How My Dog Saved Me
How my dog saved me by Nancy Carr Author of “Last Call”
I grew up with a terrier poodle mutt mix, Casey. We got her at our local Safeway in Palos Verdes, California in 1974. She was this black curly ball of fur and we loved her from the day Mom brought her home. She lived for a very long time, 19 years, and she was a very good family dog to us. I never knew a life without a dog as my Dad got a buff colored cocker spaniel soon after Casey was put down and me and, my then boyfriend, adopted her for a year or so before my sister and, her then husband, took Khaki in for a few years before her demise. Having a dog around was always normal for me and it was also always something I wanted and longed for. However, living my life the way I was in my 20s and 30s, I could barely take care of myself most days, let alone another living creature. All my houseplants died within days of me bringing them home and I never lived in any one place too long to grow roots or have any normalcy in my life. By the time I got sober, I had over 25 geographic’s.
In 2004, the year I got sober, I knew that I really wanted to get a dog. I also knew that I needed to wait a while as I was really just starting to get my own life in order and trying to navigate a new existence without alcohol and drugs. So for a few years I was able to love on close friends’ furry creatures to get me ready until I could rescue my own pup. There were only a couple criteria that were musts for me on getting a dog. One, was that it had to be a rescue dog, and the other one was that I wanted a real dog, a man’s dog. No small yappy looking football of a poochie for me. I wanted a dog of some real substance. Even though I grew up with smaller dogs, I leaned towards the bigger dopey floppy dogs of drool and girth. I initially wanted a chocolate lab as a good friend of mine had one years ago and I really fell in love with her. She was darling and sweet, and sturdy and strong – great dog combo!
So in 2008 I found myself 4 years sober and ready to embark on the possibility of getting my own dog. My lifestyle had me single, living in a 2 BR ocean view apartment in Encinitas and working from home for a NYC based company. I really wasn’t even sure I would be able to manage a dog full-time as I was doing a decent amount of weekend traveling and usually after work I was running off to a meeting, our out to dinner or a yoga and I was gone for hours at a time. What kind of a lifestyle would that be for a dog? And also would I really be able to afford this from a financial standpoint? My company had taken a hit with the economy and I didn’t know how long I’d have with my current job as people were getting laid off pretty regularly. A lot of unknowns were scurrying around in my mind and I had some doubts. Here is where God intervened for me, God won’t give you more than you can handle.
I decided to see if I could do a trial run of being a dog owner; a test drive if you will. I went online to inquire if I could dog sit for someone for a few weeks while they were off backpacking through Europe or taking a summer hiatus in the Hamptons, or doing whatever someone was doing who needed a complete stranger to watch their dog for them. Within minutes of being on Craig’s list, I found a gal who needed someone to do just that. She needed someone to watch her Boxer for her while she lived in Seattle for 6 weeks to finish a job training program. I knew nothing about the Boxer breed and googled it quickly to find them and, well – ok, although it wasn’t a chocolate lab, it sure looked like a promising breed and their mugs were kinda cute and goofy. The dog owner needed someone to take in and care for the dog, while she would supply all the food and pay a nominal fee. Sounded like a plan to me. The next day I met said dog owner and floppy drooly dog when they came over to my apartment and interviewed me. She also did this with 3 other applicants. There were other applicants? I didn’t win the prize here? I felt a bit defeated and didn’t think she’d pick me as I was up against a family with 2 kids and a yard, and another single person who lived in a house, not an apartment. Two days later she called to tell me I won the prize. I was so excited and actually felt quite flattered. She told me that she felt a good vibe with me and liked that I lived alone, worked out of my house, and lived close to dog beach. The dog’s name was Vegas (totally not a name that I would ever choose for a 75 lb pure bred Boxer), and I didn’t question it. This dog was fully trained, very well mannered and oh so lovable. I fell hard for Vegas before the owner could even pull out of my driveway. Vegas was a sweetie pie of a dog and lavished me with unconditional love – all day – every day. Our 6 weeks flew by and I soon learned to love the Boxer breed. So much so that I started looking into the local Boxer rescue organization in San Diego. Soon Vegas’ owner came back and I was so so sad to see her go. I was hoping the owner would just fall off the face of the earth and abandon the dog completely, but then I realized she wasn’t an alcoholic and that normal people don’t do shit like that.
Less than 2 weeks later, I went to the San Diego boxer rescue in East County, and adopted Lucy. Lucy’s name when I adopted her was Princess. Seriously? Who would name a Boxer, Princess? I could see a small barky dog with that name, but not a sturdy jovial dog like a Boxer. I named Lucy after a Grateful Dead song and soon found out that Lucy was the 3rd most popular female dog name in the country. So much for being original. I was Lucy’s third owner and it was evident someone had spent time training her. She could sit, stay, roll over and give me her paw. They thought she was about 2 or 3 years old and they told me she was a pure bred Boxer. Nope, she is some mash up of a Boxer/American Bulldog mix and none of that even mattered to me. Lucy has the sweetest disposition and her face is just so gosh darn cute. I soon realized that she had rescued me and not vice versa because up until that point in my life Lucy was the 2nd best thing that had ever happened to me. (Getting sober being the first of course). Here’s the thing, I was 41 yrs old and I knew I wasn’t going to have any children, so Lucy became my child. Yup, I swore I’d never turn into one of those “dog people” and I surely did. I saw the movie, “Best in Show” right before I adopted Lucy and I couldn’t fathom how anyone could get that bad. Oh yes, that was me. My “Busy Bee” is “Pinky the Pig”.
It’s been said that pet therapy is one of the best anti-depressants out there. I am here to say hands down, Yes it is! Pet therapy is used in non-medical settings, such as universities and community programs, to help people deal with anxiety and stress and it’s fastly becoming a therapy for the elderly population, as well as the mentally ill. So this is where my depression story comes in and Lucy saves the day. Soon after I adopted Lucy, I went through my first real sober life test, a break up. Gasp! I had no coping tools to manage this kind of life event. I was devastated and wasn’t mentally or emotionally equipped to handle this emotional disturbance. I won’t bore you with the sad sack details of how many boxes of tissues I went through and how I lost 8 lbs in 3 days, but let’s just say Lucy literally saved my life. I had to keep coming back for her now; it wasn’t just about me anymore. I couldn’t leave her, I couldn’t abandon her, and I couldn’t go out and get drunk or high and not be accountable to Lucy. It was all about her. She needed to be fed, she needed to be walked, she needed my love and within a few months I bounced back from that break up a stronger and more stable sober person. I have God and Lucy to thank for that. I sometimes like to think that God and Lucy are one in the same – it may sound a bit crazy to you, but to me it makes complete sense.
If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.
– Will Rogers
From the Twelve and Twelve
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another
human being the exact nature of our
ALL OF A.A.’s Twelve Steps ask us to go contrary to our
natural desires . . . they all deflate our egos. When it comes
to ego deflation, few Steps are harder to take than Five. But
scarcely any Step is more necessary to longtime sobriety
and peace of mind than this one.
A.A. experience has taught us we cannot live alone
with our pressing problems and the character defects which
cause or aggravate them. If we have swept the searchlight
of Step Four back and forth over our careers, and it has revealed
in stark relief those experiences we’d rather not
remember, if we have come to know how wrong thinking
and action have hurt us and others, then the need to quit living
by ourselves with those tormenting ghosts of yesterday
gets more urgent than ever. We have to talk to somebody
So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this,
that many A.A.’s at first try to bypass Step Five. We search
for an easier way—which usually consists of the general
and fairly painless admission that when drinking we were
sometimes bad actors. Then, for good measure, we add dramatic
descriptions of that part of our drinking behavior
which our friends probably know about anyhow.
