One Man’s Experience of the Big Book

The Big Book

I am a recovered alcoholic – I have gone from heavy drinking that I thought would kill me, and a meaningless life full of suffering – to a sober good life. I want to tell you a little of how the Big Book (the Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous) was and is part of that.

When I first came to AA I went to lots of meetings and heard lots of different things. I was confused by the different things I was hearing from different people. What was AA? Was it a collection of alcoholics who met up to feel better and not alone? Was it a place to unburden myself of my inner pain through sharing? Was it somewhere to go to bolster my weak willpower? I accepted the help of the first person who put in the time and effort to really help me – he basically became my first “sponsor”, Wayne P.  This sponsor advised me I needed to put AA first, to do the Steps and to buy a Big Book. I bought the Big Book and after reading it for a while a strange thing happened – it made me part company with my first sponsor. It felt a little like “chucking” a girlfriend. I was very nervous to do it and just before a meeting started, I turned to him and mumbled “I don’t want you to sponsor me anymore.”

What made me do this? It was the fact that I had come to trust the Big Book; and this guy was saying things and acting in ways which seemed to contradict it. For example he said in emphatic tones “life is a struggle!” whereas the Big Book authors said they have found a way of life which became incredibly more wonderful as time passed. I cannot remember precisely what other things my first sponsor said or did, but I do remember they made me lose trust in him.

Another question worth asking is: why did I trust the Big Book – some old 1930’s-style religious sounding text – rather than the living breathing example of a 4-year sober, willing-to-help, alcoholic? One reason was that this book was clearly AA. Not only did it have the same name as AA, it said on the front it was the “basic text”. Even to a beginner like me it was obvious this book was at the heart of AA. A second reason I trusted it was that it was written by alcoholics for alcoholics. No psychiatrist or family member or girlfriend had ever been able to talk to me in the way the Big Book did. The chapter More about Alcoholism described a way of thinking about alcohol that made me realise “That’s it! That’s how I think!” It described drinking in a way I don’t remember hearing in the meetings I’d been to. It talked straight to my drinking heart – which then was the heart of my life. A final reason I trusted the Big Book was I wanted to trust it. I needed some kind of anchor. I was hearing contradictory things from people in AA – I needed something in AA I could believe was what AA was all about. And I also wanted to believe that the promises in the Big Book were true: that freedom from alcohol and a life beyond my wildest dreams were possible.

Around the same time that I parted company with my first sponsor I met another AA member called Wayne P who seemed to have a life and attitude I wanted, as well as 5 years sobriety. At first I was mistrustful of everyone in AA after my first sponsor. But this second sponsor seemed trustworthy, not just because he read his Big Book every day and seemed to value its content, but also because he seemed to be living the spirit of the book. He sponsored me through the Steps in a few months and still sponsors me now 15 years later. While doing the Steps I found freedom from alcohol and a good sober life.

But the ways the Big Book has helped me do not stop there. When I was a few years sober, I had much material and professional success. My ego began to resurge and I started to think maybe I knew better about a number of things than AA or my sponsor did; that maybe my relationship with God wasn’t so important. Over a period of time this attitude (which I didn’t even notice emerging) led me to a position of not feeling so good. I began to try and make myself better through finding the right relationship, the right career, the right relaxation, etc. But I just felt worse and worse. I even got to the point where I began to wonder if it was worth being in AA, given the restrictions it made on my life without seeming to make me feel much better. Eventually while talking to my sponsor about this I said something like “what do I do to make it work?” And he said “read the Big Book and do what’s in it”. I had been reading the Big Book every day, ever since I started the Steps. But I had been doing less and less of what was in it. Two particular things jumped out to me when I read the actions: Step 11 and then Step 12.

The Big Book goes on and on about God, but my life was not about God. I started to follow the Step 11 suggestions in the Big Book morning and evening. The Big Book goes on and on about sacrificing time to working with others, if needs be every day or night. Apart from meetings, I only worked with others one or two times a week and then grudgingly. I began again to give up much of “my” time to God and newcomers. Eventually I began to see how I had stopped getting honest about Step 10 properly. I began many things that I had neglected, and was inspired to do many new things as well. All I can say is that my life is now better than it has ever been and I believe it will continue to get better. That is what the Big Book has done for me.

AK, Road to Recovery Group, Plymouth, Jan 2012