A first-person account of how one man experienced a spiritual awakening in the Oxford Group which helped him to get sober and turn his life around comA first-person account of how one man experienced a spiritual awakening in the Oxford Group which helped him to get sober and turn his life around completely. Kitchen shows us in concrete and personal terms that not only the 12 Steps, but most of AA's principles and practices originated with the Group. Though more religious than the typical AA story, Kitchen's is an intelligent and systematic exploration of how spiritual change comes about. ...more
Before the advent of AA, what we now call alcoholics were just plain old drunks, bums, or, less disparagingly, inebriates. What we now call alcoholismBefore the advent of AA, what we now call alcoholics were just plain old drunks, bums, or, less disparagingly, inebriates. What we now call alcoholism was a bad habit or vice, namely, the vice of intemperance (hence the Temperance Movement). Seen philosophically and psychologically, it was the product of a weak will. Theologically it was the product of sin. Neither view did much for the alcoholic.
AA changed all of that. It popularized the terms "alcoholic" and "alcoholism" and gained widespread acceptance for the idea that alcoholism was a disease and the alcoholic a sick person. The idea that the alcoholic suffered from a disease helped AA to account for the involuntary nature of his problem: the alcoholic had lost control over his drinking. He was “powerless” over alcohol.
Its concept of a disease was unique. Reflecting the experience of AAs with medicine, psychology, and religion, it was understood as a “threefold” disease: physical, mental, and spiritual. Because experience seemed to show that the spiritual was the root of the disease, its treatment called for working a series of steps leading to a “spiritual awakening.” This would free the alcoholic from the obsession to drink and enable him or her to live on an entirely different basis.
As we know, the 12-Step program that emerged from this has been spectacularly successful. It has helped millions of alcoholics to stop drinking and rebuild our shattered lives. Adapted for use by other groups, the same Steps have helped millions of other people suffering from what later came to be called “addictions,” an umbrella term which now covers an increasingly wider spectrum of “disease.”
While the idea of addiction as disease caught on with the culture, the idea of a threefold disease never fared well outside of AA and the 12-Step recovery movement. Instead, the concept was deconstructed and reduced to the single fold of physiology. Addiction became a medical disease narrowly construed, i.e., construed “scientifically” as biologically determined. It was essentially a matter of genes and brain chemistry. Moving to the other extreme, some in what was now the recovery industry eventually started to challenge that view, arguing that addiction was not involuntary like a disease, but a voluntary choice. The alcoholic simply chose to drink.
As its subtitle indicates, Addiction and Virtue (A&V) is an attempt to go beyond these two now dominant and opposing views: the disease and the choice concepts of addiction. Addiction, contends the author, is neither a disease nor a choice. It is a habit. According to him, the category of habit (as developed in Aristotle and Aquinas) offers an alternative to the disease and the choice models, both of which he claims are plagued with flaws and contradictions.
Dunnington rightly argues that the disease concept understood in exclusively medical—in reductive and deterministic—terms is untenable. If addiction is only a medical disease, addicts should not be able to recover non-medically, that is, independently of medicine. But they do, by the millions. Hence the concept is patently false. We might also add what is a side but not an unimportant point, and this is the fact that few addicts recover solely through medical treatment. Most medically-based treatments work in tandem with one version or another of the 12-Step program.
The fact that addicts can recover in a non-medical context is what led many in the “addiction studies” field to challenge the involuntary disease paradigm and argue that addiction is a matter of choice. On this view, what vitiates the addict’s will and makes him succumb to the object of addiction is not a disease but a character or moral weakness. But if the addict can simply will his own recovery if he so chooses, Dunnington points out, then he’s not an addict. The choice concept solves the addiction problem by denying the category of addiction. Drinking and drugging is just one more failure of will, no different from any other. Though couched in the contemporary language of choice, this view takes us back to the days before AA and erases whatever progress we have managed to make since.
