Recovery: A Key Founding Element in Alcoholics Anonymous

Recovery: A Key Founding Element in Alcoholics Anonymous

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

If ever there were a word of art in Alcoholics Anonymous that has been interpreted, misinterpreted, variously defined, butchered, and altered, that word would be “recovery.”

Several dictionaries tell us what the word “recovery” means:

The American Heritage Dictionary states: “A return to a normal condition.”

The Collins English Dictionary states: “the act or process of recovering, esp. from sickness, a shock, a setback; recuperation.”

Random House Kernerman College Dictionary states: “restoration or return to any former and better condition, esp. to health from sickness, injury, addiction.”

Place yourself in a room full of alcoholics who are discussing “recovery.” You may very well hear such expressions as: “I’m in recovery.” “I’m a recovered alcoholic.” “I’m a cured alcoholic.” “I’m not a bad person trying to get good; I’m a sick person trying to get well.” “I’m not a ‘normie.’” “I went through ‘treatment’ for alcoholism.” “I paid my dues.” “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” “Alcoholics are medically incurable.” “I just have a daily reprieve.” “One day at a time.” “I didn’t have a drink today.” “There is no such thing as permanent recovery from alcoholism.”

The Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous offers these forms of enlightenment:

We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show others precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book. . . . Many do not comprehend that the alcoholic is a very sick person. And besides, we are sure that our way of living has its advantages for all. [p. xiii]

The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking. [p. xiv]

He sobered, never to drink again up to the moment of his death in 1950. [p. xvi]

Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, . . . [p. xx]

[Dr. Silkworth] confirms what we who have suffered alcoholic torture must believe—that the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as his mind. . . . [O]ur bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete. The doctor’s theory that we have an allergy to alcohol interests us.
. . . [A]s ex-problem drinkers, we can say that his explanation makes good sense. [p. xxvi]

[Dr. Silkworth wrote:] They believe in themselves, and still more in the Power which pulls chronic alcoholics back from the gates of death. [p. xxvii]
. . . In nearly all cases, their ideals must be grounded in a power greater than themselves, if they are to re-create their lives. [p. xxiii]
. . . [T]hey pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery. [p. xxix]
. . . [O]nce a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, . . . suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules. [p. xxix]
. . . What is the solution? Perhaps I can best answer this by relating one of my experiences. . . . [p. xxxi]
His alcoholic problem was so complex, and his depression so great, that we felt his only hope would be through what we then called “moral psychology.” [p. xxxi]

Now just imagine that you are in an A.A. meeting trying to listen to, comprehend, and apply the foregoing ideas. You are sick. You may be detoxing. You may be depressed. You are frightened, confused, and forgetful. You may be shaking for months (I did for five years). You are faced with a mountain of problems—sometimes called the wreckage of the past. Do you really think you can define recovery when everything seems hopeless; and people are reading about “recovery,” “recovered,” “never cured,” “an allergy,” “a power greater than yourself,” “a psychic change,” and “moral psychology.” And there is more in the section of the Big Book which asserts that “. . . you can quickly diagnose yourself” (as alcoholic) [p. 31]. But, as the years of my sobriety rolled on successfully, I found I could “talk Big Book” about the alcoholic’s plight in several ways. I could, for example, speak about concepts such as: (a) “an allergy;” (b) “an obsession of the mind;” (c) “a progressive disease;” (d) “you can’t stop once you start;” (e) “you can’t quit entirely even if you honestly want to;” and (f) “alcohol is cunning, baffling, and powerful when the alcoholic wants relief.” But I developed a simple, four-part formula I called “the three D’s and an R”: (1) Drink; (2) Drunk; (3) Disaster; and (4) Return for More. Alcoholics tell those stories all the time. It’s their “M.O.S.” (In the Army that stands for “Military Occupational Specialty.”)

But how can you recover? How can you stop? How can you refrain? How can you avert the disasters that have filled your life? Shall you choose pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, a treatment program, a mental facility, a physician, a detox, a sober living facility, an intervention, or a dude ranch which at least “promises” a “recovery” possibly made more pleasant by a pool, a golf game, a massage, tennis, and the like? Actually, you can pursue these and still go for the gold.

Shall you turn to God for help as the first three AAs did when they quit drinking, asked God’s help, started helping others, and went to any lengths to become part of a fellowship which filled their hours, eschewed temptations, challenged their minds and bodies, suggested life-changes, and stressed spiritual growth the way the early Akron AAs did beginning in 1935.

The person who gets well doesn’t really want to return for more. He was and is in a spiritual tug of war and scarcely knows it. Especially today. But he often puts his reliance on abstinence, on God, and on helping others; and, like Bill W., awaits the solution and the miracle.

I did, and the drinking problem ended for good. For me, that’s recovery.


About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement.
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