But of the things which really bother and burn us, we
say nothing. Certain distressing or humiliating memories,
we tell ourselves, ought not be shared with anyone. These
will remain our secret. Not a soul must ever know. We hope
they’ll go to the grave with us.
Yet if A.A.’s experience means anything at all, this is
not only unwise, but is actually a perilous resolve. Few
muddled attitudes have caused us more trouble than holding
back on Step Five. Some people are unable to stay
sober at all; others will relapse periodically until they really
clean house. Even A.A. old timers, sober for years, often
pay dearly for skimping this Step. They will tell how they
tried to carry the load alone; how much they suffered of irritability,
anxiety, remorse, and depression; and how,
unconsciously seeking relief, they would sometimes accuse
even their best friends of the very character defects they
themselves were trying to conceal. They always discovered
that relief never came by confessing the sins of other people.
Everybody had to confess his own.
This practice of admitting one’s defects to another person
is, of course, very ancient. It has been validated in
every century, and it characterizes the lives of all spiritually
centered and truly religious people. But today religion is by
no means the sole advocate of this saving principle. Psychiatrists
and psychologists point out the deep need every
human being has for practical insight and knowledge of his
own personality flaws and for a discussion of them with an
understanding and trustworthy person. So far as alcoholics
are concerned, A.A. would go even further. Most of us
would declare that without a fearless admission of our defects
to another human being we could not stay sober. It
seems plain that the grace of God will not enter to expel our
destructive obsessions until we are willing to try this.
What are we likely to receive from Step Five? For one
thing, we shall get rid of that terrible sense of isolation
we’ve always had. Almost without exception, alcoholics are
tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad
and people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the
feeling that we didn’t quite belong. Either we were shy, and
dared not draw near others, or we were apt to be noisy good
fellows craving attention and companionship, but never
getting it—at least to our way of thinking. There was always
that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor
understand. It was as if we were actors on a stage, suddenly
realizing that we did not know a single line of our parts.
That’s one reason we loved alcohol too well. It did let us act
extemporaneously. But even Bacchus boomeranged on us;
we were finally struck down and left in terrified loneliness.
When we reached A.A., and for the first time in our
lives stood among people who seemed to understand, the
sense of belonging was tremendously exciting. We thought
the isolation problem had been solved. But we soon discovered
that while we weren’t alone any more in a social sense,
we still suffered many of the old pangs of anxious apartness.
Until we had talked with complete candor of our
conflicts, and had listened to someone else do the same
thing, we still didn’t belong. Step Five was the answer. It
was the beginning of true kinship with man and God.
This vital Step was also the means by which we began
to get the feeling that we could be forgiven, no matter what
we had thought or done. Often it was while working on this
Step with our sponsors or spiritual advisers that we first felt
truly able to forgive others, no matter how deeply we felt
they had wronged us. Our moral inventory had persuaded
us that all-round forgiveness was desirable, but it was only
when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly
knew we’d be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too.
Another great dividend we may expect from confiding
our defects to another human being is humility—a word often
misunderstood. To those who have made progress in
A.A., it amounts to a clear recognition of what and who we
really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what
we could be. Therefore, our first practical move toward humility
must consist of recognizing our deficiencies. No
defect can be corrected unless we clearly see what it is. But
we shall have to do more than see. The objective look at
ourselves we achieved in Step Four was, after all, only a
look. All of us saw, for example, that we lacked honesty
and tolerance, that we were beset at times by attacks of selfpity
or delusions of personal grandeur. But while this was a
humiliating experience, it didn’t necessarily mean that we
had yet acquired much actual humility. Though now recognized,
our defects were still there. Something had to be
done about them. And we soon found that we could not
wish or will them away by ourselves.
More realism and therefore more honesty about ourselves
are the great gains we make under the influence of
Step Five. As we took inventory, we began to suspect how
much trouble self-delusion had been causing us. This had
brought a disturbing reflection. If all our lives we had more
or less fooled ourselves, how could we now be so sure that
we weren’t still self-deceived? How could we be certain
that we had made a true catalog of our defects and had really
admitted them, even to ourselves? Because we were still
bothered by fear, self-pity, and hurt feelings, it was probable
we couldn’t appraise ourselves fairly at all. Too much guilt
and remorse might cause us to dramatize and exaggerate
our shortcomings. Or anger and hurt pride might be the
smoke screen under which we were hiding some of our defects
while we blamed others for them. Possibly, too, we
were still handicapped by many liabilities, great and small,
we never knew we had.
Hence it was most evident that a solitary self-appraisal,
and the admission of our defects based upon that alone,
wouldn’t be nearly enough. We’d have to have outside help
if we were surely to know and admit the truth about ourselves—the
help of God and another human being. Only by
discussing ourselves, holding back nothing, only by being
willing to take advice and accept direction could we set foot
on the road to straight thinking, solid honesty, and genuine
Yet many of us still hung back. We said, “Why can’t
‘God as we understand Him’ tell us where we are astray? If
the Creator gave us our lives in the first place, then He must
know in every detail where we have since gone wrong.
Why don’t we make our admissions to Him directly? Why
do we need to bring anyone else into this?”
At this stage, the difficulties of trying to deal rightly
with God by ourselves are twofold. Though we may at first
be startled to realize that God knows all about us, we are
apt to get used to that quite quickly. Somehow, being alone
with God doesn’t seem as embarrassing as facing up to another
person. Until we actually sit down and talk aloud
about what we have so long hidden, our willingness to
clean house is still largely theoretical. When we are honest
with another person, it confirms that we have been honest
with ourselves and with God.
The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone
may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful
thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we
can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation,
and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is.
Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous. How many
times have we heard well-intentioned people claim the
guidance of God when it was all too plain that they were
sorely mistaken. Lacking both practice and humility, they
had deluded themselves and were able to justify the most
arrant nonsense on the ground that this was what God had
told them. It is worth noting that people of very high spiritual
development almost always insist on checking with
friends or spiritual advisers the guidance they feel they have
received from God. Surely, then, a novice ought not lay
himself open to the chance of making foolish, perhaps tragic,
blunders in this fashion. While the comment or advice of
others may be by no means infallible, it is likely to be far
more specific than any direct guidance we may receive
while we are still so inexperienced in establishing contact
with a Power greater than ourselves.
Ou0rating. Perhaps we shall need to share with this person facts
about ourselves which no others ought to know. We shall
want to speak with someone who is experienced, who not
only has stayed dry but has been able to surmount other serious
difficulties. Difficulties, perhaps, like our own. This
person may turn out to be one’s sponsor, but not necessarily
If you have developed a high confidence in him, and his
temperament and problems are close to your own, then
such a choice will be good. Besides, your sponsor already
has the advantage of knowing something about your case.
Perhaps, though, your relation to him is such that you
would care to reveal only a part of your story. If this is the
situation, by all means do so, for you ought to make a beginning
as soon as you can. It may turn out, however, that
you’ll choose someone else for the more difficult and deeper
revelations. This individual may be entirely outside of
A.A.—for example, your clergyman or your doctor. For
some of us, a complete stranger may prove the best bet.
