‘The Family Afterward’ – AA
Reading the Big Book as an Agnostic
Just because I identify as an agnostic doesn’t mean I didn’t read the Big Book. After years of relapse, I eventually received the precious Gift Of Desperation. (Acronym for GOD) It was a powerful motivator to get serious about the AA literature. Over time, I became familiar with it. In the first 164 pages, which embraces the first six chapters, the God word appears 142 times. Back then, this bothered me a lot.
A wise sponsor told me to put the whole question of God on the back burner until I had completed the first nine steps. To keep it simple, he also suggested I use AA as a power greater than me. Despite frequent references to God, I could identify with Bill’s description of alcoholism and the alcoholic personality.
Embracing the dis-ease concept of alcoholism
When I got serious about recovery, I found the Big Book captivating. For the first time in my life, I got to read about myself. The book offered a strangely precise description of my personality. Bill could just as well be writing about me. In time, I even warmed to the idea that perhaps, at its core; alcoholism was a spiritual sickness or, as Bill puts it, a “spiritual malady.” (BB “How it works,” p 64)
I was the polar opposite of someone well-adjusted. For me, a person with inner harmony between mind, body, and spirit was like someone from another planet. The truth was that I was a total mess! Unquestionably, I was deeply conflicted, a person at war with himself and the rest of the world.
A conflicted inner duality
This internal duality was undoubtedly a soul sickness of some kind. As the Big Book says, I was full of hatred, resentment, and blame. They were eating away the very core of my being. What got my attention was a statement that Bill made in chapter five.
“Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stems all forms of spiritual disease.”
(Big Book “How it works” page 77, 1st. edition)
Could Bill be right? Had all this hatred and resentment about my childhood caused me to become spiritually sick?
A right to be angry
In those early days, in therapy, I was made aware that I was an angry young man. I was also made aware that my depression was internalized anger turned against me. With the best will in the world, these therapists confirmed that I had “a right to be angry.’ Well, for an alcoholic of my type, that was like a red rag to a bull!
“If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics, these things were poison.”
Big Book – Ch 5 “How it works” – p 79 1st edition
As a newcomer, I had a lot invested in blaming everyone for my misery. In therapy, I was trying to get in touch with my feelings. Anger struck me as a more honest expression. If I used this word, I was somehow connecting with my wounded inner child. It was so much easier to be angry at someone. These people had disturbed me. Therefore, it must have been their fault.
Resentment, the “number one” offender (BB p. 64)
I didn’t like the expression ‘resentment’ because it somehow suggested I had created it. The meaning of this word seems so specific. No one could give me resentment; I had to take it. Being my creation, I was responsible for doing something about it.
I ignored the steps and stayed with my ‘right to be angry.’ Fuelled by blame, this type of victim belief system resulted in many years of misery and relapse. Everything was always someone else’s fault. I didn’t take one shred of responsibility for my warped perception of life.
The Family Afterward
When I admitted that nothing had worked to keep me sober, I took to reading the Big Book. I was able to find a working solution to my problems. Until then, Ch. 4, “We Agnostics,” had been my favorite. After many years in AA, I suddenly discovered chapter nine, “The Family Afterward.”
One paragraph in chapter nine left me stunned! Drunk or sober, I knew that the following quote described me perfectly. When I fully absorbed its content and that it offered a tangible solution, it became a game-changer in my journey toward emotional sobriety:
“Now about health: A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight, nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are a miracle of mental health.”
BB – Ch 9 “The Family Afterward” pages 146/147 – First edition
A moment of truth
Wow! I couldn’t believe how well Bill had described me in this short paragraph. After all these years in therapy, I still suffered from “twisted thinking and depression.” They made life completely unmanageable and triggered multiple relapses.
Suddenly, this paragraph became one of the most important quotes in the Big Book. Reading it again and again brought me to yet another truth. It occurred to me that twisted thinking and depression had been my default state long before I picked up the first drink!
Nothing helped to alleviate it except addiction. Alcohol was only the tip of the iceberg in my repertoire of addictive behaviors. Absent addiction, in all its forms, all I ever knew was depression and twisted thinking.
A spiritual mode of living
According to Bill, a spiritual mode of living was the solution to these bedevilments. He made it clear that depression and twisted thinking were symptoms of untreated alcoholism. How on earth could I embrace a spiritual mode of living if I didn’t believe in God?
I was so lucky to have had some experienced and wise sponsors. They did not see my agnosticism as an obstacle. Absent a belief in God, “A spiritual mode of living is simple: trust the program, clean house, and help others.”
I did as he suggested. The program has indeed restored my sanity. My lifelong companions, twisted thinking, and depression began to leave me. I am no longer at war with myself or anyone else.
A higher consciousness
I now have a sense of a higher power guiding my life. It’s not God in the traditional understanding of the word. It’s a higher consciousness. My consciousness naturally ascended to a higher level while learning how to offer love and service to other alcoholics in AA.
Sponsoring newcomers has unquestionably led me to a non-God-centered spiritual awakening. I remind myself daily that I am “no longer running the show” (BB ‘Into Action’ pp. 87 – 88) of my life.
Whenever I surrender my will and help others, I experience harmony between mind, body, and spirit. Through a daily surrender of the ego, love, and service are formidable higher powers.
As a sober member of AA, still full of defects, the practice of love and service isn’t always easy. The suggested program offers me a “daily reprieve” (BB “Into Action,” p 85) from the miseries of untreated alcoholism.