The AA Big Book: 4 Myths Debunked

AA BIG BOOK…The Birth of The Recovery Movement

aa big book

Is the Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” the Magna Carta of Recovery Literature?

Is it the template from which all recovery fellowships have sprung?

This the impression we get.

It is said that the 12-Steps have been hammered out on the anvils of experience and that its principles have been tried, tested, and proven.

Is this true?

And though not under the umbrella of so-called “evidence-based” treatments, much hope seems rests in its eighty years of success and, undeniably, this must attest to the efficacy of its program, right?

Evidenced-based programs can’t be the only route, surely? 

And where can one learn about this 80-year-old A.A. program?

Well, it ain’t on the walls of the meeting rooms around the world but in the first 164 pages of the AA Big Book.

This article is a rudimentary examination of 4 myths frequently purported and debunked using those first 164 pages. 

Myth #1: The AA Big Book Claim’s It’s The Only Way To Get Sober

A chief complaint amid anti-AA individuals is their accusation of 12-step exclusivity. In other words, is AA rigid in its assertion that its way is the only way?

It actually expresses the opposite.

For example, it states

  • “Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly (Foreword to Second Edition, p.xxi).”
  • “We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us (Working With Others, p.95).”

It is evident the Big Book makes no such claims; though the fellowship may be rife with contrary opinions, the book is straightforward – no monopoly, no dogma – just a presentation of what has worked for the authors personally.

Myth #2: The AA Big Book Rejects Professional Assistance

“Now about health: A body badly burned by alcohol does not often recover overnight nor do twisted thinking and depression vanish in a twinkling. We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative.

We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health. But we have seen remarkable transformations in our bodies. Hardly one of our crowd now shows any mark of dissipation.

But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. God has abundantly supplied this world with fine doctors, psychologists, and practitioners of various kinds. Do not hesitate to take your health problems to such persons. Most of them give freely of themselves, that their fellows may enjoy sound minds and bodies.

Try to remember that though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are often indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward. (The Family Afterwards, p. 133).

This perspective is largely absent from the fellowship in A.A. but the Big Book’s stance is fairly explicit: the mind and the body can and should leverage the assistance of outside enterprises (psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians of every variety) – the A.A. Big Book’s content is spiritual, not medical or clinical. 

Myth #3: The AA Big Book Can Be Used By Atheists 

What the Big Book presents is just as important as what it assumes, A.A. presupposes the existence of God.

A presupposition is what is assumed prior to examination of the data – its what makes the theory. This is important to remember when comparing secular humanist psychotherapy with 12-Step methodology

This doesn’t necessarily mean an atheist cannot recover in A.A. The implication is after using the 12-Step program the individual will cease to be an atheist. To remain an atheist would require he or she to modify the program significantly.

This point is debatable, particularly the fact the one chooses their own conception of God, but my position is an atheist would probably find other programs more helpful. (See The Fix below for an alternative view)

A.A. Is Religious.
Point Blank.

This Fact Cannot Be Argued.
But Does This Reduce Its Effectiveness? 
Of Course Not.
It Just Means The Underlying Assumptions Of The System Differ.
Everything Is Religious In This Sense.

Because Every Intellectual Enterprise Starts With Faith

(If You Are Confused or Disagree Please Read My Article About Faith And Presuppositions)

(This Doesn’t Necessary Exclude Atheists And Agnostics in AA, See Article on The Fix: “No God? No Problem: Atheism In AA As A Human Right”)

The AA Big Book presupposes or assumes God as the pathway to true authentic spiritual fellowship. The problem, they propose, is soul sickness – self-centeredness – which creates unparalleled loneliness and renders one incapable of true partnership with a fellow human being.

Thus, the steps are a recovery process wherein one is reconnected, as it were, first to God, then themselves, and then to the world (the order is paramount).

God then, is that which connects an individual back to their nature. It amends and restores. This is the power behind the Higher Power of the Big Book.

Therefore, the idea of just going to meetings and not actively engaging in 12-step reconnection (or recovery) would be tantamount to bowling without a ball and waiting for the pins to drop.

Contrary to popular belief, this is the picture the book paints and it often stands in stark contrast to what is heard.

aa big book

Myth # 4: The AA Big Book Uses Everyday Language And Is Easy To Understand

The Big Book is dated and it is difficult to understand. Let’s be real, it was published in 1939 and consequently, it does use words and illustrations which are no longer relevant. Therefore, it would be wise to use a study guide as you read through it (find a list of study guides here).

The A.A. Big Book is basically another piece of literature to emerge from the Liberal Christianity and New Thought Movement of the early Twentieth Century. This school broke from religious institutions and dogma and ventured to find true spirituality and true freedom.

Their goal?

To cultivate religious experience rather than doctrines and explanations – which was a clear break from the fundamentalism of the time and continues as such regarding modern day religion (click here to explore other books which also came from that school of thought).

For more information on A.A. history read: “New Wine: A Brief History of A.A.

For a historical breakdown of the 12-Steps read: AA Back To Basics: The Brainchild Of AA Or Wally P?

For more information on Liberal Christianity and the New Thought Movement read: What Is Powerlessness: Can It Exist Without Religious Connotations?

aa big book

Caveat: Do Not Let Anyone Read It For You – Critically Examine The Evidence Yourself

The AA Big Book is brilliant, without question. I highly recommend reading it – even if you loath 12-step philosophy or anything outside the sphere of scientific scrutiny.

Any organization that makes the following claim must be investigated. “The problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition p. 85).”