The real tests of the situation are your own willingness
to confide and your full confidence in the one with whom
you share your first accurate self-survey. Even when you’ve
found the person, it frequently takes great resolution to approach
him or her. No one ought to say the A.A. program
requires no willpower; here is one place you may require
all you’ve got. Happily, though, the chances are that you
will be in for a very pleasant surprise. When your mission
is carefully explained, and it is seen by the recipient of your
confidence how helpful he can really be, the conversation
will start easily and will soon become eager. Before long,
your listener may well tell a story or two about himself
which will place you even more at ease. Provided you hold
back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute
to minute. The dammed-up emotions of years break out of
their confinement, and miraculously vanish as soon as they
are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquility
takes its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined,
something else of great moment is apt to occur.
Many an A.A., once agnostic or atheistic, tells us that it was
during this stage of Step Five that he first actually felt the
presence of God. And even those who had faith already often
become conscious of God as they never were before.
This feeling of being at one with God and man, this
emerging from isolation through the open and honest sharing
of our terrible burden of guilt, brings us to a resting
place where we may prepare ourselves for the following
Steps toward a full and meaningful sobriety.
Step Ten Eleven and Twelve
STEPS TEN, ELEVEN, AND TWELVE FROM THE “TWELVE AND TWELVE” OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
“Continued to take personal inventory and
when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
AS we work the first nine Steps, we prepare ourselves for
the adventure of a new life. But when we approach Step
Ten we commence to put our A.A. way of living to practical
use, day by day, in fair weather or foul. Then comes the
acid test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and
live to good purpose under all conditions?
A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real
desire to learn and grow by this means, are necessities forWe alcoholics have learned this the hard way. More experienced
people, of course, in all times and places have
practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism. For the wise
have always known that no one can make much of his life
until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able
to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently
and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.
When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank
heavily yesterday, he cannot live well today. But there is
another kind of hangover which we all experience whether
we are drinking or not. That is the emotional hangover, the
direct result of yesterday’s and sometimes today’s excesses
of negative emotion—anger, fear, jealousy, and the like. If
we would live serenely today and tomorrow, we certainly
need to eliminate these hangovers. This doesn’t mean we
need to wander morbidly around in the past. It requires an
admission and correction of errors now. Our inventory enables
us to settle with the past. When this is done, we are
really able to leave it behind us. When our inventory is
carefully taken, and we have made peace with ourselves,
the conviction follows that tomorrow’s challenges can be
met as they come.
Although all inventories are alike in principle, the time
factor does distinguish one from another. There’s the spotcheck
inventory, taken at any time of the day, whenever we
find ourselves getting tangled up. There’s the one we take at
day’s end, when we review the happenings of the hours just
past. Here we cast up a balance sheet, crediting ourselves
with things well done, and chalking up debits where due.
Then there are those occasions when alone, or in the company
of our sponsor or spiritual adviser, we make a careful
review of our progress since the last time. Many A.A.’s go
in for annual or semiannual housecleanings. Many of us
also like the experience of an occasional retreat from the
outside world where we can quiet down for an undisturbed
day or so of self-overhaul and meditation.
Aren’t these practices joy-killers as well as time-consumers?
Must A.A.’s spend most of their waking hours?
drearily rehashing their sins of omission or commission?
Well, hardly. The emphasis on inventory is heavy only because
a great many of us have never really acquired the
habit of accurate self-appraisal. Once this healthy practice
has become grooved, it will be so interesting and profitable
that the time it takes won’t be missed. For these minutes
and sometimes hours spent in self-examination are bound
to make all the other hours of our day better and happier.
And at length our inventories become a regular part of everyday
living, rather than something unusual or set apart.
Before we ask what a spot-check inventory is, let’s look
at the kind of setting in which such an inventory can do its
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed,
no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the
wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What
about “justifiable” anger? If somebody cheats us, aren’t we
entitled to be mad? Can’t we be properly angry with selfrighteous
folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions.
We have found that justified anger ought to be left to
those better qualified to handle it.
Few people have been more victimized by resentments
than have we alcoholics. It mattered little whether our resentments
were justified or not. A burst of temper could
spoil a day, and a well-nursed grudge could make us miserably
ineffective. Nor were we ever skillful in separating
justified from unjustified anger. As we saw it, our wrath
was always justified. Anger, that occasional luxury of more
balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely.
These emotional “dry benders” often led straight to
the bottle. Other kinds of disturbances—jealousy, envy,
self-pity, or hurt pride—did the same thing.
A spot-check inventory taken in the midst of such disturbances
can be of very great help in quieting stormy
emotions. Today’s spot check finds its chief application to
situations which arise in each day’s march. The consideration of long-standing difficulties had better be postponed,
when possible, to times deliberately set aside for that purpose.
The quick inventory is aimed at our daily ups and
downs, especially those where people or new events throw
us off balance and tempt us to make mistakes.
In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest
analysis of what is involved, a willingness to admit when
the fault is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when
the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when
we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines
are not easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.
Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.
This carries a top priority rating. When we speak or
act hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant
evaporates on the spot. One unkind tirade or one willful
snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person for
a whole day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off like
restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered
criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same
goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby
traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to
sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we
should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can
neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of selfrestraint
has become automatic.
Disagreeable or unexpected problems are not the only
ones that call for self-control. We must be quite as careful
when we begin to achieve some measure of importance and
material success. For no people have ever loved personal
triumphs more than we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which could never fail to make us feel
elated. When temporary good fortune came our way, we indulged
ourselves in fantasies of still greater victories over
people and circumstances. Thus blinded by prideful selfconfidence,
we were apt to play the big shot. Of course,
people turned away from us, bored or hurt.
Now that we’re in A.A. and sober, and winning back the
esteem of our friends and business associates, we find that
we still need to exercise special vigilance. As an insurance
against “big-shot-ism” we can often check ourselves by remembering
that we are today sober only by the grace of
God and that any success we may be having is far more His
success than ours.
Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves,
are to some extent emotionally ill as well as
frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and
see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become
more and more evident as we go forward that it is
pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who,
like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.
Such a radical change in our outlook will take time,
maybe a lot of time. Not many people can truthfully assert
that they love everybody. Most of us must admit that we
have loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to
the many so long as none of them gave us trouble; and as
for the remainder—well, we have really disliked or hated
them. Although these attitudes are common enough, we
A.A.’s find we need something much better in order to keep
our balance. We can’t stand it if we hate deeply. The idea
that we can be possessively loving of a few, can ignore the
many, and can continue to fear or hate anybody, has to be
abandoned, if only a little at a time.
We can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon
those we love. We can show kindness where we had shown
none. With those we dislike we can begin to practice justice
and courtesy, perhaps going out of our way to understand
and help them.
Whenever we fail any of these people, we can promptly
admit it—to ourselves always, and to them also, when the
admission would be helpful. Courtesy, kindness, justice,
and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony
with practically anybody. When in doubt we can
always pause, saying, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.”
And we can often ask ourselves, “Am I doing to others as I
would have them do to me—today?”
When evening comes, perhaps just before going to
sleep, many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This
is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always
done in red ink. It’s a poor day indeed when we
haven’t done something right. As a matter of fact, the waking
hours are usually well filled with things that are
constructive. Good intentions, good thoughts, and good acts
are there for us to see. Even when we have tried hard and
failed, we may chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of
all. Under these conditions, the pains of failure are converted
into assets. Out of them we receive the stimulation we
need to go forward. Someone who knew what he was talking
about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all
spiritual progress. How heartily we A.A.’s can agree with
him, for we know that the pains of drinking had to come
before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity.
As we glance down the debit side of the day’s ledger,
we should carefully examine our motives in each thought
or act that appears to be wrong. In most cases our motives
won’t be hard to see and understand. When prideful, angry,
jealous, anxious, or fearful, we acted accordingly, and that
was that. Here we need only recognize that we did act or
think badly, try to visualize how we might have done better,
and resolve with God’s help to carry these lessons over into
tomorrow, making, of course, any amends still neglected.
