The sex offender stayed and became more tolerable and accepted, though maybe not fully accepted.  I’ve known many people with mental health symptoms that made their attendance challenging, though not to the point where anyone wanted to ask them not to attend.

But to address this question.  It’s my understanding that we can’t ask someone to leave AA, that everyone is a member if he or she says so.  The literature points out that to deny someone AA may be to sentence that person to death, and that we have no right to do that.  I don’t think that means that we have to put up with any and all behavior, though, and the original question implies that this person is taking advantage of newcomers especially.

My opinion is that first, Laura (or anyone asking) should examine her own behavior and attitudes to make sure she’s seeing the situation clearly and not prejudiced in some way herself against this person.  I think she should discuss it with some group members.  Now really by the time the group is discussing an individual, the individual is problematic enough to need an intervention.

First I think group members could approach the person and tell him what they see, and ask him to think about it.  If that doesn’t work I see nothing wrong with slipping the newcomer a little friendly warning about getting involved with this guy.  And that’s it.  At this point I think the problem person will probably find another group or fade away from AA completely.  Or he may (and Laura doesn’t use a gender – why do I assume it’s a guy?) actually change his behavior, or drink.  Because it doesn’t sound like sober behavior to me.

So my short answer is that I would approach the situation slowly and carefully and try to resolve it with as much care as possible.  Ultimately even the vulnerable newcomer is an adult who to look out for him or herself, and usually the best thing we can be is a power of example.



August 17, 2013 (this day)

IMG_0186There were a lot of books around the Wilson House, Bill W’s birth place.  There were more books at Dr. Bob’s house in Akron, Ohio.  I understand that they used many books in the beginning of AA, before there was a Big Book to thump.

I was listening to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and there were several parts that I related to the AA program as I understand it.  He was describing a particular religious sect and he said something along the lines of this.  He asked an elder why they had nothing written down.  No doctrine.  And the elder explained that they were afraid to write down their religion as they practiced it because if they did so it would become a static thing and they wouldn’t be open to further revelation from God.  Two generations later, he said, their followers would be effectually frozen into the understanding of the current adherents.

I don’t fear that will happen in AA, but I’m dismayed when I come across the attitude that only “approved” literature should be made available at AA meetings.  I truly the believe that the vulnerable newcomer is steered to the Big Book and maybe one or two other “approved” books and that having other books available won’t hurt anyone.

And that it might help some of us who aren’t so new.

I always have at least one book that relates somehow to sobriety that I’m currently reading.  Usually more than one.

I’m working on a list of what I’ve read, and it feels like one of  things I’ll do if I ever retire that I’ll get the list together and comment on the books.  For now it’s going to go on a page here.

I urge everyone in AA who isn’t brand-spanking-new to read these and others and everything.  The idea of banning books is abhorrent to me, yet I understand that AA can’t promote outside literature.  Nor can AA “approve” much more than it currently does.  But the expanding mind of AA members is AA’s vitality, I believe.  We cannot become frozen in the writings of 75 years ago, no matter how enlightened those writing are.  I think that’s a lot of the sentiment expressed by these words:

Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We
realize we know only a little. God will
constantly disclose more to you and to us.

Who Cares to Admit Complete Defeat? (Step One)

WHO cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one,
of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea
of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that,
glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an ob-
session for destructive drinking that only an act of Provi-
dence can remove it from us.

As I have written out in my story, and as I seem to share endlessly, I fought this long and hard.  Within a few days or weeks of beginning to drink, I knew I was in serious trouble.  I contacted AA thinking they helped alcoholics drink safely.  I went to my first meeting at 16 years old, all on my own.  After a few false starts I stayed sober for 18 months.

And then I drank again, and again and again for another five years.  I went from “probably going to be an alcoholic” (in the estimation of my high school psychology teacher, God bless him) to unable to function at all.  I couldn’t write my name.

And so I understand now, I hope, that although I thought I had taken the first step when I first got sober, I hadn’t.  I hadn’t admitted complete defeat because I went on to try and drink successfully.  And at that time I surely wouldn’t have admitted that I needed an “act of Providence” to save me.

Why?  It’s interesting that the instinct to survive almost kills us.  Kills many of us.  I am so lucky.

As for how this step and concept are active in my life today, most important of all is the fact that I feel sure I won’t drink again.  I won’t drink, and I won’t stop the behaviors of working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, just in case, and because I don’t want to stop.

I’m powerless over other things and I’m afraid that they don’t  impair me the way alcohol did, so I don’t admit defeat, so I continue to struggle with them.  Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose.

More from Bill W’s birth place

IMG_0145Historical marker.








IMG_0147The Wilson House.








IMG_0150Historical documents and the story of the renovation of the house.







IMG_0151A somewhat creepy bust of Bill W.










IMG_0159The kitchen with many original features.







IMG_0161Lois’ grave.








IMG_0162The view from their graves.  Much more awesome than it looks here.







IMG_0175Bill’s grandparents’ house, where he lived for much of his childhood.







IMG_0181A lamp that is always kept on in the room where Bill W was born.  Now I think that’s a little bit creepy, but I love the verse:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

~2 Corinthians

And of course I must love the camel.


IMG_0185One of the meeting rooms in the house.







Again, this was an amazing experience and I’m glad I got to go.  If you can only go to one place, though, I would recommend Akron over this.

I’m grateful again for all that happened there and for all the people who work to keep it alive and accessible.

July 31, 2013 (this day)

IMG_0168We went to Bill W’s birthplace, and grave, and childhood homes, and for me, it was profound.

AA is careful not to own anything and they don’t own these sites.  AA is also careful not to consecrate or hold places or objects as holy, and I’m grateful for that.  I won’t do it either.

But there is power in a place.

I have a few qualms with the way the Wilson house is decorated and some of the sayings and verses and things around, but I’m mostly grateful it was saved from ruin and very grateful I was able to visit.

I thought about these people as ordinary people.  There is the room where Bill was born (his poor mother), and the yard where he made his boomerang.  All these events had to happen the way they did in order for me to be here and whole at the age of 51.  I cannot help but feel lucky and grateful and some kind of power.

The Wilson house has a video about its history, and part of it says that people come there to thank God for working through Bill to save them.  So I will do that as well.  Thank you, God, for working through Bill to save me.

I really don’t know if Bill exists in some other dimension and has knowledge of me, or us, or what he did, but it’s nice to think that he might.