As Dunnington explains it, the category of habit offers an alternative to the disease-choice dichotomy because of its ability to account for both the involuntary and the voluntary aspects of addiction. This is because, on the one hand, a habit is formed in the process of repeated voluntary action over time. On the other hand, once it is formed, the actions that follow from the habit are largely unconscious and involuntary. We just do, more or less automatically, what we have become used to doing. Thus habit facilitates action. In a moral context, the action can lead to the formation of a good habit (a virtue), or a bad one (a vice). For Dunnington “Addictions are like virtues and vices in this respect, [in that] virtues and vices are habits that empower persons to pursue consistently, successfully and with ease various kinds of goods . . . habits through the practice of which human beings aim at the good life, the life of happiness” (96). Vices differ from virtues in that the latter actually do lead to the good life while the former don’t.
In Dunnington's view, then, addiction is a vice. But it isn’t the vice of intemperance, as was generally thought in the past. The alcoholic is not just pursuing the sensory pleasures associated with drinking. He or she is not pursuing a life of hedonism. Instead the alcoholic is pursuing certain moral goods, “like the ability to communicate, being at ease with oneself, being unafraid and being part of a community" (94). As we say in the rooms, drinking makes us feel like we belong; it makes us feel comfortable in our own skin; it makes us feel confident. For a while anyway, it makes us feel that we are OK and life is good.
If addiction is not the vice of intemperance, then what kind of a vice is it? To answer this question Dunnington reaches beyond the philosophical category of habit to the theological category of sin. Addiction, he asserts, is not the same as sin, but it cannot be understood apart from sin. For, insists Dunnington, the good life that the addict seeks can only be found in a right relationship with God. Addiction is a misguided quest for that relationship, a form of counterfeit worship. It is the sin of idolatry.
Now, if Dunnington is right and addiction is a vice rooted in sin, wherein lies the solution? How does this understanding help the alcoholic to stop drinking or the drug addict to stop using? Dunnington doesn’t tell us. His is not a self-help book, he says. It is not meant to provide a list of steps or recovery principles. It is intended instead to help Christians “who rightly sense the spiritual significance of addiction . . . to articulate this significance in theologically substantive terms” (9).
Yet if such articulation is not to be academic and irrelevant, it must have some practical application. And it does, but only as regards the church. “If addiction is false worship," Dunnington asks, "how should the church, which hopes to practice true worship of the true God, respond to addiction?” (169). Dunnington recognizes that such a question cannot be answered without taking into account the success of AA and the 12-Step movement. Indeed, throughout A&V he makes extensive use of the Big Book, the 12&12, and testimony from recovering addicts to support his own view of addiction. Hence one would expect him to find much of positive value in the 12-Step experience for the church to draw on.
That is unfortunately not the case. Though acknowledging the church’s abysmal failure to help addicts, Dunnington sees AA and the 12 Steps—despite their undeniable success—as presenting more risks than opportunities for the church. Regrettably, much of the analysis that results from this outlook reveals a lack of understanding of how AA works and how 12-Step programs in general do help the addict to recover.
This lack of understanding is in many ways baffling. Most baffling for a book that argues against the materialist, reductionist account of addiction as disease is its failure to even so much as mention AA’s alternative concept of alcoholism as a threefold disease. The book argues for a spiritual understanding of addiction and yet if ignores AA’s understanding that a spiritual malady is at the root of the physical and the mental illness in the alcoholic. It proposes a spiritual solution yet gives not the slightest consideration to AA’s solution of a spiritual awakening or experience. It advocates a distinctly Christian solution yet completely overlooks the distinctly Christian understandings underpinning the Big Book and the 12&12, including one of the most fundamental tenets of AA recovery: that we are sober by the grace of God. What, one may ask, is more distinctly Christian than the concept of grace?
A&V’s inability to seriously engage AA is evident from the start. One of the book’s main arguments against the disease concept is that it “obscures the extent to which persons may be expected to take responsibility for their addictions” (10). Yet no one takes more responsibility for his addiction than the person in a 12-Step program who assiduously works Steps 4 through 12. In fact, the argument could be made that such a person takes more responsibility for her addiction than many Christians do for their sin.