But in other instances only the closest scrutiny will reveal
what our true motives were. There are cases where our
ancient enemy, rationalization, has stepped in and has justified
conduct which was really wrong. The temptation here
is to imagine that we had good motives and reasons when
we really didn’t.
We “constructively criticized” someone who needed it,
when our real motive was to win a useless argument. Or,
the person concerned not being present, we thought we
were helping others to understand him, when in actuality
our true motive was to feel superior by pulling him down.
We sometimes hurt those we love because they need to be
“taught a lesson,” when we really want to punish. We were
depressed and complained we felt bad, when in fact we
were mainly asking for sympathy and attention. This odd
trait of mind and emotion, this perverse wish to hide a bad
motive underneath a good one, permeates human affairs
from top to bottom. This subtle and elusive kind of self-righteousness
can underlie the smallest act or thought.
Learning daily to spot, admit, and correct these flaws is the
essence of character-building and good living. An honest
regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received,
and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow
will be the permanent assets we shall seek.
Having so considered our day, not omitting to take due
note of things well done, and having searched our hearts
with neither fear nor favor, we can truly thank God for the
blessings we have received and sleep in good conscience.
“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
PRAYER and meditation are our principal means of conscious
contact with God.
We A.A.’s are active folk, enjoying the satisfactions of
dealing with the realities of life, usually for the first time in
our lives, and strenuously trying to help the next alcoholic
who comes along. So it isn’t surprising that we often tend to
slight serious meditation and prayer as something not really
necessary. To be sure, we feel it is something that might
help us to meet an occasional emergency, but at first many
of us are apt to regard it as a somewhat mysterious skill of
clergymen, from which we may hope to get a secondhand
benefit. Or perhaps we don’t believe in these things at all.
To certain newcomers and to those one-time agnostics
who still cling to the A.A. group as their higher power,
claims for the power of prayer may, despite all the logic and
experience in proof of it, still be unconvincing or quite objectionable.
Those of us who once felt this way can
certainly understand and sympathize. We well remember
how something deep inside us kept rebelling against the
idea of bowing before any God. Many of us had strong log-
ic, too, which “proved” there was no God whatever. What
about all the accidents, sickness, cruelty, and injustice in the
world? What about all those unhappy lives which were the
direct result of unfortunate birth and uncontrollable circumstances?
Surely there could be no justice in this scheme of
things, and therefore no God at all.
Sometimes we took a slightly different tack. Sure, we
said to ourselves, the hen probably did come before the
egg. No doubt the universe had a “first cause” of some sort,
the God of the Atom, maybe, hot and cold by turns. But
certainly there wasn’t any evidence of a God who knew or
cared about human beings. We liked A.A. all right, and
were quick to say that it had done miracles. But we recoiled
from meditation and prayer as obstinately as the scientist
who refused to perform a certain experiment lest it prove
his pet theory wrong. Of course we finally did experiment,
and when unexpected results followed, we felt different; in
fact we knew different; and so we were sold on meditation
and prayer. And that, we have found, can happen to anybody
who tries. It has been well said that “almost the only
scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough.”
Those of us who have come to make regular use of
prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse
air, food, or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we
refuse air, light, or food, the body suffers. And when we
turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive
our minds, our emotions, and our intuitions of vitally needed
support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of
nourishment, so can the soul. We all need the light of God’s
reality, the nourishment of His strength, and the atmosphere
of His grace. To an amazing extent the facts of A.A. Life
confirm this ageless truth.
There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation,
and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can
bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically
related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation
for life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of
that ultimate reality which is God’s kingdom. And we will
be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm
will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to
find and do the will of our own Creator.
As we have seen, self-searching is the means by which
we bring new vision, action, and grace to bear upon the
dark and negative side of our natures. It is a step in the development
of that kind of humility that makes it possible
for us to receive God’s help. Yet it is only a step. We will
want to go further.
We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst
of us, to flower and to grow. Most certainly we shall need
bracing air and an abundance of food. But first of all we
shall want sunlight; nothing much can grow in the dark.
Meditation is our step out into the sun. How, then, shall we
The actual experience of meditation and prayer across
the centuries is, of course, immense. The world’s libraries
and places of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers. It
is to be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious connection
which emphasizes m
Well, we might start like this. First let’s look at a really
good prayer. We won’t have far to seek; the great men and
women of all religions have left us a wonderful supply.
Here let us consider one that is a classic.
Its author was a man who for several hundred years
now has been rated as a saint. We won’t be biased or scared
off by that fact, because although he was not an alcoholic
he did, like us, go through the emotional wringer. And as he
came out the other side of that painful experience, this
prayer was his expression of what he could then see, feel,
and wish to become:
ELEVENTH STEP PRAYER The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where
there is hatred, I may bring love—that where there is
wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness—that where
there is discord, I may bring harmony—that where there is
error, I may bring truth—that where there is doubt, I may
bring faith—that where there is despair, I may bring hope
—that where there are shadows, I may bring light—that
where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I
may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted—to understand,
than to be understood—to love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving
that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal
As beginners in meditation, we might now reread this
prayer several times very slowly, savoring every word and
trying to take in the deep meaning of each phrase and idea.
It will help if we can drop all resistance to what our friend
says. For in meditation, debate has no place. We rest quietly
with the thoughts of someone who knows, so that we may
experience and learn.
As though lying upon a sunlit beach, let us relax and
breathe deeply of the spiritual atmosphere with which the
grace of this prayer surrounds us. Let us become willing to
partake and be strengthened and lifted up by the sheer spiritual
power, beauty, and love of which these magnificent
words are the carriers. Let us look now upon the sea and
ponder what its mystery is; and let us lift our eyes to the far
horizon, beyond which we shall seek all those wonders still
“Shucks!” says somebody. “This is nonsense. It isn’t
When such thoughts break in, we might recall, a little
ruefully, how much store we used to set by imagination as
it tried to create reality out of bottles. Yes, we reveled in that
sort of thinking, didn’t we? And though sober nowadays,
don’t we often try to do much the same thing? Perhaps our
trouble was not that we used our imagination. Perhaps the
real trouble was our almost total inability to point imagination
toward the right objectives. There’s nothing the matter
with constructive imagination; all sound achievement rests
upon it. After all, no man can build a house until he first envisions
a plan for it. Well, meditation is like that, too; it
helps to envision our spiritual objective before we try to
move toward it. So let’s get back to that sunlit beach—or to
the plains or to the mountains, if you prefer.
When, by such simple devices, we have placed ourselves
in a mood in which we can focus undisturbed on
constructive imagination, we might proceed like this:
Once more we read our prayer, and again try to see
what its inner essence is. We’ll think now about the man
who first uttered the prayer. First of all, he wanted to become
a “channel.” Then he asked for the grace to bring
love, forgiveness, harmony, truth, faith, hope, light, and joy
to every human being he could.
Next came the expression of an aspiration and a hope
for himself. He hoped, God willing, that he might be able to
find some of these treasures, too. This he would try to do by
what he called self-forgetting. What did he mean by “selfforgetting,”
and how did he propose to accomplish that?
He thought it better to give comfort than to receive it;
better to understand than to be understood; better to forgive
than to be forgiven.
