Big Book Commentary # 1

In 2006, a young man sat down with me in a coffee bar in Madrid and outlined a plan of action.

We then began to read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous – together. As a result of working the 12 Steps my life was transformed.

It is safe to say that there is no other book which has even come close to having the impact that this text has had on my life. Like all great sacred and instructional texts, it’s simplicity is layered. Like all great sacred and instructional texts, it is a living document, meaning that it will meet the reader wherever they currently are on their journey. It took me six years to experience the mental gooseflesh of idolatry depicted in the chapter ‘We Agnostics’. I often find myself reading a page which I have read many times before, only for a word or phrase to leap out at me with new meaning.

Here in no particular order, are some of my own reflections on selected parts of our basic text:

  1. The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking:

We must never confuse the requirement for membership of the fellowship with the requirement for sobriety. An honest desire to stop drinking qualifies me to sit in a meeting. The requirement for sobriety is something else entirely. The Big Book is full of stories about people who had a sincere desire to quit drinking ‘for good and all’ but were unable to do so. Their honest desire to stop drinking was no way near sufficient to achieve sobriety. It had to be accompanied by strenuous work.


2. “Many of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas…”

What is an ‘old’ idea? It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our old ideas were abandoned when ‘what happened’ became ‘what we are like now’. Are last week’s ideas not old? Are this morning’s ideas not old? I can now see that a morning idea can become an old idea by sunset.

3. “We meet frequently so that newcomers may find the fellowship they seek”.

Perhaps one of the least attractive I have ever heard in an AA meeting is: ‘I was taught to dump my s!*t on the meeting’. I was taught to share experience, strength and hope for the benefit of the newcomer or the still suffering alcoholic. I was also taught that whatever s!*t I might have could be dumped in private, on a sponsor! When I share at a meeting, I share for the newcomer or for the alcoholic who still suffers. I never share in a meeting for myself and myself only. This does not mean pretending in meetings that life is all rainbows and unicorns. On the contrary, if I am going through Hell or in the midst of a dark night of the soul then I will share about the action I am taking to return to a peaceful state of mind.

4. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.

Uncontrolled drinking was the only kind of drinking that I enjoyed. If I ever had to attempt to control my drinking then my enjoyment was severely curtailed.

5. “Two of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to see me. They grinned, which I didn’t like so much, and then asked me if I thought myself alcoholic and if I were really licked this time.”

The good old-timers were savage. Fred is flat on his back in the hospital, probably hoping for sympathy and they laugh in his face: ‘Still think that you have just some of the symptoms of an alcoholic, Fred?’ The old timers used the word ‘licked’. These days we might use a similar sounding word beginning with a different consonant (f) and vowel (u) to express our defeat at the hands of alcohol.

6. Had we not variously worshipped people, sentiment, things, money, and ourselves?

Oscar Wilde once said that ‘a sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it’. Sentimentality is grounded in self-love.

7. Bill W, co-founder of A.A., died January 24, 1971

We do not make Gods of men in AA. Our co-founders were not infallible. In AA we carry the message and practice spiritual principles. All around us we are painfully aware of the insanity that accompanies any movement which proposes deification of people, places and things.

8. “We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity…”

What’s wrong with excitement? Well, let’s consider the etymology of the word excitement. “A condition of mental and emotional agitation.” (1846) The third step promises talk about the enjoyment of peace of mind. If an alcoholic has peace of mind he has everything.

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