Saying that the disease concept obscures a person’s responsibility for his addiction is as questionable as saying that the concept of original sin or of being saved by grace obscures the sinner’s responsibility for his sin. The concept of disease, seen in spiritual terms as AA does, as fundamentally a “soul-sickness” (12&12, 49), is not at all incompatible with the concept of sin. Indeed, sin is often seen in orthodox Christian terms as being a disease, a spiritual one, indeed one with physical, mental, and emotional repercussions, just as AA says of alcoholism.
Unable to appreciate the AA concept of a threefold disease, A&V is unable to grasp the AA concept of powerlessness. Thus we read that according to AA the “admission of powerlessness over alcohol is supposed to be the ‘first step’ toward regaining, in some sense, a power over alcohol.” By making this admission, “they [alcoholics] find access to a power sufficient to reinvigorate the once-impotent will” and make “the inroad to regaining power over the same behavior” (32).
Nowhere does the Big Book or the 12&12 claim that we regain power over alcohol in any sense whatsoever. Our admission of powerlessness is the start of a humble surrender of an illusory power over alcohol which in the process of subsequent Steps allows the grace of God to enter the alcoholic and remove the obsession to drink from us. We are not given any power, strength, or control over it, nor is our will in any way "reinvigorated."
This conception of powerlessness is the basis of the AA claim that “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic,” a claim Dunnington degrades to the level of a “slogan.” Far from being a slogan, that statement is central to the AA understanding of what an alcoholic is. There are of course many understanding of what an alcoholic is, but in AA, an alcoholic is by definition a person who has no control over alcohol and therefore cannot drink normally or safely like other people. Once I become alcoholic, I do not stop being alcoholic. What that means in concrete and practical terms is simple: I cannot drink again, ever.
It is in this sense that AA refers to “alcoholism as “no mere habit,” a statement Dunnington also appears to misinterpret. For him the passage is trying to make a distinction between “’merely’ problem-drinkers and those who are ‘full-blooded’ alcoholics” (68). From this he draws the conclusion that the text is conflating a habit with just a mere disposition or tendency. But the passage is not talking about problem drinkers at all. It is talking about drinkers in the early stages of alcoholism and those in the later stages. By sharing their stories, these low-bottom “last-gaspers” could show the others that they had already lost control over alcohol, sparing them “the last ten or fifteen years of literal hell the rest of us had gone through” (12&12, 23). The “mere” refers to the fact that alcoholism is the kind of habit that, as it progresses, leads to physical, mental, and spiritual breakdown. Those of us who regularly see people die of alcoholism and drug addiction would definitely agree that addiction is “no mere habit.”
AA doesn’t deny that habit enters into alcoholism any more than it denies that sin enters into it. It just doesn’t reduce it to either. Its concept of a threefold disease allows for both. Dunnington doesn’t seem to recognize this. Thus he claims that “Most addicted persons learn from their recovery programs and from a flood of addiction recovery literature to be averse to the language of sin” (126). That's not exactly how we see it. We avoid the language of sin in the rooms because of the stigma associated with it. We learn to avoid it because of our personal experience with religion. The attitudes of condemnation and shame it tends to foster is one of the reasons why alcoholics didn’t feel welcome and couldn't find help in the church. Though these attitudes have softened—thanks in large part to AA—they have not disappeared.
Our negative experience with religion is one of the reasons why the Big Book emphasizes that ours is a spiritual and not a religious program. The number of people making such a distinction has grown exponentially since the start of AA and the 12-Step movement, and not just among those in recovery. But for Dunnington, as for other religious people, those who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are just uttering a “platitude” (171). Such a dismissive attitude hardly makes religion appealing.
