The Promises of AA

Raised hands pointing toward glowing butterflies against backdrop of night sky

March 10, 2022

By Andy F

Categories: AA literature

What are the 12 promises of AA?

The number ‘twelve’ keeps coming up again and again in Alcoholics Anonymous. I have often wondered if twelve has any significance in numerology. Actually, it does.

The number twelve carries religious, mythological, and magical symbolism, generally representing perfection, entirety, or cosmic order in traditions since antiquity. Wikipedia

It is no coincidence that the number ‘twelve’ appears so frequently in our AA language. It is a number that has been connected to spiritual power “since antiquity.” Twelve also appears frequently in religions such as Hinduism and Islam, as well as Greek and Norse mythology. Interestingly enough, it is a mystical number that also occurs in Biblical texts, in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The twelve promises are the fruit of working through the twelve steps. When read carefully, they fill newcomers with enthusiasm and eagerness. Hope is born that they, too, will experience the transformative power of the AA program.

Bill offers the twelve promises after step nine

The twelve promises appear in Chapter 6 of the AA Big Book on pages 83 and 84. Bill offers them just after describing how to make our ninth step amends.

After the twelve promises, Bill makes a compelling statement. He tells us that the result of working through the first nine steps facilitates recovery from alcoholism. He makes the following statement:

“For by this time, sanity will have returned.”

(BB p 84)

What does Bill mean by sanity?

The question of what Bill means by the word sanity is open to personal interpretation. When, as a newcomer, I first heard this word, it certainly got my attention. Its opposite, insanity, struck me as a strong word to be associated with alcoholism.

I assumed that the insanity that Bill was referring to was related to our complete inability to stop drinking. An idea that wasn’t difficult to accept. I continued to drink and take drugs despite the prospect of imminent death. Without a doubt, that is utterly insane!

The longer I stayed in AA, the more I realized that my insanity extended way beyond my powerlessness over alcohol. Bill described the pathology of alcoholics beautifully in Chapter 4, “We Agnostics.” On page 52he presents the reader with the eight bedevilments.

The passage begins with: “We had to ask ourselves,…  When I first read them, I couldn’t deny that they perfectly described my personality. They were true for me whether I was drinking or not.

The root meaning of Sanity

The word sanity comes from the Latin root “Sanus,” meaning ‘Sound, healthy whole.’ Therefore, insanity suggests a lack of health. Besides our powerlessness over alcohol, the eight bedevilments were a clear example of an unhealthy person. Could they be alluding to a type of insanity? Undoubtedly, this was Bill’s interpretation.

I wondered if the twelve promises could ever materialize for a low-bottom drunk like me. Besides being an alcoholic, my mental health was very fragile when I was a newcomer. Unquestionably, I suffered from “Grave emotional and mental disorders” (BB P. 58). The eight bedevilments were a very accurate way of describing what I was like as a newcomer.

The twelve promises

The twelve promises appear in chapter six of the Big Book. Bill presents them as healing after working through the first nine steps. They describe recovery from untreated alcoholism. They offer great hope that the promises will materialize for all of us. All we must do is ‘keep coming back’ to meetings and work on the program with our sponsors.

  1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it
  3. We will comprehend the word serenity.
  4. We will know peace.
  5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others
  6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear
  7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows
  8. Self-seeking will slip away
  9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change
  10. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

(BB pages 83 and 84)

Early thoughts about the 12 promises

After putting down the alcohol, it quickly became apparent that I had co-existing mental health issues. I had to seek outside help from a psychiatrist. He prescribed medication to help me cope with early sobriety. I remember listening to the promises read after meetings. They seemed like an impossible dream for someone with severe depression and anxiety.

The truth was that until I was ready to do the steps, I suffered from what AA has termed a “dry drunk.” In my book, The Twelve Steps for Agnostics, I have called the symptoms of untreated alcoholism the twelve miseries. They are pretty much the polar opposite of the twelve promises.

