Anonymous is never late, sometimes early, and always
on time. Its attitudes about the past, the present and
the future are founded on experience, pragmatism, and
faith. An investigation of A.A.'s attitudes about
time and my own personal experiences, drunk and sober,
reveals key ideas crucial to real recovery.
when did A.A. begin? A.A.'s founding is celebrated
every year at Founders' weekend in Akron and all
over the world on June 10, 1935. That's when Bill
W. and Dr. Bob first met and talked at the Sieberling
gate house in Akron, Ohio. Usually one's sobriety
starts with the day one stopped drinking. We know from
a great researcher, Merton M., that Dr. Bob went to
a medical convention and drank after that June 10. Arriving
back, he finally sobered up on June 17, 1935.
is important to remember that A.A. was founded not when
Bill Wilson got sober with his spiritual experience
in Towns Hospital in 1934 … but when Dr. Bob took
his last drink. That's the we in the Fellowship.
10 is a symbolic date. But you can imagine the uproar
if we tried to get June 17 accepted as the official”
founding date of A.A. To start with, most of A.A. is
can also argue that A.A. was founded when Bill W. stopped
drinking in 1934 … or when he had his spiritual
experience in Towns Hospital … or when Ebby T.
brought him the Oxford Group "I've got religion"
June 10 is so ingrained in the Fellowship's shared
history that it might be best to accept it as evidence
of our shared imperfection and move on.
Dr. Bob told a newcomer he wasn't going to drink
today and if he wanted to stick around with him maybe
he wouldn't drink today. He didn't
require a lifetime temperance pledge or any other "tomorrow"
promise. He ignored the pigeon's liquid past of
binges, blackouts, daily intoxications, and disasters.
was the time. And even today was divided into
minutes and hours.
second biggest best-seller after the Alcoholics Anonymous
Big Book was Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Richmond
Walker. This small daily meditation volume started the
day every morning for many newcomers. Each of the 365
pages offered a daily A.A. Thought for the Day, Meditation
for the Day, and Prayer for the Day; all on one 3 x
5 ½ inch page. The book was "intended for
members of Alcoholics Anonymous, as a help in their
program of living one day at a time.” Published
in 1948, the foreword advised "If we don't
take that first drink today, we'll never
take it, because it's always today."
Fellowship is full of pithy sayings, folksy slogans,
and wise suggestions about today: "One
minute, one hour, one day at a time." "You
can start your day over anytime." "The past
is a cancelled check, the future a promissory note,
but today is cash."
own experience as an active alcoholic, 15 years of getting
drunk, centered not on today but tomorrow.
"I won't do this again tomorrow." But
tomorrow was always the same only worse. And it never
came. I lost many jobs because I was always late or
absent. Never on time. Never present. Endless tomorrow
resolutions that never began. Back then tomorrow
was my favorite day.
years later I asked myself what character defects God
removed from me in my first year stumbling through the
12 Steps. God didn't remove the pride and lust
because I wouldn't let Him but what He removed
was the biggest pattern in my drunk career: always late
or absent. My first job sober was in a meat factory
and I was on time at six in the morning every day. I
wouldn't dream of going to an A.A. meeting late.
I paid my bills on time. I was present. God got me on
in my first months of A.A., an oldtimer gave me the
Twenty-Four Hours a Day book and advised me
to read it daily. "Put it under your bed; that
way you'll start the day off on your knees."
do I have to kneel?"
all those drunks when you ended up flat in the gutter?