This much could be a fragment of what is called meditation,
perhaps our very first attempt at a mood, a flier into
the realm of spirit, if you like. It ought to be followed by a
good look at where we stand now, and a further look at
what might happen in our lives were we able to move closer
to the ideal we have been trying to glimpse. Meditation is
something which can always be further developed. It has
no boundaries, either of width or height. Aided by such instruction
and example as we can find, it is essentially an
individual adventure, something which each one of us
works out in his own way. But its object is always the
same: to improve our conscious contact with God, with His
grace, wisdom, and love. And let’s always remember that
meditation is in reality intensely practical. One of its first
fruits is emotional balance. With it we can broaden and
deepen the channel between ourselves and God as we understand
Now, what of prayer? Prayer is the raising of the heart
and mind to God—and in this sense it includes meditation.
How may we go about it? And how does it fit in with meditation?
Prayer, as commonly understood, is a petition to
God. Having opened our channel as best we can, we try to
ask for those right things of which we and others are in the
greatest need. And we think that the whole range of our
needs is well defined by that part of Step Eleven which
says: “. . . knowledge of His will for us and the power to
carry that out.” A request for this fits in any part of our day.
In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps
we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us
to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it
may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious
and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday.
Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions
to specific problems, and for the ability to help other
people as we have already thought they should be helped.
In that case, we are asking God to do it our way. Therefore,
we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its
real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it
will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “.
. . if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day
God place in us the best understanding of His will that we
can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by
which we may carry it out.
As the day goes on, we can pause where situations must
be met and decisions made, and renew the simple request:
“Thy will, not mine, be done.” If at these points our emotional
disturbance happens to be great, we will more surely
keep our balance, provided we remember, and repeat to
ourselves, a particular prayer or phrase that has appealed to
us in our reading or meditation. Just saying it over and over
will often enable us to clear a channel choked up with
anger, fear, frustration, or misunderstanding, and permit us
to return to the surest help of all—our search for God’s will,
not our own, in the moment of stress. At these critical moments,
if we remind ourselves that “it is better to comfort
than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood,
to love than to be loved,” we will be following the intent of
Of course, it is reasonable and understandable that the
question is often asked: “Why can’t we take a specific and
troubling dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure
from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?”
This can be done, but it has hazards. We have seen
A.A.’s ask with much earnestness and faith for God’s explicit
guidance on matters ranging all the way from a
shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor
personal fault, like tardiness. Quite often, however, the
thoughts that seem to come from God are not answers at
all. They prove to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations.
The A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his
life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand
of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting
individual. To any questioning or criticism of his actions he
instantly proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in
all matters great or small. He may have forgotten the possibility
that his own wishful thinking and the human
tendency to rationalize have distorted his so-called guid-
ance. With the best of intentions, he tends to force his own
will into all sorts of situations and problems with the comfortable
assurance that he is acting under God’s specific
direction. Under such an illusion, he can of course create
great havoc without in the least intending it.
We also fall into another similar temptation. We form
ideas as to what we think God’s will is for other people. We
say to ourselves, “This one ought to be cured of his fatal
malady,” or “That one ought to be relieved of his emotional
pain,” and we pray for these specific things. Such prayers,
of course, are fundamentally good acts, but often they are
based upon a supposition that we know God’s will for the
person for whom we pray. This means that side by side
with an earnest prayer there can be a certain amount of presumption
and conceit in us. It is A.A.’s experience that
particularly in these cases we ought to pray that God’s will,
whatever it is, be done for others as well as for ourselves.
In A.A. we have found that the actual good results of
prayer are beyond question. They are matters of knowledge
and experience. All those who have persisted have found
strength not ordinarily their own. They have found wisdom
beyond their usual capability. And they have increasingly
found a peace of mind which can stand firm in the face of
We discover that we do receive guidance for our lives
to just about the extent that we stop making demands upon
God to give it to us on order and on our terms. Almost any
experienced A.A. will tell how his affairs have taken remarkable
and unexpected turns for the better as he tried to
improve his conscious contact with God. He will also re-
port that out of every season of grief or suffering, when the
hand of God seemed heavy or even unjust, new lessons for
living were learned, new resources of courage were uncovered,
and that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that
God does “move in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”
All this should be very encouraging news for those who
recoil from prayer because they don’t believe in it, or because
they feel themselves cut off from God’s help and
direction. All of us, without exception, pass through times
when we can pray only with the greatest exertion of will.
Occasionally we go even further than this. We are seized
with a rebellion so sickening that we simply won’t pray.
When these things happen we should not think too ill of
ourselves. We should simply resume prayer as soon as we
can, doing what we know to be good for us.
Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of meditation and
prayer is the sense of belonging that comes to us. We no
longer live in a completely hostile world. We are no longer
lost and frightened and purposeless. The moment we catch
even a glimpse of God’s will, the moment we begin to see
truth, justice, and love as the real and eternal things in life,
we are no longer deeply disturbed by all the seeming evidence
to the contrary that surrounds us in purely human
affairs. We know that God lovingly watches over us. We
know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us,
here and hereafter.
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the
result of these steps, we tried to carry this
message to alcoholics, and to practice these
principles in all our affairs.”
THE joy of living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step, and
action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our
fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience
the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin
to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily
lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety.
When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication,
it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price
tag on it.
Our Twelfth Step also says that as a result of practicing
all the Steps, we have each found something called a spiritual
awakening. To new A.A.’s, this often seems like a very
dubious and improbable state of affairs. “What do you
mean when you talk about a ‘spiritual awakening’?” they
Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening
as there are people who have had them. But certainly
each genuine one has something in common with all the
others. And these things which they have in common are
not too hard to understand. When a man or a woman has a
spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is
that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that
which he could not do before on his unaided strength and
resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts
to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set
on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere,
that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or
mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because
he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one
way or another, he had hitherto denied himself. He finds
himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness,
peace of mind, and love of which he had
thought himself quite incapable. What he has received is a
free gift, and yet usually, at least in some small part, he has
made himself ready to receive it.
A.A.’s manner of making ready to receive this gift lies
in the practice of the Twelve Steps in our program. So let’s
consider briefly what we have been trying to do up to this
Step One showed us an amazing paradox: We found
that we were totally unable to be rid of the alcohol obsession
until we first admitted that we were powerless over it.
In Step Two we saw that since we could not restore ourselves
to sanity, some Higher Power must necessarily do so
if we were to survive. Consequently, in Step Three we
turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we
understood Him. For the time being, we who were atheist
or agnostic discovered that our own group, or A.A. as a
whole, would suffice as a higher power. Beginning with
Step Four, we commenced to search out the things in ourselves
which had brought us to physical, moral, and
spiritual bankruptcy. We made a searching and fearless
moral inventory. Looking at Step Five, we decided that an
inventory, taken alone, wouldn’t be enough. We knew we
would have to quit the deadly business of living alone with
our conflicts, and in honesty confide these to God and another
human being. At Step Six, many of us balked—for
the practical reason that we did not wish to have all our defects
of character removed, because we still loved some of
them too much. Yet we knew we had to make a settlement
with the fundamental principle of Step Six. So we decided
that while we still had some flaws of character that we
could not yet relinquish, we ought nevertheless to quit our
stubborn, rebellious hanging on to them. We said to ourselves,
“This I cannot do today, perhaps, but I can stop
crying out ‘No, never!’” Then, in Step Seven, we humbly
asked God to remove our short comings such as He could
or would under the conditions of the day we asked. In Step
Eight, we continued our housecleaning, for we saw that we
were not only in conflict with ourselves, but also with people
and situations in the world in which we lived. We had to
begin to make our peace, and so we listed the people we
had harmed and became willing to set things right. We followed
this up in Step Nine by making direct amends to
those concerned, except when it would injure them or other
people. By this time, at Step Ten, we had begun to get a basis
for daily living, and we keenly realized that we would
need to continue taking personal inventory, and that when
we were in the wrong we ought to admit it promptly. In
Step Eleven we saw that if a Higher Power had restored us
to sanity and had enabled us to live with some peace of
mind in a sorely troubled world, then such a Higher Power
was worth knowing better, by as direct contact as possible.