Ironically, Dunnington’s own comments unwittingly highlight some such differences between religion and spirituality. This is illustrated by the assertions he makes about what addicts in 12-Step programs “must” do. “First, the addicted person seeking recovery must acknowledge a power greater than himself on which he is dependent” (he cites Step 3 as evidence). And “Second, [he] must adopt as his most fundamental identity that of “alcoholic or addict.” Thus “every time that a person wishes to speak in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or some similar twelve-step recovery program, he or she must begin with the introduction, “I’m Joe, I’m an alcoholic,” or “I’m Sue, I’m an addict” (179-180, my emphasis in all three citations).
Of course, these “requirements,” as he calls them, are not requirements at all. “The only requirement for membership,” reads the AA Preamble, “is a desire to stop drinking.” The fact is that “must” is not the language of recovery. It is the language of religion with its commands, exhortations, and injunctions. We have a name for that. We call it “musty” language. Had AA tried to use it on alcoholics, it would have never gotten off the ground. Indeed, that language and the pressure and coercion that went with it is one of the reasons why alcoholics split from the Oxford Group, which remained too much under the influence of religion even as it tried to distance itself from it. Following the split, AA consciously tried to fashion a different, less religious and more spiritual idiom.
Step 3 doesn’t tell us what to do. If tells us what other alcoholics did that helped them stop drinking. The “decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God” comes gradually as part of a process of spiritual awakening where we come to trust God and surrender entirely to him. It is not a decision that can be imposed. It comes after we admit our powerlessness over alcohol in Step 1 and come to believe that God can restore us to sanity in Step 2. That admission of powerlessness is what leads us to identify ourselves as alcoholics. It too is an act of surrender and humble acceptance of a condition from which only God can deliver us. As I identify myself as an alcoholic, I am also identifying myself with other alcoholics. My admission is not an obligation. It is a recognition of spiritual fellowship. Dunnington shows a similar religious and erroneous understanding of the Steps when he suggests that after Step 1, “the other eleven steps can be understood as exhortations" (165). No they can’t. They are accounts of spiritual experience that works, spiritual principles practiced by alcoholics to stay sober and grow in recovery.
AA’s reference to “God as we understood Him” in Steps 3 and 11 is criticized along the same lines. Anybody who knows the history of AA knows that this phrase was part of a necessary compromise between those who wanted to make AA an explicitly Christian program and those who wanted to rescind with religion altogether and make it a secular psychology program. Were it not for that compromise, there would have been no AA. Nevertheless, the insertion of that phrase in those two Steps (God is mentioned without qualification in Steps 5 and 6) in no way changes the understanding of God which is found throughout the Big Book and the 12&12, and understanding that we have already noted is anchored in the distinctly Christian concept of grace.
These and other misunderstandings and mischaracterizations unfortunately detract from what is an otherwise carefully reasoned book. Dunnington’s is simply not a sympathetic view of AA. He gives it as little credit as he can. Hence his final take on the program. “I am convinced,” he writes, “that the twelve-step movement has been successful largely because of the way in which its format and method demand transformative friendships” (184-185). Format and method: a curious conclusion for a book written from a philosophical and a theological standpoint. In any case, that—not any content—is what the church should emulate.
The sponsor-sponsee relationship is given as a prime example of how format and method can be used by the church to foster friendship and attract addicts to it. The problem is that Dunnington conceives of such a relationship as an Aristotelian “master/apprentice” relationship (188). Thus he cites the 12&12 as purportedly calling newcomers to recovery “novices” and invents a “sponsor/novice” and a “master” and “apprentice” relationship (188) that doesn’t exist in AA at all.
Dunnington’s take reflects the kind of leaders-and-the-led type of relationships that predominate in church. AA is a fellowship of equals, not a hierarchical organization. We have no experts or teachers, no students or disciples. Nor do we place ourselves “under the authority” of “elders” or in “relationships of accountability” (189). No matter how many years sober she may be or how much experience she has acquired, a sponsor is just one drink away from a drunk, just like a newcomer. She simply tries to pass on, humbly and gratefully, what has been so freely given to her.
