I love to introduce myself at an AA meeting as a “satisfied customer of Alcoholics Anonymous.” It says so much about the joy and gratitude I have for our wonderful society. I am one of those second-generation AA members. My mom got sober in AA when I was eight years old. Nine years later, I came through the doors myself. I sit here sober today because of the wisdom of people like Mom, who passed on this message to me. When I came in, I fell in with the same kind of folks who brought meaningful sobriety to her, prodigies of service tirelessly carrying this message to those who sought it.
The people I got sober with were the kind of people who looked to our basic text, the Big Book, as a means of providing the clarity that the written word can. At our weekly Big Book meetings, the members of my first group used to discuss the paths they took to find a God of their understanding. “Clean house and trust God” they would say. “Clear away the wreckage of your past.” These were old-fashioned ideas packaged for alcoholics when the Big Book was written some sixty-odd years ago. But they remain true to this day. Over the years, these people taught me how to love, not just within AA but out there–with the other people with whom we have to live, as well. Repeatedly, I was told I had to change the guy I brought into Alcoholics Anonymous. And change I did: from a skinny kid of seventeen to a mature adult, from a fear-ridden negative individual to a positive member of society.
As life would have it, I moved from southern New York, where I got sober, to Long Island. Again I found people who spoke of the language of the heart. Increasingly, though, I received looks of disapproval when I shared at meetings, and on occasion, I was identified with those “Big Book Thumpers” or characterized as an “AA Nazi.” I really didn’t mind; I had been blessed with the gift of sobriety and a thick skin. As time passed, I realized that the people I spent most of my time with were people who thought, as I did, that alcoholism is a disease that can be arrested through the application of the Twelve Steps; that we no longer need to be victimized by life; and that finding and developing a relationship with a God of our understanding was the key to continued sobriety.
One of those people was my first sponsor on Long Island. I met him at a large Sunday morning meeting. I was sober about a year and he brought me over to the Twelve Step shade and asked, “What are the Twelve Steps for?” I replied, “To recover from alcoholism.” He told me to read the Twelfth Step slowly: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps . . .” “Stop there,” he said. “What is the result of these Steps?” I thought for a moment, “A spiritual awakening.” The purpose, the ultimate aim of our program is the spiritual awakening. I had never seen it that way before. Growing in effectiveness through the spiritual life as outlined in the Steps–how simple for a complicated alcoholic.
That has been the directive for growth for me since that day some twenty years ago. I continue to refer to the Big Book, for the knowledge within is immense. Imagine the hope I felt when I read in Chapter 6, “Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us.” Equally important was this passage, on page 164:
“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. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.”
When I read this passage, I realize that some may seize upon the first two sentences as a means of discounting what lies between the covers of our book. What we knew “only a little” about was spirituality, not about recovery from alcoholism. After getting sober through the Twelve Steps, we now know a little about God–we are in a “spiritual kindergarten” being pointed in a direction we could never have found without the direction of the Twelve Steps. Those who went before us, the first one hundred sober alcoholics, knew quite a lot about recovery from alcoholism. They also realized that in 1939 they didn’t have much more than four years of spiritual experience among the most senior members.
The greatest legacy our early members gave us was the book from which our society took its name–Alcoholics Anonymous. This same basic text provides us with the tools to begin our spiritual journey–the limitless path which emanates from that center we call Alcoholics Anonymous.