Who Me? The AA Starter Pack

Link in your mind these two ideas:

*a drink was the single cause of all the misery, shame and fear you have ever known*

*a drink would destroy your newfound happiness*

Last year, at fifteen years sober, I began to reflect upon a concept I had been introduced to in my earliest days of recovery. The idea that ‘a drink was the single cause of all the misery, shame and fear I had ever known’ was a powerful idea – a hypothesis that would essentially form the basis of the brand new life I was to shortly construct. I set about taking a course of action that would burn that idea into my consciousness. Like Cortés burning his ships, my line in the sand had been drawn. I would not take the first drink. It says in the Big Book: ‘with us, to drink is to die’ and I was determined to live.


I couldn’t remember where the ‘single cause’ idea had come from though. I knew it wasn’t in the first 164 pages of the Big Book – and I was pretty sure it wasn’t in the stories contained in the back of the fourth edition. I knew it wasn’t from the ‘Twelve and Twelve’ either. It might be from ‘Living Sober’ – but I didn’t think it was. I called a friend of mine in the Fellowship. “I’ve got this line from the literature ringing around in my head, I’ve no idea where it comes from. I’ve known it for years but I can’t put identify the source. It’s about how we need to view a drink as being the single cause of all the misery, shame and fear that we have ever known.” My friend paused. “It sounds like the kind of thing that you would say, mate” he said. “It is the kind of thing that I would say” I replied. “But it wasn’t me who said it originally and I was wondering where it came from”. My friend agreed that the line sounded familiar – but was unable to assist me in my quest to discover the source of the material. Of course, I tried searching on the internet – but I couldn’t quite remember the precise wording of the original phrase – and therefore Google was unable to provide me with the answer I was looking for.


Shortly afterwards, I began working as a drug and alcohol recovery team (DART) worker at a prison. There were several men on my caseload who, having identified abstinence from alcohol as their ultimate goal, I thought would greatly benefit from attending AA meetings and practicing the 12 Step philosophy. The prison was one which housed foreign national men, many with a limited command of the English language, awaiting deportation to their ‘country of origin’, to use a home office term. I printed out the chapter ‘More About Alcoholism’ in their native tongues – but I wanted something shorter and even more simple that we could read together. I wanted to gauge their response when I read the words out loud, to see if they nodded their heads in agreement, to see if they could identify. One day I was looking through material in the DART office and I came across the AA Starter pack in a plastic wallet. I opened it up and carefully reviewed the contents. Memories of early recovery rose before me. I picked up the red leaflet entitled ‘Who Me?’ The language was simple, the message was powerful. It was exactly what I was looking for to interest and hopefully qualify the alcoholics with whom I was working. I saw the ‘Just for Today’ card, we read that at the end of the Friday Breakfast meeting I regularly attended. The pamphlet ‘Is AA for you?’ was an Alcohol Audit of sorts. Then my eyes rested upon an orange pamphlet: ‘Now that you’ve stopped: 15 Points’. I felt a surge of excitement as I scanned the bullet points. There it was! Point 12.

Link in your mind these two ideas:

a drink was the single cause of all the misery, shame and fear you have ever known

a drink would destroy your newfound happiness

I can’t remember where I got my first AA Starter pack. It might have been from the Catholic Priest who twelve-stepped me. I know that he gave me a copy of Share Magazine, the UK equivalent of Grapevine. It might have been at the first AA meeting I attended at United Church in Southport on a Sunday evening. One thing I know for certain is that in those first few weeks of purgatory which preceded my finding a sponsor and beginning the twelve step program of recovery, the simple, powerful message contained in the Starter Pack literature, was a lifeline that I had clung to.

And I had forgotten about it for over a decade.

I was a Big Book Sponsor, you see? I worked with a lot of men in recovery. And when we started working together my priority was to start at the title page of the Big Book, before moving on to the preface and the forwards. In our second session we would read the Doctor’s Opinion – and so on. But shouldn’t it be of interest to me to have a thorough working knowledge of what I assume is the most widely distributed literature package in the UK Fellowship? The literature that is (or should be) offered to EVERY newcomer at their very first meeting, free of charge. I was reminded of those old-timers who had doggedly clung to their treasured third edition Big Books, refusing to adopt the fourth edition. Never mind that the newcomers they were working with were using the fourth edition.

The Japanese Zen term shoshin translates as ‘beginner’s mind’ and refers to a paradox: the more you know about a subject, the more likely you are to close your mind to further learning. Many historical examples demonstrate how the expert mind (or feeling like an expert) can lead to closed-mindedness and the obstruction of scientific progress.

The more I sat down with men in the jail to read the ‘Who Me?’ pamphlet, the more I appreciated its power and simplicity. I wondered if an audio version was available and looked online. All I could find was a CD available to order from GSO. I couldn’t find a digital version anywhere so I recorded one myself in my home studio. When I was done, I forwarded it to the alcoholics in my contact list with the following message:

Download the ‘Who Me?’ MP3 file here:

Available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRP5QWEP6_M&t=28s

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