Category Archives: Basic Text Self-References

Basic Text references to our Basic Text

… the basic text for our Society …
… the main purpose of this book.
… the plan outlined in this book.
… the great news this book carries …
… the purpose of this book …
… few, to whom this book will appeal …
Its main object is to …

Since anything beyond a passive or casual reference to itself within any given book (such as on an introductory or dedication page) is somewhat unusual, we have taken a look at such references appearing within “Alcoholics Anonymous“, our Basic Text.


References within “Preface”


We begin here with references to our Basic Text as found within its Preface (and with these following excerpts being from its Third Edition):

“This is the third edition of the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’…
“…the basic text for our Society…”

Interestingly, or at least within the realm of computer programming, the word “basic” is also an acronym meaning “Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code”. We are not mere computer chips or being “programmed”, of course, yet that idea of “instruction code” within “Basic Text” still seems to hold a bit of significance or at least a degree of symbolism here since the word “text” clearly represents our Basic Text as being a “textbook” or a “manual of instruction” in our particular “branch of study.” (Wikipedia) And to carry that thought a bit farther, we might also consider the following from the Forewords to our “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions“:

“…the infant Society determined to set down its experience in a book…(where) the spiritual ideas of the Society were codified for the first time in the Twelve Steps, and the application of these Steps to the alcoholic’s dilemma was made clear.”

Codifications need to be decoded in order to be applied, and our Basic Text is where we are shown how the A.A. program of recovery can be applied to our problem in order to bring about permanent recovery from chronic alcoholism. Do with these thoughts as you wish, of course, but “Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code” seems to us, at least in principle, to be appropriate here. In fact, later on in our textbook we will see expressions such as “clear-cut directions…showing how we recovered.” (page 29)

Although our book’s Preface is not meant to be definitive, we might nevertheless also note the idea of “society” here, and just as we have observed at the beginning of “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”. Some people might occasionally prefer to think of or to perceive A.A. as being some kind of corporation, organization or even a “national institution” (Foreword to Second Edition) of one kind or another, but we are actually much more of an ad-hoc society or “organism” than anything even close to any of those.

Moving along:

“…this book…has helped…large numbers of alcoholic men and women to recovery…”

Ponder that thought the next time you might hear someone suggest our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

“All changes made over the years in the Big Book (A.A. members’ fond nickname for this volume) have had the same purpose: to represent the current membership of Alcoholics Anonymous more accurately, and thereby to reach more alcoholics.”

The above from the Preface to our book stems from this within:

“To be gravely affected, one does not necessarily have to drink a long time nor take the quantities some of us have… But try [to] get them to see it!
“As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking many years beyond the point where we could quit on our will power. If anyone questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor alone for one year…” (pages 33-34)

So much for anything like “Just don’t take the first drink one-day-at-a-time”, eh?! The idea there during our 12th-Step work is to try to help others see and accept their own ultimate hopelessness far sooner than their own drinking and their eventual attempts to stop altogether might ever drive them to it.


References within “Foreword to First Edition”


Here is the second sentence shared in the Foreword to our book’s First Edition:

“To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.”

In our book’s pre-publication manuscript, the above appeared as this:

“To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW THEY CAN RECOVER is the main purpose of this book.”

Continuing on:

“For them, we hope these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary.”

Few people seem willing to tolerate this today, but that idea of no further authentication being necessary would indicate this book “says it all”, so to speak. Even Dr. Silkworth mentioned feeling “a sense of real satisfaction when I was asked to contribute a few words on a subject which is covered in such masterly detail in these pages.” (“The Doctor’s Opinion“, italic added) And of course, the subject being covered in our book is permanent recovery from chronic alcoholism…and then with everyone everywhere in mind:

“We think this account of our experiences will help everyone to better understand the alcoholic.”

Our book can help the alcoholic understand himself or herself, and it can help others understand us and our alcoholism in ways that can be helpful all-around.

“…personal appeals which may result from this publication…”

Early A.A.s were a bit surprised when the initial release of our book did not result in the flooding of their post box.

“We shall be interested to hear from those who are getting results from this book, particularly from those who have commenced work with other alcoholics.”

As shared within:

“Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” (page 89)


References within “The Doctor’s Opinion”


“We of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the reader will be interested in the medical estimate of the plan of recovery described in this book.”