The twelve miseries

I had no concept of freedom and was a slave to all my other compulsions and addictions. Rather than being happy, I was constantly miserable.

I was full of bitterness and resentment about my past. I was obsessed with getting revenge on the people I believed had hurt me.

Serenity was an unknown concept.

With my “washing machine” head, I never had a moment’s peace.

I wasn’t interested in anyone benefitting from my experience. I was so lost and needy that I just wanted to benefit from other people’s recovery.

Having no self-esteem at all, I felt utterly useless. Painful self-pity trips would often lead to the first drink or thoughts of suicide.

Being too wrapped up in negativity, I wasn’t interested in other people.

I was always a self-seeker, seeking pleasure through the pursuit of instant gratification. I was willing to go to any lengths to get temporary relief from my loneliness and inner emptiness.

My attitude was that it was everyone else’s job to rescue me. Seeing myself as one of life’s victims made life very hard.

Besides being a slave to various other addictions, I was also a slave to fear. I was always anxious and suffered from paralyzing panic attacks.

I was committed to listening to the lies in my head. It restricted any access to a natural intuition. I realized that a healthy intuition was an indication of a well-balanced person.

As an agnostic, I rejected the idea that God would do for me what I could not do for myself. When I was a newcomer, God and a higher power meant the same thing. That was the trouble; I was determined to be my own higher power, which always ended in hopelessness, despair, and relapse.

The twelfth promise for an agnostic

When I got the Gift ODesperation (an acronym for GOD), I surrendered to the guidance of a sponsor. I was fortunate enough to find someone open to working with an agnostic. He pointed me to page 27 of the 12 x 12.

“You can, if you wish, make AA your higher power. Here’s a very large group of people,” (Group Of Drunks – an acronym for GOD) “that have solved their alcohol problem. In this respect, they are certainly a power greater than you, who have not even come close to a solution.” (12&12 p 27)

At that moment, as a bewildered agnostic, my recovery took off. This sponsor helped me more than anyone had ever done since coming to AA.

Through misery and unhappiness, the days of my rebellious self-will ended. On that day, my alcoholic ego collapsed. I surrendered to the Good Orderly Direction (an acronym for GOD) that I was receiving from a sponsor.

After doing the work of the steps, the twelfth promise began to materialize.

As an unbeliever in God, the twelfth promise became as simple as AA itself, and the suggestions of a sponsor did for me what I could not do for myself. 

The gift of the twelve promises

The twelve steps introduced me to the real Andy. There was no question I was a highly complicated person. “AA is a simple program for complicated people” (popular AA slogan)

I began to understand what being an alcoholic means. There had been an inner duality in me since childhood. It was already there long before I started drinking. I started drinking to medicate feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Before alcohol and drugs, sugar was the first addiction. By the time I was a teenager, this inner duality developed into full-blown alcoholism.

The duality of alcoholism

It gradually became apparent that there are two different and opposing aspects to my alcoholic personality. The first part was what I came to call the ‘maladapted alcoholic ego.’ The second part was the real me. I called it the authentic self. They were always fighting. I never had a moment’s peace.

The twelve steps gradually dismantled the power of the ego and gave me the space to connect with my true self. I began taking actions that improved my self-esteem. The behaviors driven by the pursuit of instant gratification had all but succeeded in destroying any self-respect.

I then discovered something very startling. The “twelve miseries” were all held in place by my ego. This amounted to untreated alcoholism.

A homecoming

After completing the first nine steps, I realized an incredible truth. The twelve promises are natural aspects of the authentic self. They were always there but buried under my ego-driven self-will. It was fear that drove these ego drives.

What a gift! We can connect with this beautiful and creative part of our true nature through the twelve steps. The twelve steps have taken me home at last, home to my true self.

I discovered a fantastic new reality. Truth is power. It is undoubtedly a power greater than me! The twelve steps gently lead me to the truth of who I am. If I practice step seven, I receive the gift of humility. With a reduced ego, it becomes increasingly more apparent how powerful the authentic self is.

In fellowship,

Andy F

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