Big Book Page 522 – Freedom From Bondage
Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t hedge its bets when it comes to resentments. The book goes all in. It even goes as far as to say resentments kill more alcoholics than anything, unexpectedly saying “from it stem all forms of spiritual disease.”
The manner in which I envision this process is instructive.
Let’s harken back a few 24s to my first years trotting the planet. Maybe I just returned from preschool with a painting I made for mom. I spent all day working on this masterpiece; a work that in my mind rivaled Michelangelo and Da Vinci, or more likely just Bob Ross and Happy Accidents.
The minute the school bus opened its suffocating doors I made a beeline for the house. I couldn’t wait to change my mom’s life forever with this magnificent work of art. I just knew she struggled at times and this was the antidote she needed!
Unknowingly, my mom had an extremely stressful day. The minute I ran into the house with my arms raised carrying the piece of aesthetic homage I was about to pay, no sooner did she snap “Timothy, go to your room, I need a minute.”
I didn’t understand that being a working mother with three children was a difficult task. All I understood was that my masterpiece was desecrated and my heart along with it.
I was angry, no, enraged that she could be so dismissive. My resentment quickly turned inwards as I knew I was the problem. I didn’t deserve her praise, because I couldn’t produce her happiness. From this point forward I was on an endless mission to seek approval and validation from others, to reverse this incident and recreate it to my satisfaction – an impossible and unattainable task. Yes, from one resentment stemmed all forms of spiritual disease, the ultimate bondage.
Resentment always leads to self-pity and self-pity always leads to self-hatred. Why? Because resentment is based upon the assumption that if only other people would do as I want will I experience happiness. If only people behaved the right way, exactly as I see fit, could I step into emotional contentment.
But it’s time to challenge this assumption.
We can no longer identify the conditions of the world as the source of our discomfort, rather it’s our interpretation that’s the source of the discomfort. If you can change the interpretation you’ll discover the bondage was never there!
In Joseph Bailey’s book “The Serenity Principle” he tells a beautiful metaphor to capture this truth.
The Search for Serenity
Once upon a time there was a man who spent his days searching for happiness. With intense dedication he pursued answers in every new pleasure and accomplishment, but found none. Having exhausted every source of happiness he could think of, he decided to look in the opposite direction. I will look in hell, he thought.
I will find out why everyone there is so unhappy. this may give me a clue to happiness. He was transported to the gates of hell in an instant. Lucifer welcomed him and assured him that once his curiosity was satisficed he could leave whenever he wanted.
To his surprise, hell was identical to earth. The only difference was that everyone was unhappy.
He was persistent in his quest. He interviewed hundred of hell-dwellers for several days, trying many approaches. He talked to all types of people but they could not tell him exactly why they were so miserable. Then one day a desperately unhappy woman pulled him aside and said, “You’ll see!” Her words disturbed him deeply. Although he had not come up with any answers, he decided to leave.
He returned to the gates of hell and saw a sign he had not noticed before. It read: “Before leaving hell you must satisfy these three conditions…”
He felt trapped, but the conditions seemed easy enough to satisfy, He remembered Lucifer had said he could leave at any time.
He set out to complete the first task. When he returned he noticed the first item had been crossed off, but the list had grown by one. His fear started to take over. But then he had a brilliant idea. He had always prided himself on his speed and efficiency. He would memorize the three remaining conditions and quickly fulfill them, freeing himself from hell. Thinking he had outwitted the devil, he set out to complete his requirements.
He approached the gate again and found that he had outsmarted no one. In fact, the list was four conditions longer. He was devasted by the pressure to complete the ever-growing list. Days went by. His thinking was no longer-clear. He felt trapped by an overwhelming mountain of details.
Overcome by exhaustion, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamed he was collapsing at the gates of hell, wanting to leave and live his life in peace. In desperation he stood and reached for the handle. The gate was not locked.
The shock of his dream awakened him. “Of course it was only a dream,” he thought. “That solution would be too simple. But what if it were true?” He chastised himself for even thinking that life could be so easy. “Forget it, I’m doomed. I’ll never get out.”
But the memory of the dream persisted, bringing with it a feeling of hope. The hope was stronger than his fear of disappointment. “What could it hurt?…Maybe I’ll try…It might be that simple.”
He reached out and grasped the handle. It turned. He realized that he had the power to be free whenever he chose, and knew he had found the answer.
Easier Said Than Done!
“So, I just choose to be free and that’s it?” Well, no. Nothing is that simple in practice. As Brad Pitt’s character said in Fury, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”
We need to start with various God-given strategies that can enable this new and empowering interpretation that delivers the freedom we desire.
One such strategy is the very purpose of this article. Alcoholics Anonymous actually provides loads of different strategies i.e., surrender, inventory, sharing, meditation, amends, prayer, service, etc.
The story in the Big Book titled, “Freedom From Bondage,” teaches a strategy that involves praying for others. The specific celebrated passage is on page 552. It is as follows…
If you’re still struggling with anger and resentment, I recommend beginning this practice and don’t stop until you’re free of the pain.
What do you have to lose?
Big Book Page 552
If you have resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free.
Even when you don’t really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it everyday …. and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate, understanding and love.
It worked for me then, and it has worked for me many times since, and it will work for me every time I am willing to work it. Sometimes I have to ask first for the willingness, but it always comes. And because it works for me, it will work for all of us. As another great man says, ‘The only real freedom a human being can ever know is doing what you ought to do because you want to do it.
This great experience that released me from the bondage of hatred and replaced it with love is really just another affirmation of the truth I know: I get everything I need in Alcoholics Anonymous—everything I need I get—and when I get what I need I invariably find that it was just what I wanted all the time.