Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on June 10 in 1935 by William Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith. This program, known for its Twelve Steps, has liberated millions of people from their enslavement to alcohol and other addictions. At the core of its approach is a surrender to God or whatever name you wish to use for a Higher Self. Equally important is regular participation in a community of others who are taking this journey of recovery with you.
On this day, give thanks for this program and the healing and transformation it has brought into the lives of so many people. We have collected some reflections on A.A. and other Twelve-Step programs. As you ponder these insights, remember people from your circle of family and friends who have been blessed by this very special spiritual program.
- A Genuine Spirituality
"The spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous will go down in history as the significant and authentic contribution to the history of spirituality. It is genuinely a spirituality. What's so exciting about it for me as a Christian is to see the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions stating clearly what we've been saying so feebly in theological language. . . . Jesus never shamed people. But he did encourage them to take full responsibility for their mistakes. That's the narrow and healthy road that the gospel and Twelve-Step programs make possible."
— Richard Rohr in Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps
- Dark Nights of the Soul
"No one understands the dark nights of the soul better than people recovering from life-threatening addictions. Some A.A. members call themselves 'grateful alcoholics' because their addiction finally brought them to their knees. It was only because of the addiction that they discovered the true depths and longings of their souls."
— Gerald May in The Dark Night of the Soul
The A.A. Meeting
"They also have slogans, which you can either dismiss as hopelessly simplistic or sling on to like driftwood in a stormy sea. One of them is 'Let go and let God' — which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow. Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you — your children's lives, the lives of your husband, your wife, your friends — because that is just what you are powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your business. They are their business. They are God's business because they all have God whether they use the word God or not. Even your own life is not your business. It also is God's business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought.
"Go where your prayers take you. Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of the glad air and live one day at a time. Know that you are precious. . . . Know that you can trust God. Know that you can trust these people with your secrets because they have trusted you with theirs. The meeting in the basement begins with all of you introducing yourselves,' I am Fred . . . I am Mary . . . I am Scotty,' you say, and each time the rest of the group responds with 'Hi, Fred . . .Hi, Mary . . .Hi, Scotty.' Just by getting yourself there and saying that, you have told an extremely important secret, which is that you cannot go it alone. You need help. You need them. You need whatever name you choose to give the One whom C.S. Lewis named Aslan. 'Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God. And the peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' (Philippians 3:6-7)
"I do not believe that such groups as these . . . or Alcoholics Anonymous, which is the group they all grew out of, are perfect any more than anything human is perfect, but I believe that the church has an enormous amount to learn from them. I also believe that what goes on in them is far closer to what Christ meant his church to be, and what it originally was, than much of what goes on in most churches I know. These groups have no buildings or official leadership or money. They have no rummage sales, no altar guilds, no every-member canvases. They have no preachers, no choirs, no liturgy, no real estate. They have no creeds. They have no program. They make you wonder if the best thing that could happen to many a church might not be to have its building burn down and to lose all its money. Then all that the people would have left would be God and each other."
— Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets: A Memoir
- We can all learn valuable practices from A.A. spirituality. In Seeds of Grace: Reflections on the Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous, Molly Monahan assesses the Twelve-Step Program as analogous to the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways of the mystical path. Healing for the recovering alcoholic comes through the spiritual practice of listening, which is 95 percent of the every meeting. Ask yourself, how can you sharpen your listening skills?
- A.A. also encourages emotional intelligence. As Monahan puts it: "A large part of the spiritual life consists in coming to know ourselves and our feelings, cultivating those that are healthy and appropriate, weeding out or redirecting those that are destructive to ourselves and others." What emotions do you want to cultivate this summer and which destructive ones do you want to redirect this summer?
- We have been impressed with the wisdom accrued by those attending the A.A., Al-Anon, N.A., Alateen, and other Twelve-Step programs. That's why we immediately gravitated toward Meeting Wisdom: Tap Into the Wisdom and Insight of Thousands of 12 Step Meetings in a Single Book by Brian L. Here are slogans, sayings, and tips from the sharing and insights of those attending meetings over the years. For example:
"Everything is going to be All Right" is a fine slogan that can provide just the right encouragement when we need it most.
"Everything can go wrong today and I still will be okay" is a variation on the same theme for those days when everything seems like a conspiracy against you.
"When things are difficult, choose to read them as good" makes a good mantra; putting a positive spin on things helps us negotiate tough times.