The eight bedevilments; what are they!?
Believe it or not, I had been in AA for 25 years before I even heard about the eight bedevilments. I had no idea what they were or what they had to do with alcoholism. Were they just some kind of AA slang? I was told that they appear in the ‘Big Book’ on page 52. What was Bill Wilson thinking when he wrote about them?
I was first introduced to the bedevilments when I joined a Big Book study. The idea of this group was to work through the twelve steps which are offered as a plan of recovery. I assumed that this type of step workshop helped to demystify the twelve steps for some members of the fellowship. I knew that a minority of members felt daunted going through the steps with a sponsor. The BB study offered a supportive atmosphere in the safety of a group.
The Big Book study group
I found out about the BB study at a meeting. It was held twice a year. The organizers made it clear that it wasn’t affiliated with mainstream AA. It was set up by a guy from America. He thought that the London fellowship may benefit from this approach to the program. It was the first time that the fellowship in the UK was introduced to the idea of a Big Book study.
I knew some of the people that joined the group. Like me, they had been in the fellowship for a long time. Many of us were trying to stay sober just by going to meetings. Others had already been through the steps. They saw the benefit of going through them again. We all got to know each other quite well. The ones that had never been through the program were struggling.
I was no exception. After coming into the fellowship in 1984, I relapsed regularly for over a decade. By the time I attended the BB study, I managed to not drink for twelve years. I never really took the program seriously. Whenever things got tough, I drank again. Every time I relapsed, I would have to look for a new sponsor. I remained angry, frustrated and miserable. ‘A white-knuckled dry drunk,’ would be a good way to describe me before I surrendered to the suggestions of a sponsor.
Step two assignment
After completing a written step one, we were presented with step two. This was also offered as a written assignment. There were two parts to this work.
We had to make two lists. In the first list, we listed all the negative higher powers in our lives. These negative higher powers condemned us to keep living in our problems In the second list we had to write down, all the positive higher powers. These positive higher powers were all the new ideas and suggestions we received that taught us how to live in the solution. The negative powers were defined as behaviours that were harmful to others as well as ourselves.
Thankfully, the Big Book study did not push the idea that your higher power had to be God. This was immensely helpful to many of us that did not believe in God.
It was suggested that we use the group itself as a higher power. We were assured that if we followed the instructions of the BB study, the twelve steps would keep us sober and transform our lives.
Here, we received an introduction to the eight bedevilments. They are to be found on page 52 of the Big Book in “We agnostics” Chapter Four.
- We were having trouble with personal relationships
- We couldn’t control our emotional natures
- We were a prey to misery and depression
- We couldn’t make a living
- We had a feeling of uselessness
- We were full of fear
- We were unhappy
- We couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people
– was not a basic solution to these bedevilments more important than whether we should see newsreels of lunar flight? Of course, it was.” (BB p.52)
I was stunned! Both drunk and sober, the eight bedevilments were a 100% accurate description of my struggle with life. They were a screenshot of the only reality that I had ever known. Strangely, this was true even before I started drinking! Perhaps, that is why I started drinking in the first place!?
After reading them, we were asked to write a detailed account of how each of the eight bedevilments affected our lives. Were they how we experienced life? In what ways had they made our lives unmanageable? (Step one)
Sanity and insanity in AA
Step two invites us to come to “believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
The facilitator of the group suggested that our insanity went beyond our addiction to alcohol. It permeated our thinking, attitudes and behaviour. She went on to give us an interesting interpretation of the word sanity. She explained the word sanity, comes from the Latin root “Sanos” The English translation is ‘to have health.’ Could they be a sign of poor mental health? Perhaps even poor spiritual health?
Looking at the bedevilments, we had to admit that drunk or sober, they still dominated our experience of life. Some more so than others. We certainly didn’t sign up for the step workshop because we were “happy, joyous and free.” (BB “The Family Afterward” p.133) There was no way to deny the truth. The eight bedevilments on page 52 were an accurate screenshot of our unmanageable lives.
The spiritual malady
“When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically”
Big Book – Chapter five “How it works” p. 64 – 4th edition
Referring again to Bill’s quote, I was certainly able to stay sober for long periods if I went to meetings regularly. The uncomfortable truth was that I still hadn’t ‘straightened out mentally.’ I had to be on anti-depressants for 25 years in AA. The bedevilments were like looking into a mirror!
The reality of untreated alcoholism doesn’t lie. Fifty of us came to the Big Book study. All of us had similar problems. I knew many of them for years. Like me, quite a large number of them we on medication. We were just not drinking and going to meetings.
The Big Book was describing alcoholism as a threefold illness; mental, physical and spiritual. All my attempts to get well in therapy failed. I either drank again or remained “restless, irritable and discontent” (BB “The doctor’s opinion“ page XXV111) Gradually, I came to agree with Bill. Alcoholism is an illness. I began to suspect that he was right to call it a spiritual illness. Conventional therapies were ineffective for an alcoholic of my type.
The step two method we were shown was a game-changer in my recovery!
Symptoms of the spiritual illness of alcoholism
The bedevilments were true for every one of us that attended the Big Book study. We all struggled with relationships. (1st bedevilment) Many of us had remained single. “The primary fact we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being.” (12&12 Step four p. 53)
Our capacity to make a decent living had been impaired by our mental and emotional instability (4th bedevilment) Despite being physically sober, most of us continued to be unhappy; frequently plagued by dramatic mood swings and negative emotions. (Bedevilments 5, 6, and 7) Some were on medication and continued to suffer from depression and anxiety. (3rd bedevilment) The identification with the rest of the bedevilments was plain for us to see.
Bill’s description of “the spiritual malady” (BB Ch. 5 p.64)
Here was Bill making this very radical and challenging statement. “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically” At the time, as an agnostic, I believed that anything to do with spirituality had to include a belief in God. Was it possible for an unbeliever to embrace the idea that despite having fragile mental health, I had also been spiritually ill?
There is no doubt that when I first got sober, psychiatrists and psychologists were very helpful I doubt I would have survived without their support. Initially, I was very unstable when I first got clean and sober. The professional intervention I received was only a temporary solution. After years of relapse, I eventually got the Gift Of Desperation. (Acronym for GOD) I was then left with no other choice but to surrender to the suggestions of a sponsor.
It was impossible to make a full recovery until I acknowledged the whole truth. The effects of a dysfunctional childhood were certainly damaging. I realized that my problems went much deeper than just psychological disturbances. I heard the expression “soul sickness.” It was a good description of how I was in recovery before I surrendered to the program. Since my early teens, I was already full of hatred, fear and negativity. It was the same for a long time after getting sober in AA
The eight bedevilments were my daily companions. They made life impossible to manage successfully. Since going through the twelve steps, they have been transformed into the twelve promises (BB- Chapter six “Into action” pages 84/84 – 4th edition)
After completing the first nine steps, I was finally able to come off antidepressants. The program has empowered me to have a healthy relationship for the first time. I was unemployable for years in recovery. The program helped me to become employable. Whenever I am asked to sponsor another alcoholic, I experience a sense of joy. What a privilege it is to see them transcend the misery that comes from the bedevilments.
These days, I have no problem admitting that the eight bedevilments were symptoms of my untreated alcoholism. To use Bill’s expression in the Big Book, “The spiritual malady.” (BB p. 64)
What are your thoughts? Could it be that the eight bedevilments are symptoms of alcoholism which Bill describes as a mental illness? (12&12 Step two p.33) An illness that only seems to respond to a spiritual solution.