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Review of Back to Basics: The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners’ Meetings

 

Having been in and out of alcoholics anonymous meetings for years, I can say that working the 12 steps always seemed like a daunting task. I would hear people in meetings talk about being on a particular step for over six months. For me and I bet many there, we were thinking that these steps must be really difficult. However, after reading Back to Basics, it has become apparent that we were making too hard of work out of a very simple process. This book details how to complete the 12 steps in only one month.

In fact, in the early days of alcoholics anonymous, the steps were not meant to be mulled over for years before finally taking action. The people who joined A.A. were the lowest bottom cases, so they were eager to get started immediately. Today, we see people coming into recovery programs who have not yet lost everything. Although this is a great thing, avoiding taking the steps only results in peril. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “These are the steps we took.” It doesn’t say these are the steps we sat around and talked about. This book is a must read for those in recovery for many reasons.  My full review is here.

75% Success Rate

This book is essentially a recap of how AA beginner meetings were conducted in the 1940s. During those days, A.A. did not have a relapse rate as seen today. According to peer reviewed studies, effectiveness is somewhere between 5% and 10%. This means that for those that enter A.A., we can only expect about 1 in 15 to remain sober for the rest of their lives. This does not mean that they did not reenter the program and try again, as it takes many failures for some us to hit our true bottom, success rates could be much higher.

Looking at the image above from the A.A. Grapevine dated August 1946, we see a much brighter picture. Because new members were actually indoctrinated properly, success rates were tremendous. A.A.s were required to learn the 12 steps over the course of 4 sessions, which usually lasted about a month.

A sober alcoholic brought in newcomers, and they were not allowed to attend “normal” meetings until they had completed these courses. Many of you may be thinking that this is not very inclusive. My response is: why should it be? The goal of these 12 steps programs has somehow lost its way over the years. “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stay sober.” I can tell you that in my first go around, I really was just trying to fulfill my court requirements because of a DUI. I thought my life was still manageable, but have now seen the light and realize it was not. I wish someone has taken a hard line with me and asked if I truly had a desire to stay sober. I would have had a chance to get honest with myself far earlier in life.

We will now look at why people were able to prosper after taking the 12 steps over the course of only one month. The following sections break down how the steps were broken down into individual sessions lasting approximately one hour. A.A. sponsors; and sponsee’s should consider incorporating this approach when working with others.

Session # 1 – Overview and Step 1

This chapter is pretty blunt. Let’s say it is 1947 and you have a drinking problem. Summarizing, this is how the process proceeded: You make a call to A.A. Someone visits you and tells of their experiences and how they found a way out. You go to the hospital to detox. You are assigned a sponsor upon your release. He accompanies to four beginners meetings. As a result, your life changes and you never drink again. When I first read this I thought that it would be incredible if it was that simple. In 1947, the A.A. program was presented this way, and you know what? It worked!

An overview of A.A. is presented in this first meeting along with an opportunity to take the first step. The overview covered what was expected of you and your sponsor. You were to attend the sessions with your sponsor guiding you down the right path. Many passages of the Big Book are read to the newcomer in these meetings to ensure they know what this program entails. This overview included an introduction to the twelve steps and disclosed A.A. to be spiritual in nature.

Finally, they gave reasons for taking the first step. “We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. the delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.” (A.A., p. 30, para 2, lines 1-4) They then asked, “Do you concede to your innermost self that you are an alcoholic?” Having said Yes, step one has been completed.

Session #2-Steps 2, 3 and 4

As the first step is the most important, the second session becomes easier to stomach. The first principle has been fulfilled: Honesty. It is explained that steps 2 and 3 focus on hope and faith. Step 2 is explained in a way to avoid religion as best they could. It is not important that we believe in a God per se, only that we realize that we aren’t it. Many passages from the Big Book are presented in order to assist us in keeping an open mind.

Step 3 is focused on turning our will over to God, to the group, or something other than yourself. Our will, it is explained, has led us to sitting in a room learning to stay sober. We simply were not strong enough on our own. We are good at many things, but staying sober on our will power alone clearly hasn’t worked. A prayer is said that reflects our willingness to hand this will power to the care of God as we understood him. Thus, we have completed step 3.

Step 4’s main principle is courage. We were to learn about this step in this session and begin compiling a checklist regarding our past behavior and motivations that got us into so much trouble. This represent a searching a fearless moral inventory.

Session #3-Steps 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

In session #2 it was explained that before session #3, we were to have shared our moral inventory with a trusted person. This doesn’t necessarily have to be our sponsors. Step 5 is admitted to God, to ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

When they showed up at session #3, they were ready for step 6. They were asked, “Are you now ready to let God remove from you all the things which you have admitted are objectionable?” If the answer was Yes, this step has been completed.

Step 7 is focused on humility. It is asked that the following prayer is said to complete this step: “My creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do you bidding. Amen.” Step 7 was completed.

Step 8 and 9 focus on restitution. When completing step #4, they were also making an amends list, thus completing step 8. They moved directly onto step 9. Some pitfalls of making amends were then discussed. The assignment left to the newcomers over the course of the following week was to make a beginning at our amends. The were left with a brief overview of what will come next week.

Session #4-Steps 10, 11 and 12

The final session details the last three steps. This involved a daily personal inventory, prayer and meditation to God as we understood him, and being of service to others. It really was that simple. These steps are the foundation for a lifetime of recovery. Newcomers were warned that faith without works is dead. This meant that they were not “fixed,” but were given a new way of living. I’ve found one of the best ways to stay sober myself is to assist others who suffer from the same problem.

Conclusion

Alcoholics and addicts have a way of over complicating things. I love this book because it lays out a program of action so simple, that there is really no excuse to follow it. While this is only a brief overview, I highly recommend that sponsors pick this book up to work with their sponsees. My sponsor bought me a copy so I could follow along. It is also interesting to take a trip back in time when A.A. was known for its effectiveness. If this book was used more at beginners meetings like it was in the 40s and 50s, I believe we’d have greater success within A.A.

Please share this post if it has helped or will help others close to you, or leave a comment.

Ernest

4 Comments

  1. This is a great step to start off of. I applaud those who try to stop drinking and place their best effort. I advise you all to do this and pray about it as well. It is not God’s will for you or anyone to be in an alcoholic captivity.
    Blessings to all

    • There are so many alcoholics out there that resemble their real selves but little when they begin drinking. If more people would learn the program the way it was intended, I believe more people would stay sober for longer periods of time, if not forever.

  2. Hello and thanks for sharing, it is good how you break everything down. This is an amazing post that I know will help so many people. Alcohol is a very serious thing that has taken the lives of so many people and destroyed so many families. But it is good to know that there is hope to win the war on alcohol.

    • Although I initially thought I broke this down far too much, I thought it would be instructive to show how it was done when A.A. worked so much better. I hope many people attempt recovery the way it was meant based on this review.

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