What the 12&12 is talking about when it uses the word “novice” (60) is doing Step 5 with another person, that is, admitting the exact nature of our wrongs not only to God and to ourselves, but “to another human being”—who need not be one’s sponsor. The danger of “[g]oing it alone in spiritual matters” (60) was learned from the more religious Oxford Group, some of whose members thought God gave them direct “guidance” and so they had no need to check with others what that guidance was. This of course led to all sorts of presumptuous attitudes and behaviors.
Please see Ray's Blog in Goodreads for full review, as not enough space is given here for it....more
After Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Marty M. probably did more than any other alcoholic to make the disease concept of alcoholism socially acceptable, which reAfter Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Marty M. probably did more than any other alcoholic to make the disease concept of alcoholism socially acceptable, which revolutionized the way alcoholics came to be treated at all levels of society.
Founder of the National Council on Alcoholism, she's the third woman to gain a measure of recovery in AA (after Florence R. and Mary C.). She's the author of "Women Suffer Too," in the Personal Stories section of the Big Book, the second story by a woman after Florence R.'s "A Feminine Victory," which can be read in "Experience, Strength & Hope."
There's a lot of AA history in these pages, and, for the perceptive reader, a lot of lessons to be learned about the nature of recovery. The book's main weakness is its promotional tone, and the aura of glamour surrounding Marty's story. Ultimately, Marty M. was just another drunk, no different from Bill and Bob, or from you and me. ...more
The Recovery Bible is an anthology of the original, first-edition Big Book (complete with stories) and works by William James (The Varieties of ReligiThe Recovery Bible is an anthology of the original, first-edition Big Book (complete with stories) and works by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and others who are said to have influenced early AA. The book’s main value is one of convenience, in that it brings these various works together into one volume. Until recently, a first- edition copy of the Big Book was difficult to find, but that is no longer a problem now that AA World Services has published the 75th anniversary edition of that work. All the other selections are available in various editions.
The six selections that accompany the Big Book fall into two groups. On one side is William James, Sam Shoemaker, and Henry Drummond, all of whom emphasize a practical, experience-based spirituality. James is recognized for his contribution to AA’s understanding of a spiritual experience and awakening, and its relation to the concept of surrender. Shoemaker was the Oxford Group’s leader in NYC with whom Bill W. worked very closely and to whom he attributed many of the ideas that went into the 12 Steps. His emphasis on a faith that works is also found in "The Greatest Thing in the World," by Henry Drummond. The latter places great stress on the virtues (e.g., humility, kindness, love) as spiritual principles and on the concept of practice as the means of acquiring and living them out. A common theme in all three works is the idea that to a great extent you are what you do. Hence the need for right action.
The other three writings represent ideas once linked to "New Thought" and now associated with the self-help and New Age movements. These are Ralph Waldo Trine’s “In Tune with the Infinite” (the law of attraction), Emmet Fox’s “The Mental Equivalent” (change your thought and your mind will follow), and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh (as you think, so are you). These writings trade on the idea that who you are and what happens to you is to a great extent determined by the way you think. Thought is understood not so much in rational as in mystical terms, as a universal force or cosmic stream with which we need to align our own thinking if we are to succeed in life.
Anthologies generally have an editor. This one doesn’t. That may account for its main deficiency, with is the absence of an introduction which would put each selection in context and show how the Big Book was influenced by it. The brief, one-paragraph biographical note for each author in the back of the book doesn’t compensate for this lack.
Notwithstanding that, the anthology is worth owning, though reading the six supplemental works (other than the Big Book) requires great commitment and patience. ...more
The Little Black Book: A Review of Twenty-Four Hours a Day
At the time of its publication, Twenty-four Hours a Day filled a spiritual vacuum among recoThe Little Black Book: A Review of Twenty-Four Hours a Day
At the time of its publication, Twenty-four Hours a Day filled a spiritual vacuum among recovering alcoholics. Step 11 in Alcoholics Anonymous called for daily prayer and meditation, but it had left no detailed instructions for how to practice these disciplines. Instead, the Big Book (BB) suggested one memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles it discusses and seek further advice from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi.
