If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. – Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 44-45
There is a tendency on the part of the general public to confuse AA with so-called “self-help” programs. Many of us have tried these approaches and, however benevolent they might have been in other respects, they were completely useless in addressing our alcoholism. Most of them are based on the assumption that there exists in all of us some core of goodness that we merely need to uncover to achieve a lifetime of happiness. The fact that whole sections of bookstores are devoted to these programs hints that such programs may not all deliver as promised. Instead, I would prefer to call AA a “self-helpless” program. Here’s why.
After Bill had his spiritual experience in Town’s Hospital, he struggled to understand what had happened to him. Ebby brought him a a book, William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. I would urge you to read page 124 of Pass It On to get a fuller understanding of how crucial this was to Bill’s later thinking. Varieties is a difficult book to master and when I read it I found it tough going. But the most important thing that I took away was the difference between the “once born” and “twice born” human natures. There is a good explanation of this at http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/william-james/. I am not endorsing this site, but the explanation of this concept is as good as any I’ve seen. Here is a description of the “twice born” personality.
There are persons whose existence is little more than a series of zigzags, as now one tendency and now another gets the upper hand. Their spirit wars with their flesh, they wish for incompatibles, wayward impulses interrupt their most deliberate plans, and their lives are one long drama of repentance and of effort to repair misdemeanors and mistakes. – Varieties of Religious Experience, p.169
It should be no mystery as to which of these types Bill identified with. “Once born” people are the ones who write the self-help books. Ironically, they are the ones who need them least while their intended audience is the least likely to benefit from them. Instead, I would suggest that you read The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz. A highly enjoyable read with profound insights. One of my favorites.
I love the line “Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.” This is key. There are some problems for which any partial solution is no better than no solution. “Half measures availed us nothing.” Half measures did not get us half a recovery. Even ninety-nine percent still got us nowhere. The analogy I like to use is to imagine you are trying to get from the roof of one building to the roof of another. Twenty five feet separate the two and all you have is a twenty four and a half foot ladder. I assure you, you will not get 98% across. You will fail utterly.
I will close with a little AA gem told to me by one of my first sponsors. He said “this program is like ham and eggs: the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.” Chickens don’t get sober.