There are no references to our Basic Text within “Bill’s Story”, and that seems to make sense since there was no book at the time of Bill’s recovery. However, what we can see in this chapter along with Bill’s experience with alcoholism are the basic elements of 12th-Step work and Bill’s own efforts in taking the Steps long before anyone had even thought about writing a book. With those thoughts in mind, let us begin at the point of A.A.’s first-ever 12th-Step call:
“Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master.
“Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man…soon to be catapulted into what I like to call the fourth dimension of existence. I was to know happiness, peace, and usefulness, in a way of life that is incredibly more wonderful as time passes.
“Near the end of that bleak November, I sat drinking in my kitchen…enough gin concealed about the house to carry me through that night and the next day…wondered whether I dared hide a full bottle of gin near the head of our bed…
“My musing was interrupted by the telephone. The cheery voice of an old school friend asked if he might come over. He (Ebby) was sober. It was years since I could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I was amazed.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous”, pages 8-9)
Bill already had a desire to stop drinking, and Ebby, his long-time acquaintance and friend, had already been brought into spiritual fellowship with others as a solution for the alcoholic’s dilemma of not being able to do that. We occasionally hear A.A. recovery portrayed as something mystical, inexplicable or even “magical” that seems to happen as a result of two alcoholics trying to help each other stay sober, but that is not even close to what we can see here at the very beginning of A.A. Instead, and as indicated by the italicized emphasis of Bill’s baffled observation of Ebby — “He was sober“ — we have something much more like this:
“That the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured — these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again.” (pages 18-19)
If you wish, go through that paragraph one thought at a time and see the overall dynamic evident even before our book and its “Working With Others” chapter had been written. In this particular case, Bill already knew Ebby “has had the same difficulty”, and Bill’s amazement over Ebby being sober would suggest Bill was already becoming curious about how that could be possible. Most of us typically have a little more work to do than Ebby at the beginnings of our own 12th-Step calls…
“See your man alone, if possible…engage in general conversation…turn the talk to some phase of drinking…encourage him to speak of himself…get a better idea of how you ought to proceed…
“When he sees you know all about the drinking game…
“Don’t, at this stage, refer to this book, unless he has seen it and wishes to discuss it…
“Let him ask you (how you got well)…” (pages 91-93)
But since Ebby and Bill were old friends who had played “the drinking game” together and since both of them already knew Bill could not stop drinking, Ebby’s visit with Bill begins much closer to Step Two even though Ebby had *not* stopped by to pick Bill up for a meeting… ;)
“I (Bill) pushed a drink across the table. He (Ebby) refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself.
“‘Come, what’s all this about?’, I queried.
“(Ebby) looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, ‘I’ve got religion.'” (page 9)
We can only speculate as to what Ebby might have meant by that, and maybe even Ebby was aware Bill could have heard that in either of two ways. For some religious folks, refusing a drink is a moral issue. However, the fact that A.A. did not become religious and only suggests something akin to “Go see God” (as suggested by Dr. Carl Jung), it seems safe to say Ebby was saying “I’ve got ‘God’, Bill, and ‘God as you understand God’ (page 164) is now doing for me what I could never do for myself.” (page 84) Bill seems to not have been bothered by Ebby’s mention of “religion”, as such, yet today we are typically careful to distinguish ‘God’ from religion at the very start. Bill continues:
“…(Ebby) did no ranting…he told how two men had…told of a simple religious idea (we now know as Step Three) and a practical program of action (Steps Four through Nine)…
“He (Ebby) had come to pass his experience along to me — if I cared to have it. I was shocked (at Ebby’s mention of religion or ‘God’ as having something to do with his being sober), but interested. Certainly I was interested. I had to be, for I was hopeless.” (pages 9-10)
Yet even in his hopeless state, and just as with many of us, Bill still initially had a bit of trouble at Step Two:
“Despite the living example of my friend there remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice. The word God still aroused a certain antipathy. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified. I didn’t like the idea. I could go for such conceptions as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of Nature but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens, however loving His sway might be. I have since talked with scores of men who felt the same way.” (page 12)
Ebby did not argue, however. Rather:
“(Ebby) suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said, ‘Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?’
“That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.
“It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself…growth could start from that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have it? Of course I would!” (same page)
Please notice we have just considered “a foundation of complete willingness” while hearing nothing even close to the idea of “a god of your own understanding”. With the focus upon willingness, we have only heard the simple idea of “God as you understand (or maybe even as one or more of us might misunderstand) God” presented in a non-religious, non-sectarian, non-denominational way. Ebby and Bill each knew they were talking about willingness and ‘God’ outside of any religious walls, and ultimately…
“Thus was (Bill) convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough. At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.” (still on page 12)
Bill and Ebby might have talked a bit that day about their being powerless over alcohol and unable to manage their own lives into continued sobriety, Step One, and we have just seen Bill “step past religion”, so to speak, and become willing to offer himself…
“…to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would…unreservedly under His care and direction.” (page 13)
As part of that Third Step for Bill, he also reiterated some of the essence of Steps One and Two:
“I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost.” (same page)
Then in an overall summary before sharing with us certain details related to his taking the remainder of the Steps, Bill next says this:
“I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.” (still on page 13)
Where abstinence cannot produce recovery, taking the Steps can produce “I have not had a drink since.” In fact, and from a little about the recovery of another early A,A,:
“Save for a few brief moments of temptation the thought of drink has never returned; and at such times a great revulsion has risen up in him. Seemingly he could not drink even if he would. God had restored his sanity.” (page 57)
And now for a few details:
“My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. (Step Five) We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. (Step Eight) I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. (also Step Eight) Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability. (Step Nine)
“I was to test my thinking by the new God-consciousness within. (Step Ten) Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me. (Step Eleven) Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure.
“My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems…”
Having since done the same as Bill and others, the same has since become true for each of us.