That pretty much left alcoholics with religious devotionals, which of course were not written for drunks and which, then as now, don’t address the special needs of those in recovery. It was nevertheless one of these devotionals, God Calling, which inspired one particular alcoholic to write a book that would actually speak to his fellow drunks.
What would be known as the Little Black Book (LBB) started as a series of small cards Richmond Walker wrote out for his own personal use. Wanting to share in these meditations, members of the AA group in Daytona Beach encouraged Rich to turn them into a book and publish it under the group’s sponsorship.
Printed at the local county court house and distributed from Rich’s basement, the book was an immediate success. Between 1948 and 1954 (when Hazelden picked it up), the book sold 18,000 copies, a considerable figure given the size of AA at the time. It went on to spawn the new genre of the modern meditation book, launched Hazelden into the publishing business, and became the best-selling recovery work after the BB, with sales now surpassing 10 million.
The LBB was published anonymously, the only reference to its author being a note in the back to the effect that it was “Compiled by a member of the Group at Daytona Beach, Fla.” Richmond Walker was born of a well-to-do family in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. He was intelligent and highly educated, a thinker attracted to the likes of Plato and Kant. His drinking career started in college at the age of 20 and ended 27 years later in 1939, when he got sober in the Oxford Group (OG). After a brief relapse in 1941, he joined the newly-founded AA group in Boston in 1942. Three years later he published “For Drunks Only” under the sponsorship of the Quincy group of AA, a pamphlet that would also inspire the LBB, a work he started after his move to Daytona.
Organizationally, the LBB is a model of simplicity. Each page (measuring only 3" x 8") has three sections: AA Thought for the Day, Meditation for the Day, and Prayer for the Day, with the last two printed in a smaller font than the first. The Thought takes roughly the first half of the page, with the Meditation covering most of the second half and the Prayer usually the last three lines. This arrangement is consistent throughout the work.
The three sections generally form a thematic whole. The first introduces a theme and concludes with a question which refocuses the reader’s attention on a main idea within that theme (sometimes the entire passage may be a series of questions). The second moves one or more ideas in the theme to the level of sustained meditation. The third prays that an ideal or aspiration contained in the thought or meditation may become a practical reality in own person and life.
Thought, meditation, and prayer are therefore closely linked to each other. They form a spiritual continuum which engages head, heart, and imagination. Here meditation does not seek to by-pass reason or dispense with prayer, as some forms of mediation do. Instead, there’s a harmonious integration of the three which involves deep spiritual reflection and contemplation. The classic model is found in the St. Francis Prayer in Step 11 of AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (12&12), published seven years after the LBB.
Looking briefly at each of the three sections, we will find that the AA Thought for the Day, as the first word suggests, centers around our experience as alcoholics. Much of it is adapted from Walker’s earlier work, “For Drunks Only,” and from the BB, which it quotes liberally. As such, it usually has a narrative cast and speaks in terms of “we” or “I” in relation to our drinking past and our recovery in AA. Some of the “I” passages (e.g. 03/29 – 04/04) are clearly autobiographical, where, following the BB, Rich shares what he was like before he came to AA and what he is like now that he’s sober.
Because the book lacks an index of topics, it is easy to miss the fact that the AA experience shared in the Thought is often organized around well-defined recovery themes. These themes may be broad and cover a continuous range of pages, or narrow and cover single pages at different points in the work.
Examples of the latter are spiritual disciplines like surrender (01/02, 01/25, 03/03); virtues like gratitude (01/22, 07/18, 07/31), character defects like pride (01/04, 04/10, 07/17), and emotional handicaps like fear (03/29, 06/15, 07/10).
Examples of the former are Psychology and Religion (08/01 – 08/07); Big Book study (08/08 – 09/04); AA Slogans (09/05 – 09/08); the Steps (09/16 – 09/24); Spiritual experience (09/25 – 09/27); Meetings and the rooms (09/29 – 10/14); AA service (10/15 – 10/20); the rewards of sobriety (10/21 – 11/05); How we’ve changed (11/05 – 11/25); Slips (11/30 – 12/07), and Fellowship (12/09 – 12/13).
The Meditation for the Day centers broadly on our spiritual awakening. Part of the material in this section is adapted from the aforementioned God Calling, which Walker used in the OG. Sometimes the meditations take the form of affirmations or declarations of spiritual intention. Other times they may be resolutions, but, rather than expressions of self-will, these are more like reminders of spiritual attitudes to cultivate. There are also examples of self-talk intended for spiritual encouragement along the lines of some of the psalms of David.
In addition to specific principles like faith or humility, these meditations cover broad themes such as the spiritual life, spiritual experience, conscious contact, God as we understood him, and practicing the presence of God. What is unique about these meditations is that they manage to be spiritual and at the same time practical, inspirational and at the same time substantive. There’s little fluff in them.
The Prayer for the Day is typically introduced with “I pray that” and has the ring of an aspiration more than of a direct petition. Nor is the prayer addressed directly to God, though it is grounded in God as the source of the power which can make the aspirations of the prayer materialize in our individual lives. Here again spirituality combines with practice and is grounded in experience.
Like the BB, the LBB was heavily influenced by the OG. However, the LBB continues to give prominent display to some concepts the BB has abandoned. Among these are the Four Absolutes (honesty, purity, unselfishness, love, as in 08/29), though the term “absolute” (which is what alcoholics objected to) is avoided and the concept is qualified by the addition of two other essential qualities: humility and gratitude. There’s also the concept of the 5Cs (confidence, confession, conviction, conversion, continuance, as in 05/23 – 05/27), which relates to 12th-Step work with other alcoholics and at times may come across as a little too rigid and religious.
The LBB also uses Biblical allusions more frequently and more directly. The Apostle Paul is mentioned by name on a couple of occasions and direct reference is made to the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Sometimes scriptures are cited directly and placed within quotation marks, but the source is left unidentified. Most of the time, however, the LBB follows the BB precedent of using scripture without quotes or any kind of attribution. An in all cases passages are used to make a practical spiritual point rather than a doctrinal or a theological one.
We may also find some differences in tone. The BB moved away considerably from the language of duty, obligation, and exhortation, for instance. The LBB retains some of this idiom, most obviously in its excessive use of what some AAs call “musty” language, as in the Thought entries of 03/08 and 05/25, where an imperative “must” is stressed in every sentence. Being told what we “must” do doesn’t work that well for us alcoholics. We prefer hearing what the other person is doing to work the program and how that’s working in his or her life.
That’s why the BB adopted a narrative, experience-based approach that favors the use of more modest terms like “may,” and which, by stressing the use of “we” and “I,” tries to encourage sharing and identifying. The LBB follows this model in most of the Thought entries, but in the Meditation it often continues to follow an old instructional and injunctive approach in which the reader is addressed repeatedly as “you” (e.g. 10/10, 10/12, 10/14). To recovering ears, this often sounds a little too preachy, very much the way “must” does. “You” is the formal mode of address of the authority and of the expert, of the lecturer, the teacher, and the preacher. It’s not the language of the heart or of the fellow sufferer. It's a “we” program, we say in the rooms.
The LBB is a transitional work between religion and AA spirituality, and so these flaws are the remnants of an old approach. But they are flaws which LBB has largely left behind, though not as much as we might like. As a whole, the LBB is closer to the letter and the spirit of the BB and of the 12 Steps than any other book in the secondary AA literature. And, it packs more of the program in each of its little pages than any other work. For the recovering alcoholic who wants to practice prayer and meditation on a daily basis, the book still has no equal.
That is in any case my experience. I started using the LBB in 1984 when I was newly sober. After a while I migrated to other books of meditation, many of them published by Hazelden. Eventually, those books wore thin. Six years ago I returned to the LBB and have been using it every day since. Unlike the first time around, it is now heavily marked and annotated. No matter how many times I have read a selection, I often find something useful to reflect upon. It centers me on the spiritual program of recovery. It reminds me where I came from and where I'm going, and it shows me how I can hope to live my life today, one day at a time. ...more