The above ties back to the Foreword to our book’s First Edition where we say, “we hope (for other alcoholics) these pages will prove so convincing that no further authentication will be necessary.” However, getting to that point was a two-stage process since Dr. Silkworth was at first hesitant over possible criticisms amongst his peers upon disclosure of his “physical allergy” theory explaining the alcoholic’s beyond-all-control drinking. So, and with the doctor’s first letter forever remaining unsigned, our “The Doctor’s Opinion” includes two letters from him along with our mention of our request for his second letter. We will find more insight in relation to all of that while later comparing our mention of an effective 12th-Stepper being one who is “properly armed with facts about himself/herself” (page 18) to how that idea first appeared in our book’s pre-publication manuscript as “certain medical facts”. Overall, however, and surprisingly to some people, A.A. never expresses any opinion anywhere as to whether or not alcoholism is an actual disease. Rather, we only say the good doctor’s theory “explains many things for which we cannot otherwise account.” (“The Doctor’s Opinion“)

Continuing on:

“The subject presented in this book seems to me to be of paramount importance to those afflicted with alcoholic addiction.” (Dr. Silkworth)

Dr. Silkworth understood alcoholism and what is needed to recover, and the subject of our book is that of applying the spiritual solution to the alcoholic’s dilemma in order to finally be rid of whatever it might be that has been making it impossible for him or her to “put the plug in the jug” and leave it there.

“…after many years’ experience as Medical Director of one of the oldest hospitals in the country treating alcoholic and drug addiction…a sense of real satisfaction when I was asked to contribute a few words on a subject which is covered in such masterly detail in these pages.” (Dr. Silkworth)

Dr. Silkworth had worked with thousands of alcoholics with very little success prior to the rise of A.A., so his sentiment here is not at all surprising.

“Many years ago one of the leading contributors to this book came under our care in this hospital and while here he acquired some ideas which he put into practical application at once.” (Dr. Silkworth)

You might notice the good doctor has said Bill put some acquired ideas into practical application at once, and in “Bill’s Story” we can read a little in relation to that:

“Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.
“These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but the moment I fully accepted them, the effect was electric. There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never known. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound.
“For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend, the doctor, to ask if I were still sane. He (Dr. Silkworth) listened in wonder as I talked.
“Finally he shook his head saying, ‘Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way you were.’ The good doctor now sees many men who have such experiences. He knows that they are real.” (page 14)

Returning to “The Doctor’s Opinion”:

“The classification of alcoholics seems most difficult, and in much detail is outside the scope of this book.” (Dr. Silkworth)

That statement might at first leave the impression we need to go looking elsewhere for more information, but the good doctor is only trying to drive this point home:

“All these (types of alcoholics I have just mentioned), and many others, have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving…the manifestation of an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a distinct entity… The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence.”

Some folks might want to believe the above represents an A.A. suggestion or directive of some kind to “Don’t drink”, but the doctor who knows he cannot make an alcoholic into a normal drinker is only saying abstinence is the only way to keep our allergy to alcohol from killing us. If “Don’t drink” were at the core of the A.A. program of recovery, that would be the next line in “The Doctor’s Opinion” and none of us would have any real need or reason to read any farther! But rather than anything like that, and in relation to the matter of abstinence, the good doctor instead mentions this kind of idea:

“He accepted the plan outlined in this book…
“He (became) ‘sold’ on the ideas contained in this book…
“I earnestly advise every alcoholic to read this book…and…remain to pray.”
(William D. Silkworth, M.D.)

Read our book carefully and pray (or not) as you will, but please let us know if you might ever find “Don’t drink” anywhere within it!


References within “Bill’s Story”


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.


References within “There Is A Solution”


“…the great news this book carries…” (page 18)

Have you ever heard or participated in a discussion of the “message” or even “messages” being carried by various A.A. groups? Each will be a reflection of its members, of course, and here is the original we mean to emulate:

“…a common solution…a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action…” (same paragraph)

In contrast to that and beyond the confines of A.A., something such as “Whatever works for you!” could be viewed as a principle we nevertheless practice as first indicated and suggested here:

“If he thinks he can do the job in some other way (than through spiritual means), or prefers some other spiritual approach (than the one we all happen to have in common), encourage him to follow his own conscience…be friendly. Let it go at that.” (page 95)

Q: What do we mean by “a common solution”?
A: Kind of like having one wrench that fits any nut.

