Review by Jean S.
This book offers a way forward for the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The unstated goal of The Little Book is to widen the gateway of AA so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of belief or lack of belief.
The book presents the 12 Step program of recovery in a way that reflects and respects the diversity of culture, gender, religion and lack of religion within today’s worldwide recovery community.
Only 72 pages in length, The Little Book is divided into four main parts.
The first part consists of 20 alternative versions of the 12 Steps which were originally published in 1939 in the “Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous.
Want to know how a Native American might understand the Steps? Page 22. How would the man who won the 1972 Humanist of the Year award translate the 12 Steps? You can read B.F. Skinner’s version on page 13. Can the Steps be done by a Muslim? Of course! Page 21. Is there a Buddhist alternative to the 12 Steps? At least two of them, on pages 19 and 20.
We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all, had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written. (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 81)
Want to know which group wrote “Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us” in Step Three? Page 11. Want to read single-word versions of the Steps? Pages 17 and 18.
And on. And on. There is so much in this book. There is so much on every page of this book!
And there could be so much more. As the author of The Little Book writes: “There are about as many versions (of the 12 Steps) as there are alcoholics in AA who use the program to get sober and maintain their sobriety.” (p. 1)
In the second major part of the book, four concise interpretations of the original 12 Steps are presented, one Step at a time.
The intepretations run from pages 33 through 44, with one Step per page.
Most of us are aware that there is a Christian interpretation of the 12 Steps. As the author notes in Appendix Two of The Little Book: “The word ‘God’ (or ‘Power’ or ‘Him’) appears six times in the (original) Steps and the practices described have historically been designed to win redemption, that is, to satisfy the demands of a judgmental and interventionist deity. That they might also help to allay the cravings of an incorrigible alcoholic seems something of an… afterthought.” (p. 52)
But historically there have always been other interpretations and this book continues that lovely, and liberating, tradition.
The first interpretation is by the renowned author, Allen Berger. He has written a number of popular books such as 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs Are Gone. His interest and expertise is in emotional and cognitive therapies and his approach science-based.
Perhaps the most moving set of interpretations is by Stephanie Covington. She presents a woman’s perspective on the 12 Steps. It needs to be noted that the original 12 Steps were not written for women or with women’s struggles with alcoholism or addiction in mind. Talking about powerlessness and humility, as the original Steps do, can have a different meaning for, and impact, upon women. Today we also understand that trauma plays a large role in alcoholism and addiction, something not at all grasped by the early founders of AA. In order to deal with these and others issues, Stephanie wrote A Woman’s Way Through the Twelve Steps, a treasure for women in recovery, from which her interpretations of each of the Steps are culled.
Next comes interpretations by Gabor Maté, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. As a doctor and the staff physician for the Portland Hotel Society, which provides medical care to addicts in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, Gabor has a unique and contemporary perspective on addiction. It is fascinating to read his book, and his interpretations of the 12 Steps are one of the treasures of The Little Book.
We keep hearing that there is a great deal in common between Buddhism and AA’s suggested program of recovery, but how would a Buddhist interpret the 12 Steps? Read The Little Book and you’ll find out! The author of Mindfulness and the 12 Steps, and the founder of the Mind Roads Meditation Center, home to Twelve Steps and Mindfulness meetings, Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart shares her interpretations as both a Buddhist and a woman in recovery.
These interpretations are all so insightful and refreshing.
Still, a favourite part of the book is the fact that the reader is given a template to write her or his own alternatives and interpretations of each of the 12 Steps. This is so the opposite of “one size fits all” that it makes the heart throb with relief. We all “work” the 12 Steps in our own unique ways so for many of us in recovery this will be an invaluable tool. It also encourages the reader to work harder, to bring her or his own understanding and experience to working each and every one of the Steps and thus to more genuinely tackle the challenges involved in achieving a life of sobriety.
The very last part of the book consists of two appendices. One contains the original 12 Steps published in 1939 and the other is an insightful essay, “The Origins of the 12 Steps.”
“It all began in the waning months of 1934,” the essay begins and then goes on to describe the contributions of people like Ebby Thacher, Bill Wilson, Dr. William Silkworth and Jim Burwell to the development of AA’s program of recovery.
The author pays particular attention to Appendix II of the Big Book, which was added in the second printing of the book in 1941. “The purpose of the appendix is to correct the impression in the Big Book that recovery requires a religious conversion,” the author of The Little Book said. “Instead, the purpose of the 12 Steps is framed in psychological terms and its goal restated as the pursuit of “a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.”
The book was put together and authored by Roger C., the administrator of the AA Agnostica website.
A former government writer and political organizer and activist, Roger is a member of Beyond Belief, an agnostic group in Toronto. Perhaps ironically, he has a Masters degree in Religious Studies from McGill University. He spent several years there working on his doctorate and teaching ordinands – men and women studying to be ministers in the Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches. He was known as the “resident atheist” and treated with respect. “In AA, not so much,” he reports.
“All our thanks goes to the people and groups whose alternative versions of the Steps are included in the book. Some of these go as far back as the 1980s. And deep gratitude goes to Gabor Maté, Thérèse Jacobs-Steward, Allen Berger and Stephanie Covington for their very generous support both for me and for the book,” Roger said. “Their unconditional support for this project was an inspiration and an essential ingredient in making this book a reality.”
Asked about the Toronto area Intergroup decision to remove two agnostic groups (including his own group, Beyond Belief) from the official AA list for creating their own alternative 12 Steps, he responded: “Intergroup representatives behaved in a silly and un-AA way.”
So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other — these rampant individuals are still an A.A. Group if they think so! (AA Grapevine, July 1946)
“The Intergroup representatives are making up rules that are meant to discipline others in an organization that quite deliberately chooses not to have rules,” he said. “What is there about ‘The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking’ that is so hard for them to understand?”
In its inclusivity and unqualified respect for diversity and difference, The Little Book paradoxically represents both a challenge to AA while anchored in the very best of its history and traditions.
Ernest Kurtz, the author of Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous calls the book “a beautiful testimony to AA’s living history.”
And William White, author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, refers to The Little Book as “a celebration of the varieties of recovery experience.”
Indeed, The Little Book is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge and wisdom about the 12 Step program of recovery.
You can get a copy of The Little Book here: Recovery 101.