The persistent use of meditation and prayer, we found, did
open the channel so that where there had been a trickle,
there now was a river which led to sure power and safe
guidance from God as we were increasingly better able to
So, practicing these Steps, we had a spiritual awakening
about which finally there was no question. Looking at those
who were only beginning and still doubted themselves, the
rest of us were able to see the change setting in. From great
numbers of such experiences, we could predict that the
doubter who still claimed that he hadn’t got the “spiritual
angle,” and who still considered his well-loved A.A. group
the higher power, would presently love God and call Him
Now, what about the rest of the Twelfth Step? The wonderful
energy it releases and the eager action by which it
carries our message to the next suffering alcoholic and
which finally translates the Twelve Steps into action upon
all our affairs is the payoff, the magnificent reality, of Alcoholics
Even the newest of newcomers finds undreamed rewards
as he tries to help his brother alcoholic, the one who
is even blinder than he. This is indeed the kind of giving
that actually demands nothing. He does not expect his
brother sufferer to pay him, or even to love him. And then
he discovers that by the divine paradox of this kind of giving
he has found his own reward, whether his brother has
yet received anything or not. His own character may still be
gravely defective, but he somehow knows that God has en-
abled him to make a mighty beginning, and he senses that
he stands at the edge of new mysteries, joys, and experiences
of which he had never even dreamed.
Practically every A.A. member declares that no satisfaction
has been deeper and no joy greater than in a Twelfth
Step job well done. To watch the eyes of men and women
open with wonder as they move from darkness into light, to
see their lives quickly fill with new purpose and meaning,
to see whole families reassembled, to see the alcoholic outcast
received back into his community in full citizenship,
and above all to watch these people awaken to the presence
of a loving God in their lives—these things are the substance
of what we receive as we carry A.A.’s message to the
Nor is this the only kind of Twelfth Step work. We sit in
A.A. meetings and listen, not only to receive something
ourselves, but to give the reassurance and support which
our presence can bring. If our turn comes to speak at a
meeting, we again try to carry A.A.’s message. Whether our
audience is one or many, it is still Twelfth Step work. There
are many opportunities even for those of us who feel unable
to speak at meetings or who are so situated that we cannot
do much face-to-face Twelfth Step work. We can be the
ones who take on the unspectacular but important tasks that
make good Twelfth Step work possible, perhaps arranging
for the coffee and cake after the meetings, where so many
skeptical, suspicious newcomers have found confidence
and comfort in the laughter and talk. This is Twelfth Step
work in the very best sense of the word. “Freely ye have received;
freely give . . .” is the core of this part of Step
We may often pass through Twelfth Step experiences
where we will seem to be temporarily off the beam. These
will appear as big setbacks at the time, but will be seen later
as stepping-stones to better things. For example, we may
set our hearts on getting a particular person sobered up, and
after doing all we can for months, we see him relapse. Perhaps
this will happen in a succession of cases, and we may
be deeply discouraged as to our ability to carry A.A.’s message.
Or we may encounter the reverse situation, in which
we are highly elated because we seem to have been successful.
Here the temptation is to become rather possessive
of these newcomers. Perhaps we try to give them advice
about their affairs which we aren’t really competent to give
or ought not give at all. Then we are hurt and confused
when the advice is rejected, or when it is accepted and
brings still greater confusion. By a great deal of ardent
Twelfth Step work we sometimes carry the message to so
many alcoholics that they place us in a position of trust.
They make us, let us say, the group’s chairman. Here again
we are presented with the temptation to overmanage things,
and sometimes this results in rebuffs and other consequences
which are hard to take.
But in the longer run we clearly realize that these are
only the pains of growing up, and nothing but good can
come from them if we turn more and more to the entire
Twelve Steps for the answers.
Now comes the biggest question yet. What about the
practice of these principles in all our affairs? Can we love
the whole pattern of living as eagerly as we do the small
segment of it we discover when we try to help other alcoholics
achieve sobriety? Can we bring the same spirit of
love and tolerance into our sometimes deranged family
lives that we bring to our A.A. group? Can we have the
same kind of confidence and faith in these people who have
been infected and sometimes crippled by our own illness
that we have in our sponsors? Can we actually carry the
A.A. spirit into our daily work? Can we meet our newly
recognized responsibilities to the world at large? And can
we bring new purpose and devotion to the religion of our
choice? Can we find a new joy of living in trying to do
something about all these things?
Furthermore, how shall we come to terms with seeming
failure or success? Can we now accept and adjust to either
without despair or pride? Can we accept poverty, sickness,
loneliness, and bereavement with courage and serenity?
Can we steadfastly content ourselves with the humbler, yet
sometimes more durable, satisfactions when the brighter,
more glittering achievements are denied us?
The A.A. answer to these questions about living is “Yes,
all of these things are possible.” We know this because we
see monotony, pain, and even calamity turned to good use
by those who keep on trying to practice A.A.’s Twelve
Steps. And if these are facts of life for the many alcoholics
who have recovered in A.A., they can become the facts of
life for many more.
Of course all A.A.’s, even the best, fall far short of such
achievements as a consistent thing. Without necessarily taking
that first drink, we often get quite far off the beam. Our
troubles sometimes begin with indifference. We are sober
and happy in our A.A. work. Things go well at home and
office. We naturally congratulate ourselves on what later
proves to be a far too easy and superficial point of view. We
temporarily cease to grow because we feel satisfied that
there is no need for all of A.A.’s Twelve Steps for us. We
are doing fine on a few of them. Maybe we are doing fine
on only two of them, the First Step and that part of the
Twelfth where we “carry the message.” In A.A. slang, that
blissful state is known as “two-stepping.” And it can go on
The best-intentioned of us can fall for the “two-step” illusion.
Sooner or later the pink cloud stage wears off and
things go disappointingly dull. We begin to think that A.A.
doesn’t pay off after all. We become puzzled and discouraged.
Then perhaps life, as it has a way of doing, suddenly
hands us a great big lump that we can’t begin to swallow, let
alone digest. We fail to get a worked-for promotion. We
lose that good job. Maybe there are serious domestic or romantic
difficulties, or perhaps that boy we thought God was
looking after becomes a military casualty.
What then? Have we alcoholics in A.A. got, or can we
get, the resources to meet these calamities which come to
so many? These were problems of life which we could never
face up to. Can we now, with the help of God as we
understand Him, handle them as well and as bravely as our
nonalcoholic friends often do? Can we transform these
calamities into assets, sources of growth and comfort to
ourselves and those about us? Well, we surely have a
chance if we switch from “two-stepping” to “twelve-step-
ping,” if we are willing to receive that grace of God which
can sustain and strengthen us in any catastrophe.
Our basic troubles are the same as everyone else’s, but
when an honest effort is made “to practice these principles
in all our affairs,” well-grounded A.A.’s seem to have the
ability, by God’s grace, to take these troubles in stride and
turn them into demonstrations of faith. We have seen A.A.’s
suffer lingering and fatal illness with little complaint, and
often in good cheer. We have sometimes seen families broken
apart by misunderstanding, tensions, or actual
infidelity, who are reunited by the A.A. way of life.
Though the earning power of most A.A.’s is relatively
high, we have some members who never seem to get on
their feet moneywise, and still others who encounter heavy
financial reverses. Ordinarily we see these situations met
with fortitude and faith.
Like most people, we have found that we can take our
big lumps as they come. But also like others, we often discover
a greater challenge in the lesser and more continuous
problems of life. Our answer is in still more spiritual development.
Only by this means can we improve our chances
for really happy and useful living. And as we grow spiritually,
we find that our old attitudes toward our instincts need
to undergo drastic revisions. Our desires for emotional security
and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for
romance, and for family satisfactions—all these have to be
tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction
of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives.
If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the
horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment.
But when we are willing to place spiritual growth first—
then and only then do we have a real chance.
After we come into A.A., if we go on growing, our attitudes
and actions toward security—emotional security and
financial security—commence to change profoundly. Our
demand for emotional security, for our own way, had constantly
thrown us into unworkable relations with other
people. Though we were sometimes quite unconscious of
this, the result always had been the same. Either we had
tried to play God and dominate those about us, or we had
insisted on being overdependent upon them. Where people
had temporarily let us run their lives as though they were
still children, we had felt very happy and secure ourselves.
But when they finally resisted or ran away, we were bitterly
hurt and disappointed. We blamed them, being quite unable
to see that our unreasonable demands had been the cause.
When we had taken the opposite tack and had insisted,
like infants ourselves, that people protect and take care of
us or that the world owed us a living, then the result had
been equally unfortunate. This often caused the people we
had loved most to push us aside or perhaps desert us entirely.
Our disillusionment had been hard to bear. We couldn’t
imagine people acting that way toward us. We had failed to
see that though adult in years we were still behaving childishly,
trying to turn everybody—friends, wives, husbands,
even the world itself—into protective parents. We had refused
to learn the very hard lesson that overdependence
upon people is unsuccessful because all people are fallible,
and even the best of them will sometimes let us down, especially
when our demands for attention become unreasonable.
As we made spiritual progress, we saw through these
fallacies. It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally
secure among grown-up people, we would have to
put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to
develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood
with all those around us. We saw that we would need to
give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment.
When we persistently did this we gradually found
that people were attracted to us as never before. And even if
they failed us, we could be understanding and not too seriously
When we developed still more, we discovered the best
possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself.
We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness,
and love was healthy, and that it would work
where nothing else would. If we really depended upon
God, we couldn’t very well play God to our fellows nor
would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection
and care. These were the new attitudes that finally brought
many of us an inner strength and peace that could not be
deeply shaken by the shortcomings of others or by any
calamity not of our own making.
This new outlook was, we learned, something especially
necessary to us alcoholics. For alcoholism had been a
lonely business, even though we had been surrounded by
people who loved us. But when self-will had driven everybody
away and our isolation had become complete, it
caused us to play the big shot in cheap barrooms and then
fare forth alone on the street to depend upon the charity of
passersby. We were still trying to find emotional security by
being dominating or dependent upon others. Even when
our fortunes had not ebbed that much and we nevertheless
found ourselves alone in the world, we still vainly tried to
be secure by some unhealthy kind of domination or dependence.
For those of us who were like that, A.A. had a very
special meaning. Through it we begin to learn right relations
with people who understand us; we don’t have to be
alone any more.
Most married folks in A.A. have very happy homes. To
a surprising extent, A.A. has offset the damage to family
life brought about by years of alcoholism. But just like all
other societies, we do have sex and marital problems, and
sometimes they are distressingly acute. Permanent marriage
breakups and separations, however, are unusual in
A.A. Our main problem is not how we are to stay married;
it is how to be more happily married by eliminating the severe
emotional twists that have so often stemmed from
Nearly every sound human being experiences, at some
time in life, a compelling desire to find a mate of the opposite
sex with whom the fullest possible union can be made
—spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical. This mighty
urge is the root of great human accomplishments, a creative
energy that deeply influences our lives. God fashioned us
that way. So our question will be this: How, by ignorance,
compulsion, and self-will, do we misuse this gift for our
own destruction? We A.A. cannot pretend to offer full answers
to age-old perplexities, but our own experience does
provide certain answers that work for us.
When alcoholism strikes, very unnatural situations may
develop which work against marriage partnership and compatible
union. If the man is affected, the wife must become
the head of the house, often the breadwinner. As matters get
worse, the husband becomes a sick and irresponsible child
who needs to be looked after and extricated from endless
scrapes and impasses. Very gradually, and usually without
any realization of the fact, the wife is forced to become the
mother of an erring boy. And if she had a strong maternal
instinct to begin with, the situation is aggravated. Obviously
not much partnership can exist under these conditions.
The wife usually goes on doing the best she knows how,
but meanwhile the alcoholic alternately loves and hates her
maternal care. A pattern is thereby established that may take
a lot of undoing later on. Nevertheless, under the influence
of A.A.’s Twelve Steps, these situations are often set right.*
When the distortion has been great, however, a long period
of patient striving may be necessary. After the husband
joins A.A., the wife may become discontented, even highly
resentful that Alcoholics Anonymous has done the very
thing that all her years of devotion had failed to do. Her
husband may become so wrapped up in A.A. and his new
friends that he is inconsiderately away from home more
than when he drank. Seeing her unhappiness, he recommends
A.A.’s Twelve Steps and tries to teach her how to
live. She naturally feels that for years she has made a far
*In adapted form, the Steps are also used by Al-Anon Family
Groups. Not a part of A.A., this worldwide fellowship consists of
spouses and other relatives or friends of alcoholics (in A.A. or still
drinking). Its headquarters address is 1600 Corporate Landing
Parkway, Virgina Beach, VA 23456.
better job of living than he has. Both of them blame each
other and ask when their marriage is ever going to be happy
again. They may even begin to suspect it had never been
any good in the first place.
Compatibility, of course, can be so impossibly damaged
that a separation may be necessary. But those cases are the
unusual ones. The alcoholic, realizing what his wife has endured,
and now fully understanding how much he himself
did to damage her and his children, nearly always takes up
his marriage responsibilities with a willingness to repair
what he can and to accept what he can’t. He persistently
tries all of A.A.’s Twelve Steps in his home, often with fine
results. At this point he firmly but lovingly commences to
behave like a partner instead of like a bad boy. And above
all he is finally convinced that reckless romancing is not a
way of life for him.
A.A. has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and
are in a position to do so. Some marry fellow A.A.’s. How
do they come out? On the whole these marriages are very
good ones. Their common suffering as drinkers, their common
interest in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance
such unions. It is only where “boy meets girl on A.A. campus,”
and love follows at first sight, that difficulties may
develop. The prospective partners need to be solid A.A.’s
and long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility
at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact and not
wishful thinking. They need to be as sure as possible that
no deep-lying emotional handicap in either will be likely to
rise up under later pressures to cripple them. The considerations
are equally true and important for the A.A.’s who
marry “outside” A.A. With clear understanding and right,
grown-up attitudes, very happy results do follow.
And what can be said of many A.A. members who, for
a variety of reasons, cannot have a family life? At first
many of these feel lonely, hurt, and left out as they witness
so much domestic happiness about them. If they cannot
have this kind of happiness, can A.A. offer them satisfactions
of similar worth and durability? Yes—whenever they
try hard to seek them out. Surrounded by so many A.A.
friends, these so-called loners tell us they no longer feel
alone. In partnership with others—women and men—they
can devote themselves to any number of ideas, people, and
constructive projects. Free of marital responsibilities, they
can participate in enterprises which would be denied to
family men and women. We daily see such members render
prodigies of service, and receive great joys in return.
