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Ultimate Guide to the Big Book

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

April 1, 2019

With over 2 million members worldwide, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) has helped many men and women overcome their drinking issues in order to live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. Lives in which alcohol isn’t an obsession and important relationships are strengthened versus broken. One of the tools they rely on to accomplish this is the Big Book.

What Is The Big Book?

The Big Book is a thorough and comprehensive resource designed to give people from all walks of life the information, encouragement, and resources they need to effectively deal with their drinking addiction.

It does this by:

  • Defining alcoholism;
  • Providing the 12 steps that can be taken to overcome alcoholism;
  • Reinforcing the importance of having a sponsor to take the journey with them;
  • Giving family members and employers the tools they need to help improve recovery success; and
  • Sharing personal stories of those who have overcome their addiction, providing inspiration that it is possible to fight the battle and win.

Let’s look at how it does each of these.

Answering The Question: Am I An Alcoholic?

Chapter 3 of A.A.’s Big Book discusses how difficult it can be to admit to being an alcoholic, something the authors define as someone who has “lost the ability to control” his or her drinking. It is being unable to drink in moderation, or continuously drinking to excess no matter how much you try to do otherwise. This may occur over the course of one year or twenty as time isn’t a determining factor to alcoholism.

As the book points out, usually during the course of realizing that one drinks too much, there is some attempt to regain control over drinking to essentially prove to one’s self and others that it is possible to drink “normally.” This often involves creating drinking-related parameters such as limiting consumption to just one type of alcohol, drinking only a certain number of drinks, not drinking when alone, only drinking at certain times or at certain events, or otherwise creating a structured or regimented drinking schedule. Unfortunately, these tactics hardly ever work.

What’s also important, according to A.A., is coming to terms with the fact that being an alcoholic also means realizing that one can never drink normally again. While some people give up, accepting that they are powerless over alcohol and resigning themselves to living a life of alcoholism, recovery is possible with programs like A.A.’s 12 Steps.

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A.A.’s 12-Step Program

A.A.’s 12-Step Program is a series of actions or Steps which provide individuals the tools and resources they need to overcome their alcohol addiction. It does this by taking you on a sort of spiritual journey to recovery that essentially involves admitting that alcohol has taken over your life and that, by relying on a Higher Power, whether it is God or any other larger existence, you can restore control and live a better life.

While each Step is important to the process, Alcoholics Anonymous stresses that, instead of feeling overwhelmed by having to do so many things to effectively deal with the addiction, one should focus on making “spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” It is about getting better each day and taking positive steps in the right direction, not kicking the addiction overnight.

Making progress is accomplished by following these 12 Steps:

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This first Step is meant to help you realize and acknowledge that you are not in control when it comes to alcohol and, as a result, your life has become almost impossible to bear. This is also when you will make the decision and commitment to abstain completely from alcohol, both during the recovery process and for the remainder of your life.

Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

The purpose of this Step is to remind you that you are not in this alone. There will be times when you don’t feel as if you can conquer your alcohol addiction, but those will be the moments you will come to rely on something bigger than you, a higher Power, to help you through.

Step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

When taking this Step, you continue to focus on using a higher Power to help you through your recovery. This often involves using the Serenity Prayer for guidance:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.

By reciting this when you feel powerless, you are able to garner strength from something larger than you to give you the perseverance you need to succeed in releasing alcohol’s hold on you.

Step 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

By taking an honest look at which issues, thoughts, and feelings have contributed to your drinking, you’ll increase your understanding of what needs to change in order to overcome your alcoholism for good. In other words, you can’t get where you need to go if you don’t know where you start.

Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Being honest with yourself and others about what alcohol has done to your life is critical as it helps you step from the shadows and fully release the guilt, shame, and other negative feelings that accompany drinking to excess. This Step involves sharing drinking-related memories that you aren’t proud of as a means of beginning to find acceptance and forgiveness for them so you can progress in your journey.

Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

After completing Step 5, you’re ready to move on to Step 6, which means asking your Higher Power for help in letting go of your wrongs so you can make a full and complete recovery. Remember: You are after progress, not perfection. You’re not going to change a lifetime of bad choices overnight.

Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

The keyword here is “humbly” because having too much ego can prevent you from effectively releasing your shortcomings. Basically, Step 7 relies on admitting that you need a higher Power to abstain from alcohol. This can be difficult to do as it involves standing face-to-face with the exact emotions, the discomfort, and pain, that led you to alcohol in the first place.

Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

The premise of Step 8 is that moving forward with recovery is possible only after you recognize how your drinking has harmed those around you. This means making a list of all of the people in your life who have been impacted by your alcoholism. It also means making the list without getting angry or defensive over their response to your actions.

Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Taking the list you’ve created in Step 8, you start to make amends with the people you’ve wronged with your drinking as long as you can do so without bringing them injury or harm. By taking responsibility for the actions you have committed against them, you’re able to let go of any guilt that you have over the things you have done. This certainly isn’t easy, which makes accomplishing this Step important to helping you realize your own personal power and strength when it comes to creating a better, more enjoyable life.

Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

Although a majority of the Steps require taking a closer look at who you were before you quit drinking, Step 10 reminds you to take regular evaluations of the actions you take on a day to day basis. When you do this, you’re able to quickly realize if you’re starting to stray or take a step backward, enabling you to take prompt action to get yourself back on track.

Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Attending to your spiritual progress along your journey is important as well, which is the purpose of this Step—to remind you to stay in touch with your higher Power through meditation and prayer. Regularly asking for strength, forgiveness, and the perseverance to succeed helps give you the hope, humility, and courage to keep forging ahead.

Step 12: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

When using everything you’ve learned in your own journey to live a life of sobriety from alcohol, don’t forget to help others who are still struggling. Reach out to them and give them a hand, and help them also achieve a life of sobriety.

The Importance of a Sponsor

While everyone’s journey to sobriety is different, there are some commonalities that most experience when putting alcohol behind them. This is covered in greater detail in Chapter 7 of the Big Book, Working With Others, and it shares how having a sponsor is crucial to success.

In fact, this is how Alcoholics Anonymous was born—when one drinker by the name of Bill was attempting to overcome the urge to drink, he sought out someone else with the same issue. That’s when he found Dr. Bob, who was struggling with the same issue.

This gave them both someone to rely on to help them through the recovery process, which is what a sponsor still does today. It is someone to connect with who understands exactly where you’re at, as well as exactly what you need to do to conquer drinking once and for all.

Tools for Family and Employers

The Big Book also helps families and employers understand what they can do to help support the recovering alcoholic in their lives. It gives them a glimpse into what it is like to be controlled by alcohol. It also reveals the different actions they can take to help the individual that they care about overcome that control so they live a happier, more productive life.

Personal Stories of Recovery

Finally, the Big Book shares many personal stories of recovery, reinforcing that it is possible to overcome alcohol addiction. These recollections are provided to inspire and motivate you to follow the same path so that you too have your own “happy ending” in which you, and not alcohol, are in control of your destiny.

Finding the Best Recovery Program for You

If you’re ready to take your own journey, to make today the first day of your recovery process, contact us right now and one of the compassionate and understanding advisors will assist you in finding the best program for you.

Whether it’s A.A.’s 12-Step Program or another recovery program that could potentially work better for you, we’re dedicated to helping you take that precious first step toward creating the future you want—the future you deserve!

Alcoholics Anonymous - This is the Fourth Edition of the Big Book, the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous.

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