AA bedevilments

AA Bedevilments

February 9, 2022

By Andy F

Categories: AA literature

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 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. I assumed this type of step workshop helped demystify the twelve steps for some members who found the steps too religious. Like myself, I knew members who felt daunted at the prospect of getting a sponsor and following suggestions. 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 who thought the London fellowship might benefit from this approach to the twelve steps. It was the first time the fellowship in the UK was introduced to the idea of a Big Book study.

I knew some of the people who joined the group. Like me, they had been in the fellowship for years. Many of us were trying to stay sober just by going to meetings. Others had already been through the steps and saw the benefit of going through them again. We all got to know each other quite well. The ones who had never been through the program were struggling with negative thinking and extreme mood swings.

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 somehow managed to not drink for twelve years. I never really took the program seriously. Whenever things got tough, I would drink again or get into a co-dependent relationship. Every time I relapsed, I would have to look for a new sponsor. The truth was that I remained angry, frustrated, and miserable. ‘A white-knuckled dry drunk’ would be an honest way to describe what I was like before I surrendered to the suggestions of a sponsor.

Step two assignment

The Big Book study was very intensive. After completing a written step one, we were presented with step two. This was offered as a written assignment. There were two parts to this work.

Part one

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. Then, we had to list all the positive higher powers. They were powers that represented all the new ideas and suggestions we received since coming to AA. These new ideas gradually taught us how to live in the solution. The negative powers were defined as behaviors that were harmful to others and ourselves.

Thankfully, the Big Book study did not push the idea of God. This was immensely helpful to many of us who struggled with a belief 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 improve the quality of our lives.

Part two

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.

  1. We were having trouble with personal relationships.
  2. We couldn’t control our emotional natures.
  3. We were prey to misery and depression.
  4. We couldn’t make a living.
  5. We had a feeling of uselessness.
  6. We were full of fear.
  7. We were unhappy.
  8. 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 an accurate description of the only reality that I had ever known. Strangely, this was true even before I started drinking! Perhaps the bedevilments were why I started drinking in the first place!?

After reading them, we were asked to write a detailed account of how each bedevilment affected our lives. In what ways had they made our ‘lives unmanageable’? (Second half of step one)

Sanity and Insanity in AA

Step two invites us 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 behavior. She went on to give us an interesting interpretation of the word sanity. We were told that the word sanity comes from the Latin root “Sanus.” The English translation of sanus is ‘health’ or ‘wholeness.’ Could the bedevilments be describing our poor mental health? Were they symptoms of the “spiritual malady” described by Bill on page 64 of the Big Book?

Writing about the eight bedevilments, we had to admit that drunk or sober, they still dominated our lives to a greater or lesser extent. Some were more obvious than others. We certainly didn’t sign up for the Big Book study because we were “happy, joyous and free.” (BB p.133)  It was hard to deny the truth once it was down on paper. The bedevilments were accurate screenshots of our unmanageable lives.  

The threefold illness

If I went to meetings regularly, I was certainly able to stay sober for long periods. The uncomfortable truth was that I was still mentally unstable.’ I had to be on anti-depressants for 25 years in AA. The eight bedevilments were like looking into a mirror!

The reality of untreated alcoholism doesn’t lie. Of the fifty of us who came to the Big Book study, we all had similar problems. I had known many of them for years. Like me, the majority of them were on medication. All we had done since coming to AA was not drink and go to meetings.

The Big Book describes 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 page XXV111). Gradually, I came to agree with Bill. Alcoholism is an illness. I also began to suspect that he was right to call it a spiritual illness. Conventional talk therapies were ineffective for an alcoholic of my type.

The step two assignment we were given on the Big Book study was a game-changer in my recovery!

Plagued by the bedevilments in sobriety

The bedevilments were true for everyone who 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 p. 53)

Our capacity to make a decent living had been impaired by mental and emotional instability (4th bedevilment). Despite being physically sober, most of us continued to be unhappy, frequently plagued by 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 to see.

“The spiritual malady” (Big Book p.64)

Here was Bill making this very radical and challenging statement. “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (BB p. 64) 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 my poor 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. Professional intervention was only a temporary solution. Years of relapse finally gave me the Gift Of Desperation. (Acronym for GOD) I was left with no other choice but to surrender to the suggestions of a sponsor.

Alcoholism: a soul sickness

It was impossible to fully recover until I acknowledged the whole truth. The effects of a dysfunctional childhood were certainly damaging. I began to warm to the idea that my problems went way beyond my psychological problems. In AA, I was introduced to the expression “soul sickness.”(12&12 p. 44). Warped and twisted was a good way to describe me after putting down the alcohol. Since my early teens, I was already full of fear, anger, and negativity. “Common symptoms of emotional insecurity are worry. anger, self-pity, and depression.” (12&12 p, 6)

The Twelve Promises

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 ps. 84/84)

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 in my early years in AA. The program helped me embark on a career I loved and stayed in for thirty years. Whenever I am asked to sponsor another alcoholic, I experience a sense of joy. What a privilege it is to see them transcend their problems. The practice of love and service to others has been the panacea that sets me free from the scourge of the eight bedevilments.

In fellowship

Andy F

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