Where the possession of money and material things
was concerned, our outlook underwent the same revolutionary
change. With a few exceptions, all of us had been
spendthrifts. We threw money about in every direction with
the purpose of pleasing ourselves and impressing other
people. In our drinking time, we acted as if the money supply
was inexhaustible, though between binges we’d
sometimes go to the other extreme and become almost
miserly. Without realizing it we were just accumulating
funds for the next spree. Money was the symbol of pleasure
and self-importance. When our drinking had become much
worse, money was only an urgent requirement which could
supply us with the next drink and the temporary comfort of
oblivion it brought.
Upon entering A.A., these attitudes were sharply reversed,
often going much too far in the opposite direction.
The spectacle of years of waste threw us into panic. There
simply wouldn’t be time, we thought, to rebuild our shattered
fortunes. How could we ever take care of those awful
debts, possess a decent home, educate the kids, and set
something by for old age? Financial importance was no
longer our principal aim; we now clamored for material security.
Even when we were well reestablished in our
business, these terrible fears often continued to haunt us.
This made us misers and penny pinchers all over again.
Complete financial security we must have—or else. We
forgot that most alcoholics in A.A. have an earning power
considerably above average; we forgot the immense goodwill
of our brother A.A.’s who were only too eager to help
us to better jobs when we deserved them; we forgot the actual
or potential financial insecurity of every human being
in the world. And, worst of all, we forgot God. In money
matters we had faith only in ourselves, and not too much of
This all meant, of course, that we were still far off balance.
When a job still looked like a mere means of getting
money rather than an opportunity for service, when the acquisition
of money for financial independence looked more
important than a right dependence upon God, we were still
the victims of unreasonable fears. And these were fears
which would make a serene and useful existence, at any financial
level, quite impossible.
But as time passed we found that with the help of A.A.’s
Twelve Steps we could lose those fears, no matter what of
material prospects were. We could cheerfully perform humble
labor without worrying about tomorrow. If our
circumstances happened to be good, we no longer dreaded
a change for the worse, for we had learned that these troubles
could be turned into great values. It did not matter too
much what our material condition was, but it did matter
what our spiritual condition was. Money gradually became
our servant and not our master. It became a means of exchanging
love and service with those about us. When, with
God’s help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we
could live at peace with ourselves and show others who still
suffered the same fears that they could get over them, too.
We found that freedom from fear was more important than
freedom from want.
Let’s here take note of our improved outlook upon the
problems of personal importance, power, ambition, and
leadership. These were reefs upon which many of us came
to shipwreck during our drinking careers.
Practically every boy in the United States dreams of becoming
our President. He wants to be his country’s number
one man. As he gets older and sees the impossibility of this,
he can smile good-naturedly at his childhood dream. In later
life he finds that real happiness is not to be found in just
trying to be a number one man, or even a first-rater in the
heartbreaking struggle for money, romance, or self-importance.
He learns that he can be content as long as he plays
well whatever cards life deals him. He’s still ambitious, but
not absurdly so, because he can now see and accept actual
reality. He’s willing to stay right size.
But not so with alcoholics. When A.A. was quite
young, a number of eminent psychologists and doctors
made an exhaustive study of a good-sized group of socalled
problem drinkers. The doctors weren’t trying to find
how different we were from one another; they sought to
find whatever personality traits, if any, this group of alcoholics
had in common. They finally came up with a
conclusion that shocked the A.A. members of that time.
These distinguished men had the nerve to say that most of
the alcoholics under investigation were still childish, emotionally
sensitive, and grandiose.
How we alcoholics did resent that verdict! We would
not believe that our adult dreams were often truly childish.
And considering the rough deal life had given us, we felt it
perfectly natural that we were sensitive. As to our grandiose
behavior, we insisted that we had been possessed of nothing
but a high and legitimate ambition to win the battle of
In the years since, however, most of us have come to
agree with those doctors. We have had a much keener look
at ourselves and those about us. We have seen that we were
prodded by unreasonable fears or anxieties into making a
life business of winning fame, money, and what we thought
was leadership. So false pride became the reverse side of
that ruinous coin marked “Fear.” We simply had to be number
one people to cover up our deep-lying inferiorities. In
fitful successes we boasted of greater feats to be done; in
defeat we were bitter. If we didn’t have much of any worldly
success we became depressed and cowed. Then people
said we were of the “inferior” type. But now we see ourselves
as chips off the same old block. At heart we had all
been abnormally fearful. It mattered little whether we had
sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness
or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth
and ability. The result was the same—all of us had nearly
perished in a sea of alcohol.
But today, in well-matured A.A.’s, these distorted drives
have been restored to something like their true purpose and
direction. We no longer strive to dominate or rule those
about us in order to gain self-importance. We no longer
seek fame and honor in order to be praised. When by devoted
service to family, friends, business, or community we
attract widespread affection and are sometimes singled out
for posts of greater responsibility and trust, we try to be
humbly grateful and exert ourselves the more in a spirit of
love and service. True leadership, we find, depends upon
able example and not upon vain displays of power or glory.
Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have
to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to
be useful and profoundly happy. Not many of us can be
leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be. Service, gladly
rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well
accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at
home or in the world outside we are partners in a common
effort, the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human
beings are important, the proof that love freely given
surely brings a full return, the certainty that we are no
longer isolated and alone in self-constructed prisons, the
surety that we need no longer be square pegs in round holes
but can fit and belong in God’s scheme of things—these are
the permanent and legitimate satisfactions of right living for
which no amount of pomp and circumstance, no heap of
material possessions, could possibly be substitutes. True
ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is
the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the
grace of God.
These little studies of A.A. Twelve Steps now come to a
close. We have been considering so many problems that it
may appear that A.A. consists mainly of racking dilemmas
and troubleshooting. To a certain extent, that is true. We
have been talking about problems because we are problem
people who have found a way up and out, and who wish to
share our knowledge of that way with all who can use it.
For it is only by accepting and solving our problems that
we can begin to get right with ourselves and with the world
about us, and with Him who presides over us all. Understanding
is the key to right principles and attitudes, and
right action is the key to good living; therefore the joy of
good living is the theme of A.A. Twelfth Step.
With each passing day of our lives, may every one of us
sense more deeply the inner meaning of A.A.’s simple
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
THE TWELVE TRADITIONS
First John 4:8 God is Love
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
THE TWELVE TRADITIONS LONG AND SHORT VERSION
The Twelve Traditions
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery dependsupon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leadersare but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stopdrinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affectingother groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its messageto the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A.name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money,property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, decliningoutside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional,but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A. as such, ought never be organized; but we may create serviceboards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hencethe A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather thanpromotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press,radio and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions,ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
The Twelve Traditions — Long Form
1. Each member of Alcoholics Anonymous is but a small part of a great whole. A.A. must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
3. Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
4. With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
5. Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose — that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to A.A. should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. An A.A. group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to A.A., such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the A.A. name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, A.A. managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside A.A. and medically supervised. While an A.A. group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. An A.A. group can bind itself to no one.
7. The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those A.A. treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated A.A. purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage non-alcoholics. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual A.A. 12 Step work is never to be paid for.
9. Each A.A. group needs the least possible organization. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and the groups of a large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our A.A. General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our A.A. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary A.A. contributions by which we maintain our A.A. General Service Office at New York. They are authorized by the groups to handle our over-all public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the A.A. Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in A.A. are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.
10. No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues — particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.
11. Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
12. And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation