Written By: Fiona Stockard
The Big Book Broken Down – Part Three
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who help each other to recover from alcohol and drug addiction. It was founded in June of 1935, just celebrated its seventy-ninth anniversary, and boasts over two million members.
AA’s central text is the Big Book. With a sponsor and a Big Book, AA members work the twelve steps, and “recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” (title page).
Today, I’ll be breaking down chapter three, More About Alcoholism.
More About Alcoholism
This chapter is all about identification. At its most basic, it’s designed to let prospective AA members identify their drinking with alcoholic drinking. That’s what More About Alcoholism did for me. It gave me hope knowing that others drank like I did, yet were able to get better.
On the second page, various methods of controlled drinking are listed. They’d be comical, if I hadn’t tried some myself. Drinking only beer? Been there, done that. Not drinking at work? Been there, done that. Did these methods work for me? Not even a little!
Later in More About Alcoholism, Jim’s story is told. Jim was a used car salesman (big surprise!) who couldn’t stop drinking. He managed to put a bit of sober time together, but relapsed after mixing whiskey with milk. He thought he could drink, as long as he had a full stomach and mixed his drinks! While I never tried this exact pairing, I did mix weed with tobacco. I was convinced I could smoke weed, as long as it wasn’t only weed.
Further on in the chapter, AA compares our alcoholic drinking to jaywalking. We get sideswiped, clipped, maybe ever full on hit, but just can’t stop. Finally, we’re badly injured and taken to the hospital. After getting out, we start jaywalking again. We’re promptly hit by a truck and killed.
Seems a little bit extreme, right? Well, think about how our loved ones view our addiction. To them, we’re just as tragic as the jaywalker. We keep getting hurt, yet can’t stop drinking or using. We’re incapable!
Fair enough, but what if you’re not convinced you’re an alcoholic? Don’t worry, AA has that covered, too. “Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once” (pp. 31-32).
I couldn’t pass this test once, let alone more than once. Then again, it’s a little harder to try controlled dope shooting and crack smoking! Still, the point remains. People that drink like we drink, that use like we use, can’t control their intake. It simply isn’t possible.
Finally convinced you’re an alcoholic? Try this on for size, “The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker” (p. 30).
This was certainly true for me. All I wanted, and I mean all I wanted, was to use like other people. I didn’t understand why every time I drank, or got high, bad things happened. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that I wasn’t able to control my use.
The chapter goes on to say, “We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control” (p. 30) and “Commencing to drink after a period of sobriety, we are in a short time as bad as ever” (p. 33).
Again, these were true for me. I could stay clean for short periods, but every time I used, my life rapidly spiraled out of control. Okay, so what could I do to stop? Go to treatment and learn about myself? Yeah, that sounds good!
More About Alcoholism says, “He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all his reasons for not drinking were easily pushed aside…” (pp. 36-37).
Here, alcoholics are introduced to a very important idea. Self-knowledge won’t keep us sober. It’s that simple. Self-knowledge can help normal drinkers stop, but people like me? It just isn’t enough.
In fact, the chapter goes on to say almost those exact words. “But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge” (p. 39).
Why can’t we stop drinking through self-knowledge? I’m not sure of all the reasons, but one is that we simply can’t remember how bad our drinking was! AA members say as much, “They said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink. Well, just that did happen and more, for what I learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all. I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind. I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots” (p. 42).
So, we have these “strange mental blank spots.” That makes sense to me. There have been countless times where I started getting high without a second though. It didn’t once cross my mind that using was a bad idea.
What can I do? How can I stay sober? How can I live a life where I don’t hate myself and everyone else? Am I screwed? Nope. There’s hope. More About Alcoholism ends with the quote “His defense must come from a Higher Power” (p. 43).
When I first came into the rooms of AA, I didn’t like the idea of God or a Higher Power. Still, I was beaten up enough give it a try. Guess what? The God idea worked better than I ever could have imagined. We’ll learn how in two weeks!