As a newcomer, I first heard “How It Works” before I ever picked up a Big Book. It conveyed the essence of the program in a couple of minutes. Its repetition over the years has served as a general reminder. After all, alcoholics have short memories.
Legend has it that Bill W. wrote “How It Works” in approximately forty minutes, his pen flowing across the paper as if taking dictation. Perhaps not. Perhaps he agonized over every phrase, and the early AAs who reviewed his efforts went over every passage with a finetooth comb, debating until dawn.
I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But I am here today, and I am sober. “How It Works” has been a key part of my sobriety. I have heard it read aloud by people from all walks of life. I have seen its words gestured in American Sign Language, I have seen the blind read it from Braille editions of our Big Book. I have attended large gatherings where an audience of thousands helped the speaker count off each Step as “How It Works” was read from the podium. I have seen people scramble for their reading glasses when the only copy available was someone’s wallet-sized card.
I go back to an image I’ll never forget from my early days in the program. An old-timer listened to “How It Works” as we began our Saturday morning meeting. Her eyes were closed, her palms flat on the table in front of her. She gave “How It Works” her undivided attention. Yet, how many times had she heard those words in seventeen years of sobriety?
Perhaps for some, “How It Works” has become a tired, overworked bit of dogma, and opportunity to daydream. But not for this alcoholic. I get more out of these words with each passing day. The words don’t change, but I do.