It is one of the world’s bestselling books and likely the most read of the many thousands of recovery books. This book that has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide is called Alcoholics Anonymous.
But it’s more usually referred to by its nickname – the “Big Book”. It’s called this because of the paper’s thickness it was originally printed on to save costs. As of today it has been translated into 67 languages.
First published in 1939 it was the first time the Twelve Steps recovery program was ever put in print. While most people have heard of the international fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the book that gave its name to the group remains itself relatively anonymous outside of recovery circles.
That book was mostly written by AA co-founder Bill Wilson, a New York stockbroker who discovered that by helping other alcoholics he could stay sober himself. Before then alcoholics were viewed as having an incurable condition that would often end in an early death.
As the number of people increased who were working the new program he devised with a doctor called Bob Smith so did the meetings where they met to help each other. But until the Big Book was published a few years later they had no official name.
With the Big Book at its heart the unprecedented success of AA started to spread from America into Canada and Europe. Today AA meetings are in virtually every country around the world with an estimated two million members.
Twelve Steps for everyone
There has also been the development of many other Twelve Steps groups such as Narcotics Anonymous in 1953, Gamblers Anonymous in 1957 and Overeaters Anonymous three years later. These groups have continued to form to include new addictions such as Internet & Technology Addicts Anonymous that formed in 2009.
The Twelve Steps have been adapted to treat many other mental health conditions including codependency, depression, anxiety, hoarding and workaholism. Now a growing number of people are realizing that the Twelve Steps’ guiding principles as a treatment option can help with nearly all mental health problems.
Even as far back as 1953 the author of the Big Book was aware of this with the publication of another AA book called Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions. In its Foreword he wrote: “Many people, nonalcoholics, report that as a result of the practice of AA’s Twelve Steps, they have been able to meet other difficulties of life.
“They think that the Twelve Steps can mean more than sobriety for problem drinkers. They see in them a way to happy and effective living for many, alcoholic or not.”
The Big Book is a recovery book that’s stood the test of time and that can help everyone, not just alcoholics. Non-alcoholics who read it discover that there is plenty in it for “happy and effective living”.
Big Book quotes
As an introduction, here are some of the best lines from the Big Book.
“One day at a time.”
This is great advice – to live one day at a time. It is perhaps particularly useful during this era of uncertainty with the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic. It means to focus on the now, one day at a time, rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future.
“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.”
People often become selfish because they didn’t learn how to get their needs met healthily as a child. Then as they become more absorbed in themselves they will suffer. This is true of alcoholics and other addicts but it can also be relevant for other mental health conditions.
It is not to say that anyone is a “bad” person, but that they may act selfishly as they desperately seek to fill the loneliness and emptiness of not feeling lovable – that often stems from childhood. But the more selfishly they act, the more people step away or react – and their life gets into a downward spiral.
“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”
This is about acceptance. As the “five stages of grief” show this is the final stage of grieving. It doesn’t mean anyone likes what has happened… but it is accepting that it is how it is.
Increasingly people are seeing that the five stages of grief can help with many life situations. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while.”
The word “resent” derives from Latin meaning to “intently feel”. When we have a resentment we repeatedly go over something unfavorable (or that we have perceived that way). Often this can become like a sports slow-motion action replay in which the resentment is increasingly closely focused on.
It just gets bigger and bigger in our minds – as this is what happens with anything we focus on, whether good or bad. This recreates negative feelings and these feelings lead to more negative thinking.
Obviously this is not a healthy way to live. It’s why forgiveness plays such a significant part in many people’s recovery, including self-forgiveness.
“The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.”
As well as resentment not helping us live to our full, it is clear that neither does jealousy, frustration and fear. They’re all negative emotions that will sap our energy. That’s energy that could have been used in a much more positive way, such as by helping someone else rather than being consumed with resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration or fear.
“Remember that we deal with alcohol – cunning, baffling, powerful!”
Anyone who has vowed to give up alcohol or any other thing they know is detrimental but that is difficult to stop will relate to this statement. The mind seems to play tricks at times, finding “reasons” why a drink or drug or another bet and so on is okay.
But “cunning, baffling and powerful” can also be applied to many mental health conditions. Take anxiety for instance. Someone can feel fine and then before they know it as anxiety has crept up on them in its cunning way they are having a panic attack.
It is all too often baffling when they think back to how they felt relatively calm before it started. It is powerful too in how it feels – and because if the sufferer had any power over it then it wouldn’t be the debilitating painful problem that it is.
“When I am unwilling to do the right thing, I become restless, irritable, and discontent. It is always my choice.”
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck who wrote the bestselling recovery classic The Road Less Traveled spoke about how often people do not even consider the good or bad options there are – as they know deep down the best option will require more effort.
As a result they choose the wrong thing. But this will often lead to problems.
Peck wrote: “We make this failure because we are lazy. It is work to hold these internal debates. They require time and energy just to conduct them.”
He added that if we take them seriously “we usually find ourselves being urged to take the more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less”.
So we inherently know what’s right and wrong and although the wrong thing can in the short-term be seemingly easier, it will frequently lead to feeling restless, irritable and discontent. This is because we cannot escape from our knowing that’s inside us.
Thankfully as the Big Book quote above says, we do always have the choice though.
“Those events that once made me feel ashamed and disgraced now allow me to share with others how to become a useful member of the human race.”
What are known as the “promises” of the Twelve Steps include the statements: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” and “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.”
This is because once such things have been faced with the help of another person who understands these things we can usually see the reasons behind our actions. When we have done some recovery work on ourselves we begin to understand how talking to another person who relates to our past behavior can help by giving them hope that they can get better too. At the same time it also strengthens our own healing process.
“Adversity truly introduces us to ourselves.”
It is in difficult or unpleasant situations that a person’s true character is defined. Often it’s only through facing adversity that we find strength and courage that we never would have otherwise known we had. Even if we don’t like how we responded, if we look into this we can learn and grow from it.
“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.”
Talking about alcoholism recovery, this is notable as it doesn’t say that half measures will get 50 percent of the result. It gets “nothing”.
In fact, many alcoholics who ask for help in AA groups are asked if they are “willing to go to any length” to get and stay sober. They’re told that based on experience it has repeatedly been seen anything they put above their recovery they will eventually lose anyway – such as their job or relationship.
So recovery has to come first. This is true for any addiction and other mental health problems too.
We need to give it our everything. At every second we make this choice as at every second we can decide to turn the way of recovery or not.
Our treatment programs, which can include starting the Twelve Steps, teach ways to deal with negative emotions such as resentments and fear. This is all here in the relaxing comfort of our luxury house right beside a beautiful tranquil lake in Florida’s year-round sunshine.