Somewhere in his biography CONFESSIONS St. Augustine wrote that he heard a voice from a nearby home of a boy or girl that sang, “Take and read. Take and read.” When I was early in recovery, I remember a meeting at which I quoted from a book that I had been reading (showing off my intelligence!!). I can still see that tall husky man from across the table, stand, slap his hand on the table, and say, “We don’t read anything that is not in the Big Book.” That, thank God, was some thirty-nine years ago.
Since then, I have read everything I could get my hands on about this allergy/ disease or sick relationship or whatever it is that one wants to call alcoholism. I totally and entirely believe that being alive today depends on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. The maintenance of my spiritual condition requires me to, “take and read.”
What set me off on this reading spree some years ago was that somewhere I heard or read that Bill Wilson said something to the effect that everything in Alcoholics Anonymous could be found in various religions and philosophies. If that were true, I wanted to know more about it since I came into this program pretty much a fundamentalist in my beliefs.
When I was in high school I could not remember much of what I read, so I was considered to be a slow learner/stupid. Then, one night, I was reading a novel, and I could “hear” the author read to me. From then on, I wanted to read everything I could. So, when I was told, “we do not read…,” my reaction/response was to ‘take and read.”
Since then, I have enjoyed the spiritual/philosophical underpinnings of what came to us in the 12 steps. In The Upanishads I read, “Forgetting our divine origin, we become ensnared in the world of change and bewail our helplessness.” In The Bhagavad Gita, I read, “Even sinners become holy when they take refuge in me alone." I had already read the Jewish/Christian Scriptures.
Early philosophers discussed the question of how one should live his/her life. It was Aristotle’s view that the happiest people were those who lived a virtuous life. The discussion continued throughout the centuries as to how we should live. It can be concluded that those of us with addiction issues are philosophers since we are all discussing the issue of how to live a good life.
Charismatic leaders created programs to help people mediate in order to find God; study groups to lean the scriptures; prayer groups to help fight their character defects. For those for whom alcohol and other drugs were an issue there was the drunk tank/hospitalization; abstinence programs, religious programs etc.
Then came a Wall Street atheist who couldn’t get sober, and someone told him he could pick his own description of God. One day something happened, he had a spiritual awakening and that was the beginning of our recovery program.
Someone once said at a meeting that the 12 Step program was created to keep our life simple; that the Big Book was written for a bunch of drunks to understand their sickness. Bill W. may or may not have been aware of the beliefs of the religions or the philosophies he said were the background of this program. Sam Shoemaker, who Bill frequently cited as being a great influence on him, was an avid reader and had travelled in China and the Middle East. Bill did not know of St Ignatius until Fr. Ed Dowling showed him the parallel between the 12 Steps and the Ignatian Spirituality.
Today, my gratitude is for the gifts and talents of the early founders who were able to take traditions and philosophies and formulate them into a simple program that is suggested as a program of recovery.
I am grateful to Bill W. for pointing out that the roots of our program run deep and wide. Everyone, everywhere, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs or their philosophy, can take the Big Book and the 12 Step program and there find a distillation of religions/philosophical beliefs that provide a program for a life of sobriety and serenity. “Take and Read.”