Q: What do we mean by “we can absolutely agree”?
A: The Steps make it possible for us to be rid of anything causing strife between us.

Q: What do we mean by “brotherly and harmonious action”?
A: Something far more akin to altruism than to pluralism. We staunchly defend each human being’s right to believe and to do as he or she might wish, yet we still only have one program for recovery, one message to carry.

“We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or who may be affected. There are many.” (page 18)

That kind of hope is shared in various places throughout our book.

“Many (of the dying alcoholics all around us) could recover if they had the opportunity we have enjoyed. How then shall we present that which has been so freely given us?
“We have concluded to publish an anonymous volume setting forth the problem as we see it. We shall bring to the task our combined experience and knowledge. This should suggest a useful program for anyone concerned with a drinking problem.” (page 19)

Again we see the idea of one program for all who need it.

“Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious. We are aware that these matters are, from their very nature, controversial. Nothing would please us so much as to write a book which would contain no basis for contention or argument. We shall do our utmost to achieve that ideal.” (same page)

We do not shy away from discussions of medical, psychiatric, social or religious matters whenever those discussions are related to helping the suffering alcoholics directly in front of us. However, and since social engineering or societal reform such as getting people to stop drinking or even to drink less is not our purpose, we typically do not speak publicly on medical, psychiatric, social or religious matters, and we certainly do not think our A.A. membership might ever qualify us to do so.

“If you are an alcoholic who wants to get over it, you may already be asking – ‘What do I have to do?’
“It is the purpose of this book to answer such questions specifically. We shall tell you what we have done.” (page 20)

Please do not misunderstand the “have to” of that! We do not have badges displaying authority for making anyone do anything, and we do not even try. Rather, and whenever someone desperate might ask, “What do I have to do?”, we simply share the fact that he or she can have what we have found by doing just as we first had to do…and we then let each individual decide about that for himself or herself.

“In the following chapter, there appears an explanation of alcoholism, as we understand it, then a chapter addressed to the agnostic.” (page 28)
“Our hope is that many alcoholic men and women, desperately in need, will see these pages, and we believe that it is only by fully disclosing ourselves and our problems that they will be persuaded to say, ‘Yes, I am one of them too; I must have this thing.'” (page 29)


References within “More About Alcoholism”


“As we look back, we feel we had gone on drinking many years beyond the point where we could quit on our will power. If anyone questions whether he has entered this dangerous area, let him try leaving liquor alone for one year. If he is a real alcoholic and very far advanced, there is scant chance of success. In the early days of our drinking we occasionally remained sober for a year or more, becoming serious drinkers again later. Though you may be able to stop for a considerable period, you may yet be a potential alcoholic. We think few, to whom this book will appeal, can stay dry anything like a year. Some will be drunk the day after making their resolutions; most of them within a few weeks.” (page 34, emphasis added)

Many people do not find the “combined experience and knowledge” (page 19) or “experience, strength and hope” in our Basic Text very appealing, and we certainly understand. As implied above, some have yet to try to stop drinking altogether and discover they cannot. In other cases, even some of us first thought or hoped we might yet find a more palatable plan elsewhere for achieving and maintaining “entire abstinence” from alcohol. Wondering whether we might have been making too-hard work of a simple matter, it made sense to believe one-day-at-a-time sobriety ought to suffice, and especially if we had a bit of “support” of whatever kind from others like ourselves trying to do the same.

To help others discover whether they might have already gone beyond the point of will power being sufficient to “Just say ‘No!'”, here is our suggestion from within A.A.:

Try leaving liquor alone for one year (and see what happens).” (page 34)

If you wish, and while mustering all the will power you possibly can, try avoiding or staying away from the first drink just one-day-at-a-time, one-drink-at-a-time, one-moment-at-a-time, one-temptation-at-a-time or whatever. Having tried those things ourselves, we will not criticize you. Rather, we simply say the pains we again suffered as results eventually helped make “Alcoholics Anonymous”, now our Basic Text, much more appealing to us!