The Philosophy Behind AA

While it is true that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and most of its early members were white men and their bent was decidedly Christian, we must not hold that against them, no matter how fashionable that may be in this day and age.

One of the mainstay philosophies of Alcoholics Anonymous is the concept of “one day at a time.” Of course, AA did not invent this concept. Nor did it come about via a 1970s sitcom of the same name. It's an ancient philosophy that transcends East and West. The Buddha exhorted people not to dwell on the past or brood about the future. The wise man focused on the Now. A sense of mindfulness, awareness of the present moment without being assaulted by distractions from a past you can't change and a future that remains a mystery, is a great way to stay focused and sane.

St. Augustine's notion of God as residing in the Eternal Now, unaffected by the vicissitudes of linear time, is also a model. And Augustine's seminal work, Confessions, was read by Bill Wilson, who gained strength from its powerful message of a profligate personage's pilgrimage toward prominence.

No Cure

Members of AA do not consider themselves “cured.” To do so is actually a dangerous belief, because the malevolent menace that is alcoholism lays dormant within a person. Recovering alcoholics merely maintain that they will stay sober “today.” Today they will not pick up the first drink. This philosophy allays the fear and crippling mind games an addict plays on himself. Stop, smell the flowers, and don't take the first drink. Hardly original, but when applied by an alcoholic to his situation, the results can be miraculous.

Members of AA feel there is no cure for alcholism. They stay away from the first drink “one day at a time.” This philosophy is not unique to AA. It is an ancient tradition that goes back millennia and transcends East and West.

The Serenity Prayer

The noted medieval philosopher (and animal lover) St. Francis of Assisi, several centuries before Bill met Bob, inadvertently provided AA with one of its foremost philosophies, in the form of what is known as the Serenity Prayer. The prayer offers a guide for living that promotes positive peace of mind, be you a tippler or teetotaler, or former tippler-turned-teetotaler. In other words, everyone can benefit from practicing its principles.

Alcoholics Anonymous uses the Serenity Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi as a meditation to reflect upon and a source of succor: Godgrant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, thecourage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know thedifference.

The Meetings

AA meetings usually take place in an inexpensive meeting place, often a church basement — not for any other reason than the landlord is empathetic, and the rates are reasonable. There are no dues or fees, but they do pass the basket to pay for the room and the coffee. The meetings take several forms. Some are discussion meetings, where an informal leader will speak for a few minutes and then go around the room, offering any in attendance the opportunity to share their thoughts about the topic of discussion. Themes such as “acceptance” or “gratitude” are discussed, but they are merely a springboard to spur the free and open discussion of alcoholism. Some attendees take the opportunity to “dump” or blow off steam about a situation that's currently bothering them. This is usually politely indulged, but an emphasis on alcoholism and recovery is stressed. It is, after all, the reason why they are all assembled.

At step meetings, one of the twelve steps is read and discussed. (The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics will be discussed later in this chapter. They are a plan for living devised by Bill Wilson.) Big Book meetings entail reading a passage from the Big Book and commenting about its practical application. The Big Book is simply the nickname for the book Alcoholics Anonymous, written by Bill Wilson, with a little help from his friends. The first part of the book is Wilson's story and a plan of action for the recovering alcoholic. The latter section of the book contains diverse personal stories of other people who found help through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Until Alcoholics Anonymous, most alcoholics stopped drinking through stubborn determination or a religious conversion. AA offers another method, a design for living that enables the alcoholic to stay away from the first drink and also find the serenity that eludes the suffering alcoholic.

Open meetings are, as the name suggests, open to the public. Usually, three speakers address the assembly. Though the other type meetings are generally regarded as closed, there is no membership list. No attendance is taken, and no one will ask your name. The fact that you are there implies a desire to stop drinking. Nonalcoholics who may have a strange desire to “crash” an AA meeting can do so without fear, though one wonders why they would want to.

A Sponsor

The newcomer hooks up with someone, known as a sponsor. The sponsor is a person who has been around the block vis-à-vis recovery. Often (but not necessarily) older, this person guides the newcomer through the early stages of recovery, answering any questions he or she may have, accompanying them to meetings, and being available for advice and support. This harkens back to the age-old tradition of the mentor. As the Academicians looked to Plato and the Lyceumites hung on the words of Aristotle, newcomers look to their sponsor. However, these men and women do not claim any special wisdom; they merely know what worked for them and help themselves by helping out the next fellow. They are midwives in the Socratic tradition, humbly helping to bridge the chasm from the depths of despair to the heights of hope.

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