People

BIG BOOK SEQUEL Chapter 5

The Big Book’s iconic Chapter 5 presents the Twelve Step Power-based Program in a sketchy discourse that Tom Powers later tried to flesh out in “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” Given the space we saved in condensing the disingenuous “To Wives,” “The Family Afterward,” and “To Employers” into one Chapter, “To Whom it May Concern,” we can present a more thorough account of the Steps by combining Chapter 5, “How it Works,” and Chapter 6, “Into Action,” with key ideas from the 12 & 12. We will overlay AA’s own obsession with Power on the structure of the Steps to create a revolutionary narrative that takes the participant from Power-based to Knowledge-based sobriety.

Section A: From Oral to Written Tradition
In moving from the word-of-mouth Oral Tradition of the Oxford Group to the Written Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, Wilson added two key propositions that were not part of the Oral Tradition. At least half of AA prospects leave in the first year as a direct result of one his horrendous blunders.

Section B: More Power (Steps 1-3)
Given a perceived absence of Power in Choice, the Stepper simply looks for more Power and, unable to find it in Self-Knowledge or Will-Power, gives up the search and concludes that the only other option is The Big Kahuna, The Lord of Lords, The Creator of the Universe—more disingenuously disguised as a “Higher Power.” The method is the same throughout: More Power! Darn right, More Power, More Power, More Power!…ough ough ough ough!

Highlight: The Six Deadly Consequences of the Three-Step Fallacy

Section C: Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power (Steps 4-9)
Given a perceived absence of Power in Choice—and the difficulties in just looking for More Power—the Stepper looks for an alternative and discovers the ability to Transmute (perpetually occurring) Emotions into Power that can be used to choose to drink or not drink. No longer necessary are spiritual experiences or conscious contact with a Higher Power that is constantly disconnecting. All that is needed is the properly harnessed Power of ordinary human experience, a Power which is always present & never dissipates, just waiting for someone with the courage to embrace their character defects, rather than inventory & pray them away.

Highlight: The 5 Milestones of Spiritual Awakening

Section D: Neutralizing Power (Steps 10 & 11)
Given a perceived absence of Power in Choice—and the difficulties in just looking for More Power, and the limitations of Transmuting (perpetually occurring) Emotions into Usable Power—the Stepper comes to understand that a more powerful opponent can best be defeated by separating it from its Power source, by Neutralizing Power. In a final act of perception, they see that their alcoholism was powered, not by craving, but by their own opposing to desires to drink and not drink—the War within Self. This is the ultimate act of Self-Knowledge: to know that they are their alcoholism, they have always been their alcoholism, they have always had the freedom to choose in drink—Batteries not Required.

Highlight: One Step Living.

Section E: From Written to Oral Tradition
In the New Founders Movement the Twelfth Step is not really a Step at all, but a description of what a “spiritually awakened” person would talk like, act like. Although we can’t be sure what Steppers mean by “Spiritually,” we know what it means “To be Awake,” to have “The Law Written into our Hearts”: it is absolute, unconditional freedom from alcohol—and from Alcoholics Anonymous.

Page 1

 

 

Chapter 5
HOW IT WORKS

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it-then you are ready to take certain steps.

At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.
Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling,

Public Domain

Page 1

“Why the Steps were written down in the order in which they appear today and just why they were worded as they are, I have no idea.” Bill Wilson 1960

Chapter 5
HOW IT REALLY WORKS

5.1 Eighty years of combined experience with the AA’s Twelve Step Program has made clear two pertinent ideas:

—When practiced as written in the Big Book, the Steps do not work often, and when they do work, they do not work well.

—Until AA gets rigorously honest about these failures it will continue to squander its inheritance and dishonor the work of its First Founders.

5.2 Devotees refuse to acknowledge any defect in the Twelve Steps, maintaining that they always “work if you work them.”  Detractors deny that they work at all and maintain that any success is coincidental placebo—the result of other efforts that are not given their due. The truth is simpler, and less combative.

5.3 The Twelve Steps were never fully developed nor properly vetted for potential dangers. “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path” was a salesman’s bravado: when the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1939, none of the original 40—half of whom died drunk—had worked the Twelve Steps as written in Chapter 5. We now know what works and does not work—and why.

5.4 Remember that we deal with the Self—fluid, shape-shifting, mercurial. Alcoholism is not a disembodied voice speaking to you, or a disease trying to kill you. Nor does it do sit ups in the

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

 

Page 2
Chapter 5

powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-that One is God. May you find Him now!

Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Public Domain

Page 2
Chapter 5

parking lot while you are at an AA meeting. You are not passive observers of an entity separate from you, but active participants in how your alcoholism unfolds. You are your alcoholism—it is not separate from you. It hides from you as you hide from yourself. Power—yours or God’s—is of little use: “the citadel of Self cannot be taken by force.”

Section A: From Oral to Written Tradition

5.6 We should not be discouraged. Occasionally, without warning, without intent, Self shifts:

 “Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up with an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me, in my mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and it was a wind not of air but of spirit that was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me was a wonderful feeling of presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’” Bill W. (AA Comes of Age, p. 63)

5.7 One moment, you cannot imagine life without alcohol; a nanosecond later you cannot imagine ever drinking again. How does one make sense of such a seismic shift in Self? Confronted with the outrageous reality of his newly found freedom, Wilson looked for an explanation for what had happened to him.

5.8 As creatures that think, we all seek explanations. Our difficulty arises when we seek explanations that reinforce what we already think rather than opening new portals of possibilities. Given the failure of his own will, Wilson seemed unable to consider anything beyond the explanation that he had been touched by God. In Wilson’s male, patriarchal world of Power, it was either his power or His Power.

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 3
Chapter 5
Page 3
Chapter 5

5.9 Many in Wilson’s position would shout out the good news from the rooftops, and he spent some time doing just that. But questions remained. Big questions. If his liberation was just a random act of grace, what did he have to offer anyone other than the possibility that it might happen to them also? If Wilson did something to invite God in, to encourage  God to intervene, then what was it? And would it work for someone else?

5.10 Wilson did not start with the problem and work towards the solution. Significantly, he started with the solution and worked backwards toward the problem. He had knowledge of the solution before he ever understood the problem or how to achieve the solution. This meant looking back and guessing if there was anything that he had been doing that could account for his Towns Hospital conversion, then trying to retro-fit a series of steps that might, possibly, duplicate his God encounter—without the hallucinogenic belladonna and henbane that was part of his hospital treatment, of course. 

5.11 According to AA folklore, the Oxford Group supplied Wilson with a protean 6-Step Path that could be used as a template:

1) Admission of personal defeat

2) Taking of personal inventory.

3) Confession of one’s sins to another person.

4) Making restitution to those one has harmed.

5) Helping others selflessly.

6) Praying to God for Guidance and the power to put these precepts into practice.

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 4
Chapter 5
Page 4
Chapter 5

5.12 Although these six practices are mentioned in the literature several times in several different, albeit similar, formulations, they were written down years after Bill’s conversion, so it  more likely that they existed as the word-of-mouth principles of admission, self-examination, confession, restitution, service, and prayer rather than a step-wise path to a specific goal. We also have Wilson’s own words:

“Our Twelve Steps were the result of my effort to define more sharply and elaborate upon these word-of-mouth principles so that the alcoholic readers would have a more specific program: that there could be no escape from what we deemed to be the essential principles and attitudes. This had been my sole idea in their composition.”                          Bill Wilson 1960

5.13 When Wilson made the drastic, dangerous decision to take a word-of-mouth program and write it down, he was moving from an Oral to a Written Tradition, a process often undertaken by spiritual communities in their infancy, a process fraught with difficulties.

5.14 Generally, in attempting to “more sharply elaborate” so there could be “no escape,” Wilson narrowed the scope of the embryonic program., allowing the always present fundamentalists to laud their interpretation as the correct one. Moving from Oral Tradition into a Written Tradition more sharply defines principles, but also limits their meaning. Paradoxically, Oral Traditions preserve the spirit of teaching by remaining open to interpretation and forcing everyone to relive their version of the First Founder experience without claiming it as the ultimate truth.

5.15 More specifically,  in attempting to “more sharply elaborate” so there could be “no escape,” Wilson added to the

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 5
Chapter 5
Page 5
Chapter 5

word-of mouth principles a stick and a carrot that were never there in the first place:

—The stick: “Admission of defeat” was expanded to Steps 1,2, and 3. A vital encounter with God was reduced to a staid argument for God, which has become an unnecessary stumbling block for alcoholics for 80 years.

—The carrot: Without testing, without vetting, without any evidence, Wilson promised a “spiritual experience” as a direct result of working the Steps, and Steppers have been chasing that Holy Grail to no avail for 80 years (note)

5.16 Spiritual communities in their infancy go through a period where the transformative experience of the First Founders is recounted by word-of-mouth for several generations. As principles and practices crystallize, a movement develops to preserve them in a more concrete way. When such an Esoteric community decides to “go Exoteric,” it writes down their Oral Tradition so that the greater public has access to them. But greater public access also means less quality control over the transition and distribution of the now openly Written Tradition. Embryonic AA went exoteric four years after Wilson’s transformative experience, which may have been too soon from a purist’s point of view, but probably necessary given the historical circumstances.

5.17 Even when an Oral Tradition goes Written, a new Oral Tradition develops within the Esoteric community to replace it. But there is also a solid, vocal faction that maintains that the Revealed Truth should always remain within an Oral Tradition to be circulated within an Esoteric community that is invitation only for those who have demonstrated extraordinary interest and ability. All First Founder meetings so far have been Esoteric, but with 40 years of vetting, we feel that writing down our theory & Practice will be of some use.

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 6
Chapter 5
Page 6
Chapter 5

5.18 The recent publication of the original manuscript of the Big Book—complete with margin notes by the original members of AA—showed just how much disagreement there was early on about  what was the AA Program, whether or not it should be written down, and what should be written down if the decision was made to go written. Similar dialogue appeared later when the now Written Tradition was re-interpreted in the Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions. There is still considerable disagreement between “Alcoholics of the Big Book” and “Alcoholics of the 12 & 12” who occasionally square off like they are in different Programs. (And perhaps, they are.)

INVESTIGATIONAL INTERLUDE: THE TWELVE STEPS AS A PROCESS OF EVENTS

5.19 There is a huge difference between “essential principles and attitudes” and a “planned program of action,” and Engineers of Spiritual Process have always understood that moving from an Oral to a Written Tradition allows for mistaken deletions and additions. Wilson apparently had no such knowledge. His naïve, but well-intended mistakes gives us the opportunity to anchor his guesswork into some time-tested techniques.

5.20 The  word “process” is bandied around the rooms of to generally mean that the Twelve Steps do not work overnight. To our knowledge no one in the last 80 years has looked at the Twelve Steps as a Process, which means applying to them all the rich tools available to Process Investigators: Design Intent, Process Risk Evaluation, Key Process Indicators—to name just a few that we will be using in Section C of this Chapter. We have seen the eyes glaze over when we go down this technical road. To a community steeped in melodramatic drunkalogues and self-serving confessionals, the Language of Process fails to inspire.  But inspiration fades, and a simple knowledge of the difference between a Process & Event would eliminate at least half of the blind alleys Steppers travel down:

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 7
Chapter 5
Page 7
Chapter 5

“A PROCESS happens regularly, following a relatively permanent pattern; an EVENT is extraordinary, irregular. A process may be continuous, steady, uniform; events happen suddenly, intermittently, occasionally. Processes are typical; events are unique. A process follows a law, events create a precedent.” Abraham Heschel

5.21 Why is this distinction important? As we mentioned earlier in this Chapter, when Wilson was spontaneously released from his alcoholism he had a choice in how to understand what had happened to him: was this a unique Event that could not be transmitted or distributed to others, or the culmination of a Process of actions that he had taken and that could be transmitted or distributed to others. The 80 year history of AA, its Oral & Written Traditions, the millions of alcoholics who have participated in its Program and Fellowship, and the fate of its inheritance all rest on Wilson’s answer to the question, What is Happening to Me? In fact, the stakes are even higher than that:

“The basic question of freedom is how we can be sure that the so-called events are not disguised aspects of a process, or that creative acts are not brought upon by natural developments of which we are not aware.” Heschel

In what has already become a recurring theme in this book, asking questions about ourselves as alcoholics always demands asking even bigger questions about ourselves as human beings. As alcoholics, we are all reluctant philosophers. The alcoholic reader be advised: the notion that you are different from other human beings in any essential way is in danger, grave danger. To more carefully negotiate this danger, we should agree on how we are going to use certain terms, starting with one of Wilson’s unfortunate add-ons:

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 8
Chapter 5
Page 8
Chapter 5

A “Spiritual Experience” is an EVENT—a temporary, instantaneous shift in the way we experience ourselves as a State of Becoming.

A “Spiritual Awakening” is a PROCESS—a permanent, gradual change in the way we experience ourselves as a State of Being.

A Spiritual Awakening results from an accumulation of Spiritual Experiences.

Do not let the metaphysical juggernauts of “Becoming & Being” throw you off. We are just planting the seeds of an idea that should germinate by the end of this Chapter. For now it should be sufficient to recognize that we are using the terms “Spiritual Experience” and “Spiritual Awakening in a way different from the Big Book or the 12 & 12(note)—the AA lexicon is chronically muddled in meaning. If we can agree on how we use such terms in this Book, then we can begin to build a spiritual scaffolding strong enough to support many of those alcoholics that AA has forgotten.

© 2017 Michael V. Cossette

Page 9
Chapter 5
Page 9
Chapter 5

© 2019, Cogniventus LLC. All rights reserved. Design by Asenka.