You didn't stand up immediately. The first thing
you did was get on your knees, grab a helping hand or
anything, and pull yourself upright." On your knees
is not religious; it's symbolic of the beginning
of your sobering up, standing up.
starts in A.A. with our sobriety date, our first day
sober. Mine is January 25, 1976. Over the years I have
enjoyed a few birthday cakes and received some medallions
to mark the years, now some 38 sober years. Some A.A.
groups give out different colored poker chips to celebrate
thirty or ninety days sober. If a newcomer has a desire
to drink, they suggest putting the plastic chip in his
mouth and when it melts they can take a drink. I've
never met a newcomer who said the chip melted.
dependence on God and intensive work with other alcoholics”
is the only guarantee of immunity from drinking again.
how much time does it take to get sober? Or…how
much time to go through the Twelve Steps? The first
Clarence Snyder, Cleveland A.A. Founder, was
sponsored by Dr. Bob. Clarence would take the newcomer
home with him Friday and when the new man left Monday
morning he was on Step 9, going out to make direct amends.
That's 8 steps in a weekend.
Dr. Bob and Sr. Ignatia set up the first alcoholic
ward at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron. The newcomer was
sponsored into the hospital and his sponsor was responsible
for the bill. Usually he was allowed to stay 5 days
and had to finish Step 5. There were few exceptions
to the no repeat admissions rule. Sr. Ignatia's
favorite saying was "Eternity is now." That
pinpoints her attitude about time.
Our own experience over the past eleven years
with Twelve Step Workshops has proven that anyone who
is willing, honest and open-minded can go through the
12 Steps in twelve weeks or less, often less.
the Steps in ten or twelve weeks with a sponsor and
God is not the only way to get sober. As West Virginia
archivist I interviewed old Bill H. at the Martins Ferry,
Ohio, AA group. They had eight members and the baby
in the group had 8 years sober. They met once a week
and before the meeting played euchre for 25 cents a
game. They didn't read the Traditions, Steps,
Promises, and Preamble. No GSR report since they had
none. They started with the Serenity Prayer or a minute
of silence. If no one had a problem to discuss, they
closed with the Lord's Prayer and went back to
asked Bill how he worked the Steps. "We didn't
‘work' the Steps, we lived them," he
said. How are you going to argue about how the Steps
should be worked with someone who died with 44 years
sober? And all the other members with 8 years, 30 years,
we didn't write anything out, we knew what we
had done wrong in the past and when the victim showed
up we made amends right away," Bill explained.
Sounds like "today, now." Those AAs all had
sponsors and a God, so the "we" was solid.
Nowhere in the Big Book is a time limitation put on
only place any time is mentioned is the "one hour"
after the Fifth Step to "carefully review[ing]
what we have done. Carefully reading the first five
proposals (Steps) we ask if we have omitted anything,
for we are building an arch through which we shall walk
a free man at last." BB p.75
happens if a drunk doesn't work or "live"
the Steps? Well, the Big Book says alcohol was just
a "symptom" and until "selfishness, self-centeredness"
is removed, we will go back to alcohol. Alcohol is "cunning,
baffling and powerful" ( add "patient")
and we will drink again. In the "Doctor's
Opinion," the opening text in the Big Book, Dr.
Silkworth pointed out the powerful mental obsession
to drink again as well as the physical craving
for another drink that comes after the first drink.
To borrow from Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankees
catcher, "it's déjà vu all
all have a sobriety date. Some have days or months,
some have years, today some have 50 years or more of
sobriety. But we all count our sobriety one day at a
time. Last year an A.A. revealed he had drunk for 4
hours or so but didn't get a new sobriety date.
He decided he would keep his original sobriety date.
After all it was his. Whatever happened to "we"?
Maybe he should write up his new A.A. idea about sobriety
dates and send it to the Grapevine for publication
around the world. Talk about ego! Wonder what effect
that would have on struggling alcoholics. It wouldn't
take much time for a newcomer to stretch that four hours
into four days or weeks or months or even years. A.A.
does not erase a four hour drunk.
A.A. is a present tense Fellowship, it does not ignore
the past or the future. The past is present in the first
two Steps. The newcomer looks over his past powerlessness
and his unmanageable life. He goes to a lot of speaker
meetings and identifies with them. He listens to his
sponsor's story and sees himself. He reviews all
his past attempts to control his drinking and sees his
continuous failures. He realizes his own will power
and resolutions, the police, employers, significant
others, treatment, counselors and medications at best
gave him only a brief interlude before he started drinking
again. The process of elimination drags him to the only
option, a Higher Power.
soon as he makes a Third Step decision about God, he
is urged by the Big Book to begin a Fourth Step "at
our decision [in the Third Step] was a vital and crucial
step, it could have little permanent effect unless
at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and
to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been
blocking us .... Therefore, we started …. Step
is a spiritual autopsy. The newcomer confronts his past.
If they aren't "ready" to write out
their fearless, moral inventory, I usually suggest the
first word to be written down is "procrastination,"
the time thief.
that doesn't work, then another look at Step Three
is in order. A general principle in putting the Steps
into action is that when one is having real difficulty
with a Step go back to the previous Step for spiritual
good Step Four written inventory reveals a large batch
of angers (resentments), fears and sexual misdeeds with
all the attendant harm done to others and oneself. One's
conscience immediately brings up shame and guilt which
is good. Have you ever met a shameless or guiltless
person? You're looking at a psychopath or serial
killer or someone so scarred they have lost their humanity.
No conscience exists there. The shame can be accepted
as proof of our imperfection and the guilt can be repaired
with amends and the rest of the Steps relying on the
graces of one's God.
is how the horrible past is changed into our chief asset.
The Steps create for us a new past. Secrets with all
their fears and angers are shared with a sponsor and
God and healed. You can see that at speaker meetings,
when the room erupts in laughter at the past disasters.
Outsiders are shocked at the Fellowship's humor
about such terrible past events.
a recovered alcoholic shares his story with a newcomer,
the pigeon identifies with the sponsor's past.
The newcomer knows that this sober alcoholic knows his
own story and is attracted to the sponsor's present
sobriety. He wants to know how the A.A. member got his
sobriety. Hope is born and a bond of trust comes about.
Sponsorship through the Steps usually begins because
the suffering alcoholic wants a new healed past with
the removal of all drinking.
A.A.'s attitude about the past is positive: "We
will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on
it." (Big Book p.83) Living today and having gained
a new healed past, the A.A. pigeon arrives at Step Ten
and reads the "Twelve Promises" on Big Book
pages 83 and 84.
the end of that paragraph, the Big Book asks: "Are
these extravagant promises?" The Big Book answers
"We think not." I usually answer "Yes."
Promises about the future. A.A. does not promise the
newcomer his marriage will not end in divorce; that
he will shortly be promoted run his employer's
multi-million dollar company; that his new BMW will
be delivered tomorrow. Nor does A.A. promise him he
will be divorced, fired, or walk to work every day.
is very careful about future times. It does say the
alcoholic will have a "daily reprieve contingent
on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."
(Big Book p.85)
Ten, Eleven and Twelve are often called the "maintenance"
Steps. I call them the Progress Steps. In early A.A.
members would ask Bill W. when they were going to have
a "spiritual experience" like Bill had in
Towns Hospital. His reply was Appendix II in the Big
Book. The spiritual awakening of the Twelfth Step can
be a lightning bolt or a slower transformation over
some months. The result is the same.
my early sobriety I wouldn't dream of showing
up "late" for an A.A. meeting. But eventually
I came to understand you are never "late"
my drunk career, time was always my enemy. My time then
was always tomorrow or the ancient past of failures.
Always late or absent. Procrastination was a virtue.
it's totally different: "See to it your relationship
with Him (your God) is right, and great events will
come to pass for you and countless others." (Big
Book p.164) Now I have a very long list of "great
events" promised for the future that are now present
time now is a daily reprieve. I have numerous prayers.
I listen to my God in meditation. I leave it to the
reader to find the resentment prayer, the Step prayers,
the morning and evening prayers, the guidance through
doubt and anxiety, the intuition gift, and much more
that will keep you spiritually fit and sober.
the Big Book Steps, sponsors and the Fellowship gave
me a new good life. I wouldn't change anything
in the Big Book. Well, maybe I would like to add three
words on the title page: