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Chapter 6A: What Works Poorly

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Preface: 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, and then to the liberating integration of Knowledge & Power, of Knowing & Doing—”When Knowing Who You Are, Changes Who You Are.”

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.

Chapter 6A: Looking for Power in all the Wrong Places (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!

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT: The Six Deadly Consequences of the Three-Step Fallacy

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT: An Unstable Experience

Chapter 6B: Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power (Steps 4-9)

Chapter 6C: Neutralizing Power (Steps 10 & 11)

From Written to Oral Tradition

Alert

Alert & Risk: We feel that it is a mistake to try to rewrite “How it Works,” the Chapter 5 introduction that is traditionally read at the beginning of AA meetings. As Wilson himself stated, its iconic status is accidental and undeserved.  Better to ask, What are these Steps intended to do? Better to begin with the AA Power Paradigm which we outlined in Chapter 3, “There is a Solution,”—POWER LOST; POWER SOUGHT; POWER FOUND; POWER SHARED—and ask ourselves, What is being done as we move through the Steps? As New Founders, we move from SEEKING POWER in Steps 1-3, to TRANSMUTING EXPERIENCE into POWER in Steps 4-9, to NEUTRALIZING the POWER of Addiction in Steps 10 & 11—a much simpler and effective approach. And it is an approach that grew organically out of the difficulties encountered by those who tried to work the Twelve Step Program  as written; not  out of a desire to correct the errors on the Big Book. Reacting against a falsehood will not automatically lead you to the truth.

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Chapter 5
HOW IT WORKS

5.1 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.

5.2 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.

5.3 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.

5.4 Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, 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.

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“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 6
HOW IT REALLY WORKS

The collective experience of four generations of Alcoholics Anonymous suggest that, when practiced as written in the Big Book, the Steps do not work often, and when they do work, they do not work well. 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, less divisive, and more useful.

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. Because the Steps were never properly tested & vetted there was no way of knowing what would work & why; no way of anticipating the numerous risks and pitfalls awaiting the uninitiated; no way to gauge one’s progress through the Steps. We now have those ways; we now have the way out.

While the rank-and-file in AA have allowed the Big Book to turn into a sanctimonious fossil, there has always been a core group who have been devoted to exposing & offsetting its hitherto unknown dangers, while at the same time uncovering and developing its unanticipated strengths. More has been revealed, and it is time to make those revelations public.

5.4 Remember that we deal with Self—subtle, 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 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.”

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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Chapter 5

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.

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Chapter 5

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

 

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Chapter 5

Many of us exclaimed, “What an order! I can’t go through with it.” Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If…

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Chapter 5

Note: Need a transition into the next comparative section

To break the bottle neck at Steps 1, 2, and 3 the Big Book requires you to accept that “any life run on self-will can hardly be a success.” If the reader doesn’t buy into that, there really is nowhere for them to go—the original Big Book manuscript even encouraged the skeptical reader to throw the book away at this point! In our New Basic Text, we require no such agreement in worldview: you will find multiple points of entry—many that even conflict with each other in both theory & practice

© 2019 